On a beautiful sunny Friday, the 21st of July, three students from the Jesuit college, Dmitar Zvonimir Mitev, Iva Bevc and Jakob Praznik, and I, Urban Gartner, a young Jesuit scholastic, drove to the Venice Marco Polo Airport.  There, we had a flight to Lisbon waiting for us.  We were attending MAGIS and the World Youth Day (WYD).  

Why travel 2000 km there and back again if not for a business trip or vacation?  To spend two busy days in the crowd, sweating and babbling among strangers in a strange land? 

Still, according to the testimonies of those who were there before us, it is an incredible experience. That is why we also went there.  This article will only focus on the MAGIS experience so that it won’t be too long. 

You might have heard about MAGIS before.  MAGIS (meaning more in Latin) is organised by the Jesuits.  The annual Europe-wide camp gathers a few thousand young people to experience an international event in the Jesuit style.  

Prayers at the mass

There were four Slovenian Jesuits at MAGIS: myself, Fr Marko Pavlič SJ, a chaplain in the Dravlje parish; Janez Gorenc SJ, a scholastic in Dravlje who currently studies in Paris and fr. Damjan Ristić SJ, the rector of the Jesuit College in Ljubljana.  The entire Slovenian expedition was organised by Fr  Marko, who also took 15 more young people from Dravlje to Portugal.  All except Marko were attending the MAGIS event for the first time. 

After a pleasant ride to the airport, we parted ways with our driver, Fr  Marjan Kokalj SJ.  At 9.30 pm, we arrived in Lisbon.  A lovely lady named Maria welcomed us there.  She offered us a place to stay that first night.  What is more, she postponed her departure for vacation because of us and went to the seaside with her husband and son at 11 pm, when all of us were settled in.  She left us her (very nicely furnished) apartment, including some food for breakfast.  It was a great beginning! 

The following day, on Saturday, the MAGIS event officially started.  The main venue for the event took place at Colégio São João de Brito (The College of St. John de Britto.)  It is a kindergarten, primary and high school complex with sports premises.  There, we stayed in gyms and classrooms.  The surroundings of the College were beautiful: we had a place dedicated to prayer and confession, furnished with cushions and chairs; there was a cafeteria, a coffee shop, various talking or chatting spots in the tents, and a big stage on the soccer field.  We made the most of our first day by having a quick tour around Lisbon and joined the evening program afterwards.  

This year’s MAGIS was named:  Hope-filled future. There were 3000 young participants and over 200 Jesuits.  Our Slovenian team was scattered among the crowd, but we managed to get together and participate in the part of the program together. 

We communicated mainly in English; however, some of the programme was translated into native Portuguese and partly Spanish.  Common events, such as daily Mass, the main parts of the program, concerts, and common prayers (mostly the examen), took place at the main stage.  It was an excellent opportunity for Jesuits to meet acquaintances and friends from all over Europe. At the same time, the young people had the chance to meet new people and cultures – through sports, chatting and common activities. The most important experience was the experience of God through prayers, Mass and everything we did. 

We spent five days in the College São João de Brito, three days at the beginning and two days at the end.  The central part of the MAGIS experience was the so-called “experiments” that lasted six days, from Sunday to Saturday.  We were divided into smaller, nationally diverse groups and visited different parts of Portugal (51). Some of us even went to Spain (29), where locals welcomed us.  

The experiments were categorized into five themes:  

  • Art and Culture 
  • Ecology and Environment 
  • Religion and Spirituality 
  • Pilgrimage and Journey 
  • Solidarity and Service  

We were not isolated during the experiments.  All 2500 of us were connected through prayer (with the help of our common prayer book) by God.  Every morning and evening, we attended prayers and meditated on the same guidelines and scripture passages.  At 5 p.m., we had a group reflection on the day we spent with God in the centre.  

I joined the experiment, which focused on ecology and the environment.  We visited several farms near Évora, where the organization Casa do Monte operatesvarious educational activities. The experiment was led by a French Jesuit, Gabrijel Pigache, SJ, and his companion, Benoìt Rolland de Ravel. I helped organize spiritual content.

