Catholic Youth Ministry Federation (CYMFed) is celebrating ten successful years of forming and serving youth ministry in England and Wales.

CYMFed’s influence has seen the profile of youth ministry grow from strength to strength, from events such as Flame and the 2010 papal visit, to the publication of Christus Vivit in 2019.

Inaugurated in April 2009, CYMFed was formed in response to a shared desire expressed by youth workers and ministers to network and support one another.

Among them was current CYMFed chair Fr Dermott Donnelly and Fr Dominic Howarth, who emphasises the importance of strong relationships in CYMFed’s formation.

Fr Dominic said: “CYMFed means getting together, sharing good practice and building good relationships. If we want young people to have good relationships, we need to model good relationships.”

These strong relationships have enabled CYMFed to influence youth ministry in many positive ways over the past decade.

In March 2010, CYMFed organised the first National Congress for youth leaders in London. Bob and Maggie McCarty, a husband and wife team working in youth ministry in America, challenged all to “connect young people to the faith community” and to “be Jesus to the young Church.”

Encouraged by the attendance and support of then-Archbishop Vincent Nichols and Abbot of Worth Abbey Christopher Jamison, CYMFed successfully gathered a variety of key voices within youth ministry and offered hope for the future.

Archbishop Nichols hailed the event as “a day to make us proud.” CYMFed was up and running.

Fr Dominic was informed that Pope Benedict XVI would be visiting England in September 2010. Could CYMFed organise the youth element of the visit? Time was short but, buoyed by the congress, he agreed to the request.

After intensive planning, 2,000 young people from across the UK gathered outside Westminster Cathedral to see Pope Benedict XVI.

A further 2,000 gathered in Hyde Park, where a memorable televised celebration was led by youth minister Paschal Uche, including processions, creative liturgies and prayerful music in the presence of the Pope.

It also featured contributions from Catholic writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce and peace and forgiveness campaigners Barry and Margaret Mizen.

Fr Dominic believes this was a key moment in modern English Catholicism, and for young Catholics.

The effect on Paschal Uche was profound and led to his vocation to the priesthood.

“This humbling opportunity has made me more aware that God picks the ordinary to do some quite spectacular things,” he said.

The papal visit showed CYMFed’s ability to gather large numbers of young people. Danny Curtin was involved in the formation of CYMFed and organising the papal visit.

“This gave us massive vision and credibility,” he said. “CYMFed brought youth leaders and officers together and worked really well to deliver something incredible.”

The papal visit proved the catalyst for organising the popular Flame events, which took place in 2012, 2015, 2017 and 2019.

Flame is a good example of one of CYMFed’s strengths – gathering young Catholics on a large scale.

The first Flame coincided with the 2012 London Olympics – hence the name.

Fr Dominic explained Flame’s vision.

“We want it to provide for young people with different devotional leanings. We have Matt Redman and lively worship, prayerful liturgies and quiet adoration, all in one place,” he said.

“International speakers such as Cardinal Tagle and Cardinal Bo give young people a vision of the worldwide Church.”

This “worldwide vision” was evident at Flame 2019, when 8,000 young people gathered at the SSE Arena, Wembley, for the biggest Catholic youth event in the UK, rap artist GuvnaB and US preacher Robert Madu stood alongside Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Archbishop Eamon Martin from Ireland.

Through Flame, young people across the UK have encountered the richness of their worldwide Catholic faith, as Fr Dermott underlined.

“I know that from speaking with young people that Flame has had a profound effect on them and their faith journey,” he said.

“I remember being a young person going to York to see Pope John Paul II with other young people. The experience had a lasting impact on me.

“With Flame, we wanted to give young people that same impact-that we’re part of a bigger community than our own parish or school. We’re part of the national and international Church.”

One of CYMFed’s key aims is to develop give more direction to Catholic youth ministry in England and Wales. To this end, CYMFed has provided high quality empirical research into young people and faith.

Charity and faith sector leader Danny Curtin has been involved in this research.

“The reality that is presented by good empirical research gives a really strong foundation for planning,” he said.

“That was a passion for me – let’s start from reality. In terms of young people, who is it we’re working with? What is their reality, and how does faith make an impact in their lives? Let’s find out.”

Three major CYMFed publications have emerged, Called to a Noble Adventure and Complex Catholicism and Mapping The Terrain, a research project involving 1,000 young people.

Released to inform the 2018 Catholic Synod for Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment, Complex Catholicism updated this research. It showed young people are more devout, but more stressed, than a decade ago.

Fr Dermott urged youth ministers to view this as a new opportunity.

“The question for the whole Catholic community is how we best respond to the challenges of increased stress and fragmentation, and how we seize the opportunity of renewed openness to belief and faith,” he said.

These publications have provided youth ministers throughout England and Wales with fresh challenges, rich resources and key statistics.

CYMFed’s growth led to the appointment of Dom Finn as project officer in 2018 to support both current projects and various aspects of youth ministry.

“‘Behind the scenes’ is a good way to describe CYMFed’s work,” she said. “Across the country, so many good people work very hard in challenging circumstances.

“CYMFed is the unseen way in which that good work and those good people are brought together.”

Dom pointed to CYMFed’s members coming together to work on its Faith in Action Award. Currently running in 14 dioceses, more than 4,000 young people have received an award.

In addition, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference for England and Wales has given CYMFed the responsibility for organising National Youth Sunday and World Youth Day.

CYMFed also organised a gathering in Rome to mark the Youth Synod in October 2018 – a momentous occasion.

Dom sees Christus Vivit, Pope Francis’ post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, as a symbol of hope for the future of youth ministry.

“Christus Vivit has given youth ministers a renewed hope and vision,” she said.

For CYMFed, this renewed hope and vision means intentionally keeping youth ministry at the heart of the mission in each diocese.

Flame, the papal visits, the research, the youth awards-these are just a flavour of that which CYMFed has thus far accomplished, yet much still needs to be done.

CYMFed is very much looking towards a bright future for youth ministry, as Fr Dermott explained.

“The challenge now for CYMFed is to put the vision of Christus Vivit into practice, so that young people can encounter Christ walking alongside them and discover their calling and vocation to go out and be disciples in the world,” he said.

© By Andy Drozdziak 2020