Father Eugenio Bujalance is parish priest of Our Lady of Carmel of Lucena, in Cordoba, Spain. In an interview with Exaudi, he talked about his latest summer experience: to accompany 14 young people on a pilgrimage that they themselves coined a “Monastery on Route.” It’s an initiative that began three years ago by the previous parish priest, who saw the “need to trigger attention to young people as a pastoral urgency,” a refrain made a long time ago by Monsignor Demetrio Fernandez, Bishop of Cordoba, who encouraged to “work and evangelize through leisure and free time” to meet with the youngest, “a new pastoral field, which we are still discovering today,” points out Father Eugenio.
“To enjoy some days of vacation, with God in one’s midst, is, perhaps, the novelty of this pastoral necessity and of this concrete initiative that we have been working on with the young people of the parish. The idea arose following a route, putting it in the hands of Providence. Little by little it took shape, and also this year it has not been the same as the two previous years; we have the certainty that next year the Lord will surprise us again,” says the priest.
He also explained that the first year, with the premise of putting it all in the hands of Providence, they reached Lourdes. And in the last stage, a route was followed through Marian places in Spain, such as Covadonga, passing later through Fatima. Why is it called a “Monastery on Route”? Father Eugenio clarifies that it’s the name they gave it this year, although “perhaps it might continue, not because of the name but because of what the internal reality has given us. We were going as a genuine Monastery, with an Abbot, Prior, Bursar, and Dispenser, serene . . . so we all assumed a responsibility and, at the same time, it helped us to understand how a monastery works inside.”
Young People’s Testimony
Pilar Cabrera, 25, who has been pilgrimaging with the parish for three years, tells Exaudi that “after this very incredible week, it’s very difficult to highlight a moment that has marked one.” To live of Providence “is something that everyone should experience,” she says. It was a novelty for the group to visit convents and monasteries, and she shares that, if she had to highlight something of the whole pilgrimage, it would be a phrase that a Sister of Maria Stella Matutina [Mary Morning Star] said to them: “How wonderful it is to travel with Providence,” but, says Pilar, especially “when you visit convents and monasteries, because there is a Christian community there, you know that your community, your family will always be there, which will welcome you with open arms.”
Angel, 21, a third-year seminarian and native of Lucena, said that the pilgrimage was for him a “genuine face-to-face encounter with Christ, days that were truly filled with God’s gifts.” He says they saw how the Lord works miracles constantly, in the confession of people who hadn’t been to Confession for years or the participation in the Sacraments, in Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament . . . and how Providence provided them with all that they needed every moment, adding that “He has given us the richness of the Church, from the Stella Matutina Community, to Verbum Spei, to the Franciscans, to Iesu Communio, we have witnessed the vocation to a consecrated life, and the Lord has also given us the witness of many priests.”
Alberto, 28, says they were able to “know other realities of the Church that aren’t much known, such as the religious and contemplative life.” Therefore, they tried to live their life “as a monastery and were able to know from inside the experience lived by Religious Brothers. “We have prayed, eaten and worked as one more of them,” affirming that they felt “at home in all of the places that God put on our path.” This trip “implied a before and after for many of us,” who have been fortunate to see the hand of God clearly in each of the steps we took,” he concludes.
Finally, Beatriz, 24, says to Exaudi that she was going on pilgrimage this summer without expectations, with the objective of allowing herself to be ”surprised by the Lord and to look at Him with new eyes.” On the trip, she discovered “an immense joy that came from Jesus Christ and daily Mass, which accompanied her during the trip and also on the return to her routine. “Moreover, the theme on which we were reflecting in this pilgrimage was the friendship between us and with God. Although I know the majority of those in the group, I was able to see a true friendship cemented on Jesus, in which forgiveness and selfless help reigned when it was necessary,” she stresses.
Here is the full interview with the parish priest of Our Lady of Carmel of Lucena.
* * *
Exaudi: Why focus on the contemplative life and not on another reality? Why did you decide to do this?
Father Eugenio: This year the Lord inspired us to get to know religious life a bit more, given that in the group of young people there is already a seminarian and a Sister and perhaps, within vocations, the contemplative life was the least known to them up to now.
Exaudi: What was your experience in this pilgrimage with young people?
