Friday, September 02, 2011

Father Cregan - Semper Fi

At 71, Fr. Cregan Attends Sixth World Youth Day
by Gretchen R. Crowe
Arlington Catholic Herald
August 30, 2011

Kneeling in an adoration tent at the outdoor site of the final vigil and Mass with the pope at World Youth Day in Madrid, Father John C. Cregan, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Alexandria, was told he would have to leave.

A storm was coming, the Spanish police told Father Cregan and three other priests, and it was too dangerous to be in the tent that held nothing but a makeshift altar, a candle and the exposed Blessed Sacrament.

“(He said) you must leave,” Father Cregan said. “We said, ‘No, we must stay.’ The police officer left after he realized we had the Blessed Sacrament and weren’t leaving.”

Following his departure, one of the Spanish priests said: “Do not worry, brothers. We are in the hands of God.”

This proved to be the case as the time kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament amid wind and rain was a “peaceful experience,” Father Cregan said. And the storm passed by “fairly quickly.”

Maybe it was his strong faith or the presence of the exposed Eucharist or the fact that he is a former Marine that helped Father Cregan keep his cool under pressure. Or maybe it was, more simply, that this World Youth Day wasn’t his first. While for many pilgrims last month’s event marked their first time at the spiritual get-together that attracted millions of young people from across the globe, for the 71-year-old Father Cregan, it marked his sixth — and probably not his last.

As a spiritual director for Youth 2000, an international organization that develops Eucharist-centered retreats for young people, Father Cregan attended World Youth Days in Paris, Rome, Toronto, Cologne and Sydney before going to Madrid — and he’s used to expecting the unexpected.

So what keeps him going back?

“Probably the interval in-between,” Father Cregan joked in a recent interview. Also, the presence of the young people and the evidence of their faith.

“As the time goes by you look forward to it,” he said. “It’s a great thing. It’s a great moment for our Church.”

Involved with Youth 2000 since the early 1990s, Father Cregan said he believes frequent exposure to the Blessed Sacrament is a powerful way for youths and young adults to grow more deeply in their faith.

“I think the young people have a hunger for the reality of spirituality, for things that give real meaning to their life,” he said. “They feel a peace, I think, when they are in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.”

In Madrid, Youth 2000 offered events at the Iglesia de San José, including Holy Hours throughout the day organized by different groups from around the world.

“We had them from Hong Kong, Germany, Burma, Ireland,” Father Cregan said. “We had one from Russia. I never thought I’d be in a church bursting with Russian youths singing and praying. It was awesome. It brought tears to my eyes.”

At the church, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed continuously throughout the day, except for when Mass was celebrated, and the youths brought a piety into the space.

The church was filled, even the aisles, Father Cregan said. “If you looked around, you could see the reverence in their faces.”

“It gives me great hope for the future to see all those young people with faith and a desire to do what’s right,” he said. “They really cared and they made an effort to pray. All of us couldn’t help but be graced by them.”

So, with six World Youth Days in the bag, will Father Cregan be packing for Rio de Janeiro in 2013?

A pause.

“Yeah, I think I will,” he said. “It keeps me young.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2011


See also Fr. Cregan: ‘A Marine for Christ’
Podcast of Fr. Cregan at Theology on Tap, Saying Yes to Christ: Your Call to Serve


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