I recall thinking at the time that I would probably never experience such an exciting and positive church experience again in Australia.
Over the last four days, I have proven that thought wrong as I attended the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Adelaide and where I had the privilege of re-living that “World Youth Day Experience”. I joined just over 90 young people, students, teachers, university students and those in the workforce from the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, in a celebration of what it means to be young in the Catholic Church of today. I was definitely one of the oldest present, only a few Bishops sporting more years than me, (Bishop Bill is younger), yet to me it was an incredibly joyous and faith renewing time. This was the second Youth Festival celebrated in Australia, following the 2013 event in Melbourne. The Festival is scheduled to be held every two years, hopefully for years to come.
It began with a beautiful opening liturgy on Thursday in which the young people of our diocese played a prominent part. They weren’t given much notice of their involvement yet they carried out their roles in the liturgy with great poise and grace. The Festival was opened by the Governor of South Australia, Hieu Van Le, who gave a magnificent and moving opening address, recalling his journey to Australia as a refugee from Vietnam and the welcome and support he and his wife received from their local Catholic Parish.
The next three days saw our young people exposed to a raft of quality speakers who encouraged and challenged them in the expression of their faith. It was a mix of some of the oldest and most beautiful of liturgies of our Church tradition and the merging of what could only be described as sensational music of a contemporary nature that had the 3,000 young people singing with great joy and gusto. Interspersed were a whole range of quality talks, discussions groups, panels and musical expression.
The success of the festival could be seen in the fact that, after an exhausting schedule, there were as many in attendance at 9:30pm at the conclusion of Mass on Saturday night as there were on Thursday afternoon at the Festival opening.
I personally found it spiritually uplifting and faith affirming, and I am sure that was the experience of many of our young people.
There isn't enough room in this blog to tell the full story of this beautiful celebration of faith, but I must extend to the organisers of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle contingent, Sam Hill, Baden Ellis and Elizabeth Doyle my heartfelt thanks for enabling our young people, and me, to be part of this celebration of faith. It was superbly organised.
The presence of Bishop Bill, Fr Paul O’Neill, Fr Thomas Chirackal, Deacon Camillus Chinenye Nwahia, Seminarians James Odoh and Michael Okenna made it very special for our young people.
I also want to thank most sincerely the teachers from our Secondary and Primary schools who made such a wonderful contribution to the Festival through their participation and support of the many students who attended. It was something special to witness the relationship these teachers have with their students and to observe the respect the students have for them, evident particularly in their behaviour and their full involvement in the festival. To say I was proud of our teachers and students would be a massive understatement.
The next Australian Catholic Youth Festival will be held in Sydney in 2017, and whilst it will have to do very well to match Adelaide, it will allow more of our students and staff to attend. I can certainly describe it as a “Do Not Miss” event.
Thank you to everyone who attended. You made an outstanding contribution to the success of the festival. Well done.