Nightfever is a worldwide initiative run by young people aged 16-35 years. Nightfever events involve opening a Church until midnight for adoration and inviting people out on the streets to come in and light a candle. Since its foundation in 2005 over 3,300 official Nightfever events have taken place worldwide. In preparation for the 2018 Eucharistic Pilgrimage and Congress, we asked Father Andreas, co-founder and leader of Nightfever and Franziska Strecker, head of communication at Nightfever, about the history and the future of this initiative within the Church.
The first Nightfever event came about shortly after the Cologne World Youth Day in 2005 with Pope Benedict XVI, who had become pope that year. Was there something that the pope said that inspired this initiative?
Fr Andreas: After the Year of the Eucharist (2004-2005), Pope John Paul II hoped that young people would again show the presence of Christ in the Eucharist to the world. He invited the youth of the world to attend World Youth Day under the motto “We came to worship Him” (Mt 2: 2). Pope Benedict presided the event and said that he expected the youth at World Youth Day – especially German youth – to begin a new evangelisation of Europe and the world. That really inspired us!
We celebrated the first Nightfever at the beginning of the new academic year, on 29th October, 2005 in the Church of the Franciscans in Bonn, St Remigius, with students from all faculties.
What was it about the spirit of World Youth Day Cologne that inspired Nightfever?
Fr Andreas: There were churches that became spiritual centres at World Youth Day. These were open day and night for the young pilgrims from all over the world for singing, prayer and conversation. They were full of praise and worship. The streets were full of singing and happy people, which inspired us German young people to continue World Youth Day with an initially unique evening under the title: “World youth day goes on… in the form of Nightfever”.
Whose idea was it to make Nightfever an outreach event instead of just continuing nights of Eucharistic Adoration?
Fr Andreas: At the time of World Youth Day 2005, I was a seminarian, and I was studying theology in Bonn. My fellow student, Katharina Fassler, a member of the Emmanuel Community, and I decided to share the joy of World Youth Day (WYD) with fellow students from various faculties. Katharina and I were part of the WYD Choir that sang during the adoration at the Marienfeld and we were deeply touched by the encounter with Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Such a blessing came from this encounter with Jesus Christ that we couldn’t keep this joy at God’s mercy to ourselves. We decided, in an adapted form of the Emmanuel Community’s Night of Mercy, to go out to the streets after Mass and give testimony as a young Christian, to invite passers-by to be touched by the mercy of God. In the church, multiple activities offered the opportunity to encounter God: lighting candles, picking a Bible verse, writing down prayer intentions, listening to the music, talking to a priest, receiving a blessing or the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The night ended with night prayer (compline) and finally the Sacramental Blessing (Benediction).
At the time of the first Nightfever event did you think it would be successful?
Fr Andreas: At first we only wanted to celebrate one evening in the spirit of Colognes’ WYD. The passers-by whom we invited from the streets and the priests who were there to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation until midnight, asked us to continue to celebrate Nightfever and invite passers-by to receive God’s mercy. Although eight priests were available for the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the first Nightfever, queues still formed because so many people wanted to bring their lives before God in the Sacrament of Confession.
Once Nightfever had started in Bonn, the word spread fast, and students in other cities wanted to start running it in their churches, too. In close co-ordination with me and after previous training, the first cities in Germany followed in 2006. Today Nightfever is taking place in over 80 cities in Germany. And also outside of Germany, there were young Christians who wanted to bring Nightfever to their churches so it is now represented in 26 other countries.
Now that there was been 3,300 official Nightfever events worldwide, how does that make you feel?
Franziska: Seeing so many young people around the world offering their free time to give others a chance to experience God’s love and mercy is a great joy. We at Nightfever are convinced that this encounter and the experience of his love and mercy can change everything. And feedback from the visitors confirms this. The fact that I can also participate in it is a great gift for me, for which I am very grateful.
Fr Andreas: I am very glad and thank God that His mercy can be experienced by the voluntary work of young people around the world. It is also a big responsibility to keep Nightfever together worldwide. We acheive this through annual international Nightfever Weekends, Nightfever Academies and meetings and by supporting each other in prayer. Anyone can become a Nightfever prayer partner on www.prayerpartner.nightfever.org
Although these events were aimed at younger people, how have you seen this movement affect the rest of the Church community?
Fr Andreas: Nightfever was founded by students and is still carried out by young people aged 16-35 years but we invite everyone we find on the street, whatever their age. I am pleased that Nightfever has been able to contribute a little bit to raising awareness of adoration and the sacrament of reconciliation. That is why I am also pleased that the initiative “24 Hours for the Lord” launched by Pope Francis also puts these two elements at the centre.
Do you find you still get nervous when engaging on the street?
Franziska: At every Nightfever I look forward to inviting passers-by on the street. This is a service that I really enjoy doing, because I always meet different people there and I am gifted by these encounters. Just as Jesus sent out his disciples in twos, so we as a team of two go out on the street to invite. Before we start, we pray together to the Holy Spirit. Being allowed to trust that He guides and leads me, helps me when I am a bit nervous at the beginning.
The heart of Nightfever seems simply to be invitation. Do we need to further encourage this culture of invitation in the Church?
Franziska: The special thing about Nightfever is that we do not wait for people to come to church. We actively invite them and experience shows that they want to be invited. Many accept the invitation and most of them would not have gone to church by themselves on a Saturday night. On my first Nightfever visit, I was also invited on the street by two young people. I was welcomed in the church by the helpers at the reception and felt immediately welcome.
Fr Andreas: We invite people to experience the mercy of God. We ourselves have received the body of Christ in the Eucharist and so can give him our hands and feet and go out on his behalf, so that all may receive the mercy of the Father. The Eucharist is our centre and summit. In Ecclesia de Eucharistia, John Paul II states that the Church can only be built on the Eucharist. We receive Christ in the Holy Mass, we worship him in adoration (No one shall receive, who has not worshiped (St Augustine). From this basis, we are sent out at the end of the Mass to win people for God. Pope Francis said: “The Church does not have a mission, it is a mission”. We are God’s messengers. We want to be missionary and we want to win people for God, otherwise we will not live our vocation fully.
For many, these events can be the first time they have stepped inside a church, or the first time in a long while. Have you gotten to know many of these people and how do you spiritually accompany someone after they have had this incredible encounter with Jesus and his Church?
Fr Andreas: Yes, at Nightfever we meet many people for whom this is the first encounter with God in a long time. Many visitors thank us and it leads to further conversations. If visitors to Nightfever have experienced God’s love and mercy and want to know more about the faith, the volunteers at the reception can give information about prayer groups etc. In the meantime, we have also developed our own Nightfever Explore faith course for Germany, which deals with the basics of the Christian faith and is based on the experiences of the Nightfever evening. But many people also enjoy being able to leave the church without further instruction and then perhaps return to another parish or diocesan event or another Nightfever at a time when they decide to do so. Since God has given us freedom, for us freedom is also a great good.
How has the success of Nightfever affected your personal faith? Do you view this success as a grace from God?
Franziska: My commitment with Nightfever has grown my friendship with Christ and my faith has deepened. I do believe that the word “success” is not the right thing for what happens at Nightfever. Through prayer and action, we can help others to have the opportunity to experience God’s love and mercy anew. Ultimately, it is the Lord himself who touches the hearts of the people this evening!
To start Nightfever in your own city, contact the international team and receive training from them. In this way the initiative remains unified worldwide and preserves the vision and charism of its origin. More information via [email protected] and www.Nightfever.org
• The Eucharistic Congress will take place in Liverpool 7th-9th September, 2018
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