Father Eugenio: I have come to this conclusion: More “like them are necessary,” they are our witness, our link. I have felt questioned the whole time, as I believe a priest must be in constant conversion so that, among other things, young people won’t be estranged from God. It’s a challenge, to be able to weep with them, to laugh when laughing is in order, in a word, not to be indifferent to their challenges, fears, and worries.
Exaudi: What would you highlight about them?
Father Eugenio: Saint John Bosco says: “love young people and they will learn to love what you want them to love.” I would describe with these words my experience with young people. I am learning as I go working in youth pastoral care. If we want to bring young people to God, we must first come close to them, to their things, their anxieties, to make an effort to understand them in each and all of their realities, their language, their way of being . . . also their way of praying, for example, when we do Adoration, they usually sit on the floor, not for lack of benches (laughs). With this silly example, I think it’s necessary that we take up everything that comes from them because, from their youth, sometimes they are the ones that evangelize us.
Exaudi: You talk much of Providence. What does it imply for you as leader of the group?
Father Eugenio: I think it’s hard for all of us to accept God’s Will. In the midst of this very technical and self-sufficient society, a Christian must never lose the vision or perspective, which is that God always gives you what you need and that, at the same time, it’s the best for you. He always provides. This isn’t easy, much less so for a youth. Moreover, I believe that we have discovered in these days that Providence isn’t to request things, but to give thanks and to accept with generosity what the Lord gives us.
Exaudi: Do you prohibit them from asking for food and lodging?
Father Eugenio: It’s not that they are prohibited from asking, I’ll explain. We travel with a limited budget, which obviously would not be enough for all that we do. We put our route in the Lord’s hands because we are aware that through these experiences He is also speaking to us. A concrete place can’t be planned or sought, but this doesn’t mean one can’t knock on a door. “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7-12). In mid-route, we have sought, knocked and asked on some door or other, and it wasn’t opened, because this too is Providence, and at other times the Lord has open other doors for us; that need was attended to because it was surely the best for us.
Exaudi: How is the sense of suffering lived in this pilgrimage?
Father Eugenio: The sense of suffering in this pilgrimage is an opportunity to continue growing because to leave everything in the hands of Providence sometimes implies, unfortunately, that one doesn’t accept or doesn’t like what the Lord gives one, including when it’s you who have asked Him for it. It has happened that we asked Him for a floor to sleep on or for food and when it arrived, we made of Providence a problem. There is a floor but no shower, there is a shower but the water is cold, today’s food is the same as yesterday’s . . . Sometimes we haven’t been generous when it came to receiving, and we have had to do an act of humility and see in all this an opportunity that God gives us to discover what things in our life must change.
Exaudi: How was the reception in monasteries? What were the Religious Brother like?
The Religious who received us, together with priests who also opened the doors of their houses to us, have been a stop on the way to discover the richness of the Church and the good fortune we have to know that wherever there is a Christian community a Christian has a home, a friend.
From the very first Mass, I was surprised that the young people prayed for all the Religious Communities and for the people we would meet on our way. Their witness and the ability to get to know their life and their importance for the Church has sparked many questions in the young people, among them, what would happen to the Church without the religious life.
Exaudi: You have asked the young people to reflect on friendship, the “supreme form of love.” What fruits have you witnessed in this regard?
Father Eugenio: Jesus Christ is the image of the merciful face of the Father and model of Christians and, in Him, we have understood what the definition is of one who is a friend. In fact, He Himself says to us ”you are my friends” and “I no longer call you servants but friends.” We have understood that friendship has an incalculable price in each and all of its dimensions and that sometimes we confuse friendship with something it’s not. Friendship always seeks the good of the other. In a society where sometimes we call anyone a friend, we have now understood that friendship implies fortitude, decision, sacrifice, acceptance of the other, generosity, and time.
Exaudi: Will you undertake others next year?
Father Eugenio: Next year we will do so where God wishes and how He wishes. Therefore, we would like to ask all Exaudi’s readers for prayer for youth pastoral care and for our young people. May we be able to listen to them and accompany them so that we can give them the leadership they need so that they transform the social and ecclesial structures with the freshness of youth that characterizes them.
Translation by Virginia M. Forrester