Stories from the Australian Catholic Youth Festival December 2017 will appear below as they come in…..
From William Lowry, 3rd Year Seminarian of the Ballarat Diocese
On December 4, 2017, I had the great privilege of accompanying almost a hundred young Catholics from youth groups and schools around the Diocese on a four day adventure to the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Sydney. As we arrived in Sydney we joined 19,000 other Young Catholics on their pilgrimage to the Festival held at Olympic Park. What was particularly striking about this first encounter with this group of Catholics was that this was truly the Youthful Face of the Church, a church re-invigorated in its evangelising mission.
Each day of the festival would begin with a ‘Plenary Session,’ where we would gather in ANZ stadium to begin the day giving glory to God with praise and worship, to hear talks on matters of faith and service and to engage with other pilgrims from all across the country. After our initial Plenary, the whole gathering would break out and head across Cathy Freeman Park to the Exhibition Halls to engage in a myriad of different activities: The daily celebration of the sacraments, with both Eastern and Western rite Mass being celebrated each day; large numbers of priests available for reconciliation; an adoration chapel filled with young people at all times; talks from speakers including some international guests such as Emily Wilson and locals like Sr Hilda Scott OSB and Archbishop Anthony Fisher DD; praise and worship performed by the likes of Fr Rob Galea and Matt Maher; an exhibition centre filled with stalls from publishers, vocations offices, charities and even our own Ballarat stall manned by Amanda Smith, our Diocesan Youth Services Coordinator. It was incredible to see the diversity of activities on offer, and the particular topics that the speakers were engaging with.
This festival was a perfect expression of the way in which the Church is engaging with the realities of the world – by finding new and exciting means of engaging with people through the mediums they use and the issues they are concerned with, meeting them where they are, as Pope Francis would put it, whilst maintaining a firm foundation in the teachings of Christ. An example of this could be found in the talks from the Bishops of Sydney, one being Bishop Richard Umbers titled, ‘Memes and your Guardian Angel,’ on using the internet and humour as a teaching tool about the metaphysical, or Archbishop Anthony Fishers’ talk on Same-Sex Unions. A new addition to the youth festival was the group discussions with the Bishops about topics affecting today’s youth, things like the struggles of rural living, youth unemployment and the environment. The day’s prayer, learning, fun and reflection would then finish with a second plenary in the evening. ACYF was not merely a music festival or a conference, the youth festival was an opportunity for these means to be used to engage with the faith (singing, dancing, praise and worship), to translate into a deeper interior conversion, an ever more efficacious love of the Lord and neighbour and a deeper sacramental life. This was made tangible at the Friday plenary when we had exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and you could hear a pin drop. These young ‘millennial’s’ are clearly able to comprehend the transcendent.
On our final day, the 19,000 family of pilgrims took a journey of witness across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, reminiscent of World Youth Day Sydney back in 2008. There was looks of puzzlement and bemusement as we all moved through the streets clad in Catholic paraphernalia with flags flying. I, along with Fr Anthony Balakishore Nagothu, took a personal journey to the tomb of St Mary of the Cross McKillop before the bridge walk. This was for me, apart from morning Mass at St Benedict’s, the highlight of the trip. For me St Mary of the Cross represents a great model for the country priest, she persevered unto the end with an absolute trust in the Lord. We can, in our contemporary context, take great consolation in her model, “to do all [we] can with the means at [our] disposal, and leave the rest to God.”
After our stroll through the city we arrived at the Domain for a final vigil Mass, along with thousands of Sydney locals. Excitement was high and the scene was slightly chaotic before Mass; groups vying for position, volleyballs flying through the air and chants and music being performed. As night began to descend and Mass commenced I was struck by the spectacle of over 19,000 people on their knees with their heads bowed in prayer, being imbued by God’s sanctifying grace to strengthen them to go forth preaching a message of hope and repentance. Before our final blessing the announcement was made that Perth is the next location of the Youth Festival, and of the declaration of 2018 as the Year of Youth in Australia. After the final blessing, fireworks lit up the Sydney skyline and some succumbed to melancholy, sad that their trip had come to an end, others to jubilation, invigorated with the message of Christ ready to go forth and proclaim it in their parishes. Finally after all had come to end, our Ballarat group clambered back on the buses for the long journey back home.
Whilst I must admit that the Youth Festival was a good opportunity for a break after the seminary year, it was much more than simply a break. The experience brought me a deep sense of consolation. Despite what we may perceive in the pews, or the sentiments expressed in the media, the Church is still alive and well and has seemingly been re-vitalised in its evangelising mission. There was much joy and happiness to be had with the youthful face of the Church, the festival itself took the words of Pope Francis as its motto “Opening new horizons for spreading joy.” I had been before to the Youth Festival in Adelaide and also World Youth Day in Madrid, however this festival in Sydney was something of a different atmosphere with more than triple the numbers of Adelaide. Living in the Seminary in Melbourne it can be hard to find exposure to parish life. What was impressive for me was the level of involvement of these young people from the Diocese. My hope is that this fervency translates into more involvement in parish life.. From our Diocese we had Bishop Paul Bird and five priests in attendance. They were clearly of great spiritual benefit to all young minds and provided a spirit of wisdom and knowledge.
