If you could have a super power, what would it be? Do you doubt your faith? What football team do you support? These were just some of the questions posed by teenagers and young adults to the Australian bishops during the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Adelaide this month, 3-5 December 2015.
Amidst the expo space, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) stall stood out with pink zucchettos (bishops’ hats) and a large-scale map of Australian dioceses, which drew much interest and banter.
Eighteen bishops joined 3,000 young people from across the country to celebrate three days of faith-based music, inspiring and challenging talks, practical workshops, and plenary sessions each morning and evening, all of which generated robust discussions.
Hosted by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in partnership with the Archdiocese of Adelaide, the festival was held at the Adelaide Convention Centre on the banks of the river Torrens. Scorching temperatures reached 40 degrees as the festival program kicked off.
Young people raced into the festival with energy and excitement. The Australian bishops created a warm welcome with an abundance of selfies, handshakes and smiles all round.
Centring on the theme from the beatitudes, ‘blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God’ (Mt 5.8), young people between Year 9 to 25 years old asked questions about their faith, in particular what it means to be pure of heart.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, Australian Catholic Bishops’ Delegate for Youth, welcomed delegates saying ‘Jesus names eight be-attitudes, eight attitudes or ways of being, which together are the recipe for the good life’.
He described Jesus as ‘humble, gentle and merciful with people, strong on justice, sorrowful at evil’.
Archbishop Fisher likened the ACYF15 to ‘a kind of mountaintop retreat’ adding that ‘for a few days you can be unabashedly yourself as a Catholic. Let yourself fall more deeply in love with Jesus, the man of the beatitudes, so that you might become living beatitudes yourselves’.
Pope Francis sent a letter to delegates, praying they would be “spirit-filled evangelisers who pray and work for the spread of the Gospel, the conversion of culture and the care of the poor and marginalised in society”.
Similarly, Archbishop of Perth, Timothy Costelloe SDB, delivered a challenging address explaining that sometimes we think that we’ve said yes to Jesus but in fact like the rich young man who was told by Jesus to sell everything, ‘it is very likely that there is something, and maybe quite a few things, which are holding us back from really saying yes and really accepting the invitation to be, in Pope Francis’ words, builders and craftsmen of the future which God is dreaming of for us and for our world’. Quoting Pope Francis, Archbishop Costelloe encouraged young people to ‘do good things, have joy in your hearts…be courageous’.
Focusing on Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si’, Bishop of Broome, Christopher Saunders, highlighted the connection between the various forms of life and challenged young people to take up the call to care for our common home.
Singer-songwriter, Steve Angrisano, spoke about ‘cooperating with grace’ and choosing to be ‘pure of heart’. Fr Rob Galea explained how you pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet in preparation for the Year of Mercy and the theme of World Youth Day next July, ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy’ (Mt 5:7).
His Excellency, Mr Pawel Milewski, Polish Ambassador to Australia, spoke about the life of Pope John Paul II and in advance of World Youth Day 2016, he extended a warm welcome ‘to visit our beautiful country and to strengthen your faith’. Krakow was the spiritual home of Pope John Paul II, he added.
South Australian Governor, Hieu Van Le, also spoke at the festival about his faith and his challenging journey to Australia as a Vietnamese refugee.
Sr Hilda Scott, OSB, was a big hit throughout the festival. On Friday evening, she led a beautiful introduction to adoration speaking about being present to Jesus, surrendering and giving thanks through praise and worship. Describing the rays from the monstrance as God’s arms outstretched, ‘it’s too marvellous for words’, Sr Hilda said and silence descended upon the 3,000 plus crowd of young people.
Jason Evert, founder of the Chastity Project, spoke about sex, sexuality and marriage. Speaking about relationships and dating, Jason unpacked what it means to sacrifice yourself for someone else.
Meanwhile Fr Morgan Batt, a mountain climber, literally dropped into the auditorium during Friday’s plenary session by abseiling from the roof, a play on his reference the previous day to ‘mountain top moments with the Lord’.
Adding to the spirit of the festival, Bishop Columba Macbeth-Greene OSPPE marched onto the stage playing the bagpipes during the enduring Australian favourite “You’re the Voice”, joining Emmanuel worship musicians, Gary Pinto and Natasha.
Melbourne’s Genevieve Bryant, composer of the Festival theme song, had the crowd on their feet every time she sung, ‘You are the broken hearted, you are the heart of justice, you are the grace that fills our hearts’.
Personal testimonies from young people provided an insight and understanding about what it feels like to encounter Jesus and to live out that faith experience in daily life. There was a constant stream of visitors to the Sacred Space for reconciliation and adoration.
On Saturday morning, Bishop Mark Edwards OMI, spoke openly about his personal experience of Jesus. ‘We remember when we have seen God and that can be food for our journey’, the Melbourne Auxiliary Bishop said. He described those experiences as an ‘Allana moment’, in reference to a personal testimony by a young women named Allana the previous evening. Bishop Edwards concluded, ‘do not be afraid to give your hearts to Jesus, he takes nothing and gives everything’.
During the closing plenary, Malcolm Hart, Director of the ACBC Office for Youth, highlighted some of the great outcomes from the ACYF Justice Activity Centre. ‘Over the past three days, you have donated 138 packs for people living on the streets you’ve provided five boxes of educational resources; books and pens for children through the Vinnies stall. You have written 150 letters to politicians advocating for the release of children from detention at the Catholic Mission stall, with the help of the Sisters of St Joseph 250 lolly bags were collected with personal messages for children in detention, and Catholic Earthcare have collected 500 signatures towards advocating for changes in climate change.’
At the concluding Mass, concelebrated by dozens of bishops, clergy and with music led by Stephen Kirk, Archbishop Fisher encouraged the youth present in the packed plenary hall to ‘take the experiences and energy of these days back to your schools and parishes, movements and missions, bringing them news life and ensuring the grace of these days lives in your hearts’.
Archbishop Fisher officially closed the festival by announcing that the ACBC Office for Youth will host the next ACYF in partnership with the Archdiocese of Sydney in 2017. This will also commence a ‘Year of Youth’ throughout 2018 as designated by the Australian bishops.