Called to be light
Date: November 6, 2010 , Originally published September, 2001
Author: Sr. Stefania Consoli
Category: Interviews , Testimonies , Communities
How does a young person feel when he or she is called to discover God's love? We asked a member of the Beatitudes Community, Br. Jean Uriel Frey, to tell us about his conversion which began in Medjugorje, and about the way in which he uses his "treasure" to help others.
My name is Jean Uriel. I'm Swiss. I was born in Lucerne, in the German canton, 32 years ago. I first heard of Medjugorje 12 years ago when my older brother asked me to come here with him on pilgrimage. I agreed to come without knowing anything about the place. I clearly remember, as though it were yesterday, that on my very first day here I could feel the grace of God in me. At a certain point I was behind the church on my own; and it was then and there that I met God's love and immense mercy. I cried all the tears I possibly could out of regret and sorrow, but also out of gratitude for the Father who loved me for what I was. That moment - that experience - is branded in my heart forever. Not immediately, but little by little, the Lord was able to work on my heart. I gradually discovered the role of the Blessed Virgin in the Church and in my life. I enrolled in Her school in search of my vocation. Some years later I felt called to the priesthood and religious life in the Beatitudes Community where I have now lived for 7 years. I have been to Medjugorje a number of times. Right now I am here with a group of 170 young people from France, including a few from Germany and Italy. We came for the Youth Festival. The thing that strikes me immediately each time I come here is the sensation of being enveloped by Our Lady's presence. When I approach the church and see the young people praying around the rotunda I have the impression that they are wrapped in Mary's mantle, and that all are given the grace of feeling that they are God's children.
Q. What do young people look for in Medjugorje, and what do they find?
Deep down, young people seek God, even if they don't say so. Many have told me that they came by chance without knowing why they came, but I think they do desire finding something that can explain the meaning of their life; it's just that they don't know what to call this "something". I think the majority of young people become certain in Medjugorje that God deeply loves them just the way they are... At the same time they discover that this Father is full of goodness and love and that He has also given them a Mother to help them in their faith journey. In Medjugorje, they also find a Church which is close to them, a living and fraternal Church. At the Youth Festival young people breathe in the same atmosphere of the World Youth Day which is characterized by so much diversity - people from all over the world, and different types of prayer groups, and all of these are linked by the same grace, the same faith and the same certainty of being children of God and of the Blessed Virgin.
Q. How do young people like to pray?
I am very surprised, because this year I have realized that the prayer, particularly in this youth festival, is marked by great simplicity and openness. I am happy to see how the organizers welcome different types of preachers, and how the preachers make up a single, harmonious body, without distinctions and without competition. There is a sense of great freedom and people are helped through song and prayer which involves the whole body, and through gestures. Young people respond well to this because it enables them to express in a natural way their inner feelings. Generally speaking, though, it isn't easy to get young people to sing when these are still discovering the Church. For example, some weeks ago I was at a meeting in France; there were 400 young people attending. On that occasion it took a couple of days to get them to join in the praise of God with songs and gestures. Here in Medjugorje, though, I got the impression on the very first day that it is easy for everyone to follow this way of praying. It is a wonderful gift by God that everyone here should be able to experience this type of spiritual infancy.
Q. What do you tell young people who feel the call to be closer to God? How do you help them understand their vocation?
I have often noticed how here in Medjugorje young people are touched by profound experiences for which they are usually not prepared. I have met many, including a young girl named Veronique who came after being invited by a cousin of hers, and she didn't even know why she came. We were travelling on the same bus and she was very surprised. Everything seemed strange to her and she couldn't understand what we were doing. But when we arrived she too was immediately captured by grace and she discovered the beauty and joy of believing. In just a few days she has taken giant steps in the faith. Most frequently young people ask: what will happen after, once we are back home? Our advice is to continue every day with a brief moment of personal prayer, and if possible to join a prayer group where it is easier to share experiences. After all, this is what Our Lady recommends in her messages. She has given us five instruments, but it isn't always easy for young people to fast. Being in a small prayer group can help them experience the grace received in Medjugorje so that little by little it can penetrate the roots of their lives and transform them. I would like to add that our pilgrimage had a theme. It was: "Under the Holy Spirit's guidance" (cf. Gal 5:16). I see that here in Medjugorje Christian living is made easy. Young people say they find it is very committing, and we know ourselves that it is not always easy to follow Christ in our daily lives and with everything that the world proposes, but we also know that through Mary everything is made easier. Truly, this Mother takes us by the hand and helps us follow Christ. She, who is full of the Holy Spirit, helps us do everything with the strength of the Holy Spirit and not with our own strength.
Q. With charismatic prayer there is a lot of praising and expressions of joy. How do you talk to young people about the cross? How does your spirituality explain suffering as an element of co-redemption and salvation?
In our Community the Cross has a special place. In Medjugorje the most obvious aspect of the Festival is the joy and spirit of fraternity, but it is also true that we still haven't climbed Cross mountain. We will do that together with everyone else for the conclusive Mass. However, from past experience I know that pilgrims say how they are particularly moved when they do the Way of the Cross up Mount Krizevac, even if the climb itself is not easy. This for me is proof that Mary leads the faithful to Christ. As I said, I met Jesus and His love 12 years ago and at the time it was difficult for me to understand Mary's place in it all; I needed time. For me, her role is in the Church, but her only desire is to lead us to her Son and into the Father's embrace. So it doesn't surprise me to see many young people here discovering Christ's love in the Way of the Cross, because it was in His death on the Cross that God showed us how much He loved us.
Q. You are one of four children, and all four of you are consecrated to God..
God's works are never sensational. Each of us (myself, my two brothers and sister) was called to the religious life, but it happened in such a natural way. I have to admit that when people find out about it, they think it rather peculiar; some are even shocked, but each of us have our own story to tell. The Lord's ways are very gentle. He called us to different Communities - we all wear different "colours." These things can't happen from one day to the next; the Grace of God was at work in each of our hearts. And I thank Him for this great gift. For me personally it is an immense joy, as I'm sure it is for my brothers and sister. I also thank God for our parents. They are ordinary people, but the extraordinary thing is that they were able to accept God's will for their children and didn't impede them from following their vocations.
Q. Is there something else you'd like to tell us?
I would like to invite everyone to enrol in Mary's school; to listen to what she wants to tell us. Today, the 5th August, here in Medjugorje, we celebrate her birthday (according to what she herself revealed in a message - ed. note), and I think that the greatest joy a mother could experience is to know that her children are serene. The only desire of the Blessed Virgin is for us to be happy. So we can experience this happiness of being God's children, we need to let ourselves be guided by her. She will give us the happiness that comes from knowing that Christ is our Saviour. I would like to invite all young people to Medjugorje. They should come particularly during the youth festival. And to grown-ups I would like to say: offer a pilgrimage to Medjugorje as a Christmas or birthday gift, just as my big brother did for me the first time I came. I might not have come otherwise.. I invite you then to be creative and to promote these trips, to allow other young people to experience the joy of being loved by the Queen of Peace.