JOURNEYING WITH YOUTH
Mountains are places of revelation. In the biblical tradition, they were also places where people encountered God and found their mission. Our experience of making a pilgrimage journey through the Himalayan ranges in Nepal provided many opportunities for encounter. The hospitality of the Nepalese people and the beauty of the surrounding ranges added to the richness of the experience.
We started the mornings with an hour of silence for contemplation. Each day, the pilgrims were invited to consider a different question for reflection throughout the day as we walked. Each night we prayed the Examen – St Ignatius’ contemplative tool for tracing God’s presence throughout the day – and then a sharing before celebrating Mass.
Some of them who loved to talk were initially apprehensive about the silence. They were unsure whether they would survive not being able to talk for an hour. But anyone who has been to the Himalayas understands that you don’t need to do much to pray and contemplate there. The mountains do the work for you and you only need to allow the experience to take you deeper into your heart, where you can encounter God.
The walk also lent itself to deeper conversations, from surface exchange to those that matter. From sharing banter to showing fears. From taking selfies to talking about dreams. As they were recent graduates from school, they reflected on their final year doing their school leaving certificate. What they enjoyed, what they will miss, and what they hope to do in the future. They also reflected on their relationships and how they want to nourish and renew them.
The Examen at the end of the day created the space to plumb the depths of each day’s experience and conversation. Some shared about the challenges and joys of the day, while others unmasked the grief that they have been carrying for a while. Tears of gratitude and affirmations for the friendships formed became a feature of some of these nights. In this profound sharing of one’s life, people found support and a hopeful way of understanding their experiences.
At Mass the pilgrims were offered an experience of how God has embraced all our human experiences, including suffering, through the incarnation – when the Word became flesh and “pitched a tent” among us – an image which was not foreign to our own experience of living in tents for three weeks. It’s an image of God’s abiding presence, not fixed in one place, but travelling with us.
Some of the pilgrims admitted that this simple celebration of Mass in a tent preceded by a sharing of experiences made the sacrament more meaningful for them. They appreciated being so close to the altar rather than being quite distant in the pews of larger churches.
Upon descent from the Himalayas, the pilgrims would naturally walk in silence. This time, it was no longer a source of apprehension but a cherished time for contemplation.
Fr Nico Lariosa SJ
Photos provided by Nico Lariosa.