|Belgium – Cycling in the steps of Don Bosco and Mother Mazzarello|
(ANS – Farnières) – Once again this year the Ephata Don Bosco movement from South Belgium put on a sports event which, rather than emphasising the physical aspects, was concerned with mind, spirit, team building and greater appreciation of another part of Europe. Fifty young people, from 14 to 22 years of age, cycled through Poland from north to south to discover the history, culture and values of a proud and courageous nation.
Leaving Gdansk on 12th July, they ended their long journey at Krakow on the 28th of the month. The main purpose of the exercise, as in previous years, was to strengthen bonds between the members of the youth group.
The lengthy stages, covering an average of 100 km a day, followed a route which was educational rather than just geographical. Each morning, after an ear-splitting musical reveille and an ample breakfast, the young people were given an explanation of the topic of the day, inspired by the general theme of ‘Heart to body’. A clip from the film ‘Doctor X’, a prayer, a hymn and a little symbol on a dummy which was being built up day by day, helped to internalise the theme. Then they all climbed onto their saddles and pedalled off in groups of 10 so that the cyclists could share their personal reflections on the topic of the day. In the evenings, after each stage, there was a general discussion on the theme.
Along the way there was no lack of mishaps. Christelle discovered how a cyclist can be deceived by railway tracks. Simon and Bruno experienced at first hand the loss of braking power in rain. At an average speed of 18 to 20 kph, they usually covered two thirds of the stage, 60-65 km, by mid-day.
Days of intense pedalling were interspersed with days of rest and various activities. In Gdansk the young people visited the Solidarność Museum, learning about recent events of great historical and social importance, such as liberation from the communist regime and the return of democracy to Poland. In Częstochowa the Sanctuary of the Black Madonna brought out the Catholic face of the country. During a visit to the wonderful salt mines of Krakow, in the vast space carved to resemble a cathedral, the young people intoned the ‘Ave Maria’ in front of the statue of the Virgin, breaking the silence of the dozens of other visitors. A very emotional day was spent in Oświęcim (Auschwitz) where their eyes were opened to the cruelty of the machinery of death and the suffering of children, women and innocent people imprisoned there.
Wherever they went the travellers were welcomed with kindness and generosity, whether in Salesian houses or in non-Salesian facilities or parishes.
The experience was successful at several levels. The young participants from various backgrounds became more united day by day. The youngest, from 14 to 16, took the times of reflection, desert experience and common life very seriously. The team of leaders had a very positive experience, tasting for the first time the responsibility of ensuring the quality of the enterprise. A friendly atmosphere built up between the adults looking after the logistics of the journey and the young people. All the participants displayed their spiritual thirst and the depth of their reflection and prayer.
The itinerary had a two-fold conclusion. The first, geographical, was at Krakow, the final leg of the cycle ride. The second, spiritual, was back in Farnières, where the young people and all the staff were driven for Sunday Mass.