By Amy Cooper
Last August, I went to Youth 2000’s summer festival in Walsingham for the first time. I’d been to their event ‘The Return’ at Craig Lodge in Scotland earlier in the year and after having such an uplifting experience, my friends encouraged me to come to the Summer Festival. It’s safe to say that I don’t have any regrets in deciding to go.
As someone who struggles with their mental health, I was a bit concerned that the festival was going to be too overwhelming for me. I ummed and ahhed about going for a few weeks but eventually I bit the bullet and booked my place. I mean, what was there to be worried about? I would be surrounded by some of my best friends and other young Catholics from all over the country (and further afield), completely encompassed by the Lord’s love. I couldn’t turn down an opportunity like that.
I can’t really tell you what I expected, but the festival greatly exceeded any expectations I could’ve had. I honestly enjoyed every moment of it, from serving dinner to hundreds of hungry people to staying up until 2am in the café, chatting and making friends. No matter where you turned there was always a friendly face and everyone I had the pleasure of spending time with was so open and welcoming. It was actually at Walsingham that I met my boyfriend, and we’ve been together for almost a year now. The Lord always makes a move when you least expect it!
Aside from the people, one of my other favourite things about the festival is the flexibility of it all. Unlike retreats which are normally a lot more structured, at Walsingham you can really pick and choose what you do. There are the really obviously things to do, such as attending mass (duh) and walking the Holy Mile, but with regards to workshops and talks the choice is up to you. So many different topics are covered by an incredible collection of speakers, so there’s bound to be something that takes your fancy. And hey, even if there’s not, you can always go and hang out in prayer with Jesus in the main tent.
The atmosphere at the festival is really difficult to describe. Everyone is filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit and no matter where you look you can clearly see God at work in the big and small. Being surrounded by so many cheerful, peaceful individuals really affirms, in my mind, what our faith is all about – coming together to thank and praise the Lord for everything He does for us. I’m not going to lie, I did feel a bit awkward and out of place at the start of the festival but by the end I had completely relaxed and given myself over to Jesus. I let go and I let God.
The festival really helped me to see that Jesus is always there for me, regardless as to where I go or what I do. It gave me the confidence to turn to Him no matter what and to trust Him with everything. It’s allowed me to build a true friendship with Jesus and I really felt his love for me, something which was unbelievably powerful. Jesus wants to know each and every one of us as best as He can, and going to Walsingham really enabled me to open my heart and soul to that reality.
If you’ve never been to the festival before, I highly recommend coming along this year. It’s going to be the biggest and best one yet, and I honestly can’t wait for it all to kick off. Even if you think it might be a bit too much for you (as I did last year), definitely give it a shot regardless. There are so many wonderful people you can turn to if you need a quiet chat or reassurance on anything, and you have Jesus, restlessly waiting for you to speak to Him at any hour of the day. If you happen to see me over the weekend don’t hesitate to come over and chat, I love meeting new people and making wonderful friends through our faith!
By Amy Cooper