I conclude my reflection with these words not merely for the sake of providing encouragement, but rather as a call to action. This festival, particularly the comments made on the bus ride home made me aware of the need of all of us, including me, including every parishioner of our great diocese, to provide a witness to our next generation. To encourage them in small ways – with our example and fidelity to prayer, with our attempts to get them engaged with church ministries and with charity work, with parish events particularly youth groups and vocation retreats, with catechises and educating them in the faith and of the most important witness that we can all engage in, pray for vocations, that young people may overcome their fear of commitment and give themselves as good and faithful servants, be it as married people, priests, nuns, single people, brothers or wherever there vocation lies.
I would like to thank Bishop Paul Bird for his generosity both spiritually and materially on this trip, gracing us with his presence for our entire journey. Also I would like to thank Amanda Smith for her tireless organisation and support, the staff of St Patrick’s and Loreto Colleges, the Priests of the Diocese that attended or supported those in attendance, the Leaders of YESS Youth and the other youth groups of the Diocese in attendance and finally to the attendees themselves. Without the support of the Diocese and our generous contributors, we would not had been able to experience such a wonderful opportunity to commune with God and Neighbour. May the Lord be with you all in this Year of Youth, 2018.
From Erin O’Beirne, Damascus College Student
The Bishops of Australia held the first Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Melbourne, 2013. The thrilling response from the youth enabled the 2015 ACYF which was held in Adelaide and called in a bigger crowd. Last year from December 7-9, the 2017 ACYF was held in Sydney calling in over 190,000 youth from around Australia in celebration and recognition of their faith. The 3-day festival was jam packed full of talks, music, laughter, and more.
The first day opened with a plenary session involving 2 hours of music, prayer and inspiration. The opening ‘act’ was a beautiful piece celebrating the aboriginal inhabitants of the land and their elders past, present and future. This celebration of diversity and coming together was constant throughout the festival in many ways. In the expo dome each organisation had a stall at which you could find interesting information or do something to help others. One of the largest stalls was the Caritas stall where they had created an interactive village to teach and inform people of the living situations of those in Africa and the effect that the help of Caritas and those who support Caritas create.
Caritas wasn’t the only organisation there with the aim of inspiring and making a difference. The St. Vincent de Paul volunteers were there collecting items to put together into packs to hand out to the homeless. These supplies where given by the youth that attended the festival.
Although the days were jam packed and overflowing with activity, on the final day of the festival the afternoon was clear of talks, concerts and extensive activity as all who attended walked on one of three pilgrimages to the Sydney Domain where, as a collective whole, Mass was celebrated outdoors to end the 3-day festival.
This was my second time going to the ACYF and I would encourage anyone and everyone who can to attend the next festival in 2019 in Perth as it is an incredible atmosphere and the people you meet are amazing.
From Marie Shaddock, Group Leader – Sunraysia Parishes:
If you could watch it on television without the sound on you would say it was going to get ugly. You might think they were fans of an angry soccer team and be expecting rubbish bins tipped over and the like, as 18,000 young people poured out onto the streets around the Sydney Showgrounds at the ACYF, fists punching the air, obviously yelling and screaming. But turn on the sound and you would discover this massive sea of youth chanting “Jesus!! – Who’s the best? Jesus!!” as they flooded down the streets onto trains and buses. There were no drugs or alcohol involved, simply Spirit and it could not be contained.
What an amazing three days! 18,000 young people exploring their faith in the midst of so many of their contemporaries, and loving it. Who wouldn’t? The electric atmosphere of the plenaries where musicians captured not only the audience but incorporated their vivacity, energy and joy. The openness and friendliness of the Bishops who put themselves and the Church on the line, freely discussing the deep and often darker issues of our world with open frankness. Keynote speakers covered topics from Ecology to Same Sex Attraction, to How to Pray in Tough times. Musicians who shared their faith, and life stories so compellingly, because of their genuine passion and love of our faith. In the midst of all this Masses were being said, Eucharistic Adoration was taking place and young people were standing in the hot sun patiently queueing for confession.
None of this would have happened had it not been for the Bishops who conceived and then supported this great event. It is because of their courage and commitment that this has happened. We can be proud to be Catholics, even today, and we can be very proud of our Bishops. As one young man said to me “I can see why you come back – it is just so good!”
Highlights of the three days were the plenaries with the music of Matt Maher, Steve Angrisano and Fr Rob Galea getting everyone, Bishops and Archbishops included, dancing in their seats with beach balls flying through the air. Sr Hilda’s command of the young was incredible as were her talks on prayer and her often heart wrenching interviews in “Hangin’ with Hilda”. Particularly powerful was on the Friday night when Archbishop Prowse challenged and charged all those present in his address, and 18,000 people stood in a dark stadium with the modern-day candles of their phones alight while they reconsecrated themselves to Christ. And the silent wonder of Eucharistic Adoration where the beating heart of Jesus held everyone transfixed.
The fitting and concluding highlight was the open-air Mass in the Domain, which on its own was a spectacular masterpiece ending in an unexpected firework display which really capped off the whole experience. Archbishop Fisher summed it up in words borrowed from Winston Churchill, “This isn’t the end, or even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning!” To be continued . . . in Perth 2019!