At dawn on the first morning of the youth conference in Paris, the area experienced one of the most violent thunderstorms of the year. However, for the group of youth who had travelled from a community in the south west of France and were camping in tents close to the conference location, the storm, though severe, did not prevent them from arriving at the venue on time and full of joy, a spirit shared by the other 650 conference participants. They came from France, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Belgium, with a vision of change for their communities, born of a sense of hope in humanity's capacity to work together for the betterment of society.
Mr. Nakhjavani, a former member of the Universal House of Justice, brought greetings to the youth. His presence at the conference was a source of joy and inspiration for all the participants.
“Serving the younger youth in my community is something that I don't expect anything back from, yet I receive a lot of spiritual blessings.”
A participant at the conference
As the youth reflected on the capacities they could develop through service to their communities and how these skills and qualities could assist them in the different dimensions of their lives, such as work, school and family, one young girl shared her experience serving as a teacher of moral education classes for some of the children in her neighbourhood: “This service [as a children's class teacher] has helped me to learn and develop many qualities such as patience, or the capacity to talk with the parents of the children. This has strengthened my ability to speak with older adults in general, which is something I will use throughout my entire life.”
Together the participants explored what social influences exist at school, home, and in their neighbourhoods and considered how they could protect themselves from negative influences, while learning how to use the positive ones for change. One group identified that service to others is in itself a positive force. As one participant shared, “Serving the younger youth in my community is something that I don't expect anything back from, yet I receive a lot of spiritual blessings.”
The arts were woven into each day and evening of the conference. Each region prepared and presented either a song, or a quote set to music and in one case a short film about the community-building activities in their neighbourhoods. The main hall at Les Esselieres was filled with uplifting music, as the entire conference was led in song. Artistic presentations included reflections on the concepts the youth studied together throughout the weekend.
The conference participants spent time in their workshop groups reflecting on the theme of mutual support and encouragement. They recognized the power in collective action for helping one another to carry out acts of service and progressing in other aspects of life. One youth shared, “We are not alone; there are plenty of friends who can help and a very beautiful community that is like a family, ready to help us.”
Throughout the weekend, quietly in the background, members of the community served the youth by providing registration, security, medical services, and catering, making over 1,700 sandwiches for the lunches of the youth. With dedication and joy they played their part supporting the youth, as loving members of the very beautiful family the conference participants had described.
As the warm afternoon grew long in the suburbs of Paris, the youth began to make their way home. On trains and buses, the conference participants talked together excitedly about the plans they had made for serving their communities and the bonds of friendship, joy, and vision for change they had experienced during their three days together. With these thoughts fresh in their minds and hearts, they prepared for their next steps along the path of service.
The youth gathered in the main hall at Les Esselieres in Villejuif, just south of Paris
The material inspired thoughtful study
Each region contributed uplifting music throughout the conference
Growing understanding and bonds of friendship were evident in group activities
Study helped the youth reflect on the capacities they could develop for service to their communities
The participants came from France, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Belgium
The main hall was frequently filled with music
A dance demonstrating the joyful spirit of the gathering
Youth socialized outside of the conference venue