Niamh McLaughlin reports on a recent online event for the youth of the Focolare Movement entitled ‘Wings of Peace’
[New City Magazine – November 2020]
On Sunday 20th September, the young people of the Focolare had an online event on Zoom to celebrate International Day for Peace. In this event we used and discussed resources and propositions from the Living Peace project such as the dice of peace and the ‘time out for peace’.
As well as encouraging the young people to take regular time in their day to pray for world peace we wanted to do something which would materially help those currently affected by war and violence. After discussion and reflection we decided to carry out some fundraising within the group to help those in need, caught up in the crises in Lebanon and Yemen.
The devastating explosions in Beirut in August left over 100 people dead; over 4,000 injured and hundreds of thousands of people homeless, jobless, bereaved and in need of urgent help in the aftermath. Using Patricia Batista’s contacts from her time in Lebanon last summer, we got in touch with the local young people of the Focolare community in Beirut to tell them about what we were doing and they replied with this message from Nour:
Hello my name is Nour, I am 17 years old and I am speaking on behalf of the Gen 3 from Lebanon (the young people of the Focolare).
As you guys know, recently we had a huge explosion in the capital, in Beirut and this explosion changed a lot of things for me. First of all, a lot of innocent people died, at the hands of criminals. Another thing was my brother was in Beirut because he works there. We lost contact with him for around three hours. We didn’t get a call or anything, so my mum and dad were scared. I thought that he’d died which was the worst feeling ever. However, happily we heard later that he was safe… The most important thing that I learned was that we should live the present moment. At our Gen 3 meetings they used to say ‘live the moment, we should live the present moment’ but I never understood this phrase. However, when the explosion happened I can’t tell you how much this thought hit me – that I should live every single moment and I am still so grateful for being alive.
So this is a quick update on what happened here. Thank you for all of your support and all your love from around the world. We love you so much.
The Azione per un Mondo Unito (AMU) Rising from the Ashes Project in Lebanon is currently helping the situation by providing food, clothing and shelter to those in Lebanon who need it the most. They are a charity reliant solely on public donations so we decided to donate half of the money we raised to their cause.
Yemen has been experiencing a civil war for over six years and much unrest within the country long before that. It is now experiencing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with over 24 million people in the country in need of urgent aid such as clean water, food or sanitation. The crisis is no longer regularly reported in the public eye and for this reason it is often called ‘the forgotten war’ or ‘the forgotten crisis’. However, help is so desperately needed, we decided to also donate to Tearfund’s Yemen appeal. Tearfund is dedicated to reaching the most vulnerable people in Yemen and providing them with safe drinking water; food: seeds and tools to grow vegetables; and emotional and wellbeing support to help with the trauma of war.
The guest speaker at our online event was James Buchannan from Oxfordshire who told us about his recent experience and fundraising effort. James cycled 100 miles during his summer holiday in aid of AMU’s project in Lebanon and the CAFOD Covid-19 emergency response. He told us about how he felt during his activities and how he overcame the difficult urge not to go out during inclement weather. His story inspired us and we decided to do a similar activity to fundraise. Between the group of all the young people and over the two weeks from Monday September 21st (International Day for Peace) until Sunday 4th October we attempted to walk, run and cycle a total of 500 miles and ask people to sponsor us online with donations split between our two chosen charities.
During the online event we did an origami craft activity to create some small paper butterflies and love hearts. This activity was the inspiration for the name of our project ‘Wings of Peace’. We have been taking these creations with us on our sponsored journeys and taking photographs of them in various places around the country. Now that we have finished our challenge we are sending the butterflies and hearts that we made to the young people in Lebanon, as a sign of our love and unity with them. We are also going to make these photographs into a collage and send it along with the tokens so that the young people can see where their butterflies and love hearts came from and where they have been.
During the full lockdown I didn’t have much to do so I regularly went for a walk around my local area to keep myself healthy and to help clear my mind. However, since starting university remotely in September I have struggled to find the time to get out, so this challenge came at the perfect time. It gave me the motivation needed to find time in my day to exercise, which not only improved my ability to study, but also helped others as my contribution got the team closer to our target.
Shortly after publicising our event we were contacted by GoFundMe (the online fundraising system we used) who were touched by our campaign and wanted to publicise it further and wanted to share the campaign with media contacts to help increase donations.
We are now planning our next project which involves reaching out to elderly people in a special way. The pandemic has led to increased loneliness and the isolation of many elderly people and we reflected that we should try to do something to show our love and support for them. As part of the ‘Dare to Care’ initiative (see New City August/September 2020), we want to reach out to the elderly people in our communities to make a difference in their daily lives. Pope Francis recently launched the #sendahug appeal and asked young people to use the ‘inventiveness of love’ to find ways of safely ‘sending a hug’ to the elderly people in our own communities.
We plan to make more origami hearts in our own homes and write messages of love and hope inside them. Together with the wider Focolare communities we are going to make some attractive and comfortable face masks, which can be more pleasant to wear than disposable ones and can be washed and reused, making them more environmentally friendly. We will then send a face mask and an origami heart to elderly people we know in our own communities or in care homes, to spread our love and unity locally.
The current situation may make it seem more difficult to spread peace, love and unity through the world but it is more important than ever. The pandemic has caused us to appreciate more the importance of human relationships and of being able to meet and share our lives. We hope that, through these initiatives, we can contribute to bringing about hope, peace, love and unity in our local communities and throughout the world.