The friars in the Franciscan friary in the heart of Galway city, “The Abbey”, have a special outreach to young adults in that university city.

Various programmes are organised to bring young people together to celebrate, share and reflect on their faith.

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Franciscan Youth Ministry in Galway

Beatrice Guarrera interviewed Jacopo Pozzerle about the friars’ ministry to young adults in Galway. This article was published on the Order’s website, 

Galway city has about 30,000 young people studying in the two local universities, attended by people from all over the world. The local friars listened to the young people and picked up on the desire of many of them to find a community to lean on and grow in faith. “This is how the Galway project was born, as an experience of a Church which goes forth,” explains Jacopo Pozzerle OFM of the Galway fraternity, who has worked on the project from the beginning, together with Ronan Sharpley OFM. 

Not long after the two friars arrived in Galway, the pandemic started. “We started to seek contact with young people,” continues Jacopo. “From an online group, we moved on to face-to-face or hybrid meetings (with the possibility of connecting remotely). We have thus begun a series of activities aimed at young people.” 

The regular events now range from the weekly Lectio Divina to the Ten Words (Commandments) Path at the diocesan pastoral centre, to pilgrimages in nature, called Laudato Si’ Pilgrimages. ‘The aim is to offer spiritual content and create opportunities for a shared life,’ explains Jacopo.

“Between workers and temporary students, however, we know that we need flexibility in our activities. The young participants comprise an international group from different countries, such as East Timor, India, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Ecuador, Israel, Palestine, France and Tanzania.” Many of them were looking for more than Sunday Mass and were invited by the priests of the local cathedral to contact the Franciscans. This was the case with the first girl that Jacopo and Ronan met: a young French student who then helped to spread news about the Franciscan events among her friends. 

Among the initiatives offered by the friars is A Light in the Night, the opening of the Franciscan friary church once a month, every Saturday, in the evening, for Eucharistic adoration. “Our church, the Franciscan Abbey, is in a central location in Galway,” says Jacopo. “The open doors in the evenings have thus attracted new people, who then formed the group that attends the regular catechesis.” 

To be able to speak to young people, the Galway friars decided to immerse themselves totally in their world. Ronan is a university chaplain, and Jacopo works as a psychotherapist and counsellor for students. “During the day, we familiarise ourselves with their world, and the rest of the time we try to put initiatives in place to support them,” explains Jacopo. 

In lives that seemingly conceal no hidden entanglements, there is often deep unease, leading in some cases to alcohol, drug abuse or self-harm. Listening to the sufferings and hopes of the young people, the friars try to be a presence at their service. “Here in Ireland, there is rapid secularisation,” says Jacopo. “Our initiatives are linked to the Franciscan word, life and spirituality. Our dream is for a YouFra community to be born here.” The Franciscans are trying to bring the charism of St Francis without fuss and without grandiose acts. 

During the pandemic, even just walking in the city centre wearing the Franciscan habit could be a word to someone, according to Jacopo. “A person who frequents our activities revealed to us that, some time ago, when he was already abandoning his former life of alcoholism, unruliness and promiscuity, he saw us walking in the streets wearing the Franciscan habit. I still remember his words. ‘I saw you happy, and I began to think that faith had something to do with joy,’ he said.” 

The Galway community now numbers six friars, all Irish except Jacopo, the one Italian. Their popular city-centre church offers daily Masses and Confession and other pastoral services. “Ours is a fraternity with two lungs: on the one hand, work with young people, on the other, collaboration with the local Church,” continues Jacopo. 

The friars offer themselves as support to parishes in outlying areas, such as Kilbeacanty or Barna. 

The Guardian of the fraternity, David Collins OFM, together with the entire community of the friars, supports and encourages youth initiatives 

The friars in youth ministry also collaborate with the local Poor Clares. There are periodic gatherings of prayer together and evenings of witnessing with groups of young people that are very intense and fruitful. 

“I like to be among people, to talk, to share stories; we are like brothers, we are fellow travellers,” says Jacopo. “In the moments of sharing, the stories of the young people complement our catechesis.” 

In this shared journey, another common desire is to invest in relationships of friendship, to always go forward with mutual support. “We want to pass on the message of fraternity, even in our commitment to the university. Ours is a great challenge, an open quest to find the right language to speak to this changing society.”