We started our day with a common morning prayer followed by breakfast, a morning activity, lunch, an afternoon activity, sharing in the MAGIS circle, the Mass, dinner, an evening activity, an evening prayer, and finally, we went to bed.  What a packed schedule!  Activities were mainly mental and theoretical, which made them typically French (at least according to our Jesuits).  

The first activity brought us to the past.  We had to walk 2740 steps (about 2 km).  Each of us was a symbol of 5 million years of the history of the universe, from the Big Bang to the present.  We stopped at every crucial historical moment (the beginning of life, the first great extinction).  I was the most stunned by our last step.  It was the feeling: after 2739 steps and two hours of walking and listening, you arrive at the last, 2740th step, where people appear in the last 10 cm.  This perspective makes you aware of your smallness through the senses.  It also helps us to be more grateful and humble as we realise that we are still alive regardless of the five bigger and countless smaller extinctions on Earth.  God’s plan uniquely directed the movement of history on the vast field of time, species and space.  Now, we exist and believe we still matter to God very much.  This is quite incredible! 

The rest of the activities were focused on reflection and discussion with the help of cards.  The cards presented factors influencing the climate, which we had to put logically together.  We sought the causes and consequences of climate change and connections to different fields: human activity, temperature, effects on weather, marine environment, continents and society.  We shared our thoughts on the subject, looked at some research about climate change, and watched a movie about young people actively engaged in social affairs, climate activists, etc.  

The activity that had a more profound influence on us was the MAGIS circle.  The circle meant sharing our way of seeing God in all that was happening during the day in smaller groups.  Our common ground was the Scripture passage that coloured each day with God’s presence and guidance.  We shared different things, from the confession of an individual especially touched by God and was given a new insight or sense to another honest confession that someone was bored with the experiment.  We were not forced to share.  And this is ok. 

The most beautiful part of the experiment was common learning and socialising. First and foremost, we were brothers and sisters in Christ.  He then connected us (for the better and worse of this experiment) so that we sang spontaneously together and had fun.  We stay in touch from time to time.

We also fondly remember the hospitality of Ms.  Rita Rosada and her family.  Ms Rita cared for delicious food and drink and was attentive to all our needs, from transport to first aid. At the same time, she and her husband took care of the farm and their three children. 

Later, we visited the city of Évora, met a local bishop and returned to Lisbon.  At our last Mass, fr. General Arturo Sossa Abascal, SJ, said a few words to us and particularly emphasized the message of MAGIS.  What is the message?  

Hope for the world lies in people, especially the young.  How so?  Our world is not always beautiful and good.  Even among us were participants from the countries in war, from the countries where they persecute minorities and those who think differently, where there is poverty.  But if we keep Jesus in the centre and let him fill us with the Holy Spirit and transform us, we can change the world.  This is the same message that Jesus brought to the world.  This is the Good News: God loves the world and delivered it, and now He invites us to live in the Kingdom of Heaven with Him.  And live it concretely!  Both MAGIS and WYD are another sign of such hope. 

Hope is a wish inside us to make the world a better place.  All young people attending MAGIS expressed a clear desire for something beautiful, for God, for other people: there was openness and searching present to a larger and smaller extent.  This desire fuels the fire of search and hope. 

We could also be together at MAGIS.  We were together with people from all over the world.  Living together was a great joy.  We were together with our differences.  We needed to be open and patient; we needed to be able to rejoice over disagreements.  This can happen only with Jesus in the centre. 

There were people with various abilities, talents and professions among us.  Some of them are actively involved in politics and social affairs, others leading a calm family and work life, living righteously or building their path by the example of Christ.  MAGIS lets us experience how Christ’s love changes into concrete action; volunteers with various talents cared for all our needs, while young people surrendered to the experience despite tiredness or other inconveniences. 

If we can live together well for ten days, why not for one more day? And then another and another?  This experience calls us to live differently, which is not always easy, especially when you constantly spend time together or work together for a long time.  Our everyday life is different from events like MAGIS.  However, it is a sign of sound and the experience of beauty we want to live. 

First, we are called to live The World Youth Day with equal openness.  I will tell you more about this next time.