The festival exists to provide young people with opportunities to deepen their relationship with Jesus, be empowered to be disciples in the world today and encounter and celebrate the vitality of the Church in Australia.
Listen to what the Spirit is Saying was the ACYF theme for the 6000 young Catholics from around the country who made their way to the west coast to celebrate the event between 8-10 December.
“Listen to what the Spirit is Saying means being able to be silent and to be able to work out what’s going on within us and then opening ourselves up to God and to hear God’s voice through our thoughts, through what we read, through how we encounter each other,” said Mary-Anne DeLuca, one of several group leaders who accompanied the 40-odd young people from the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle to the festival.
The festival consisted of large-group plenary sessions with performances, presentations, Mass and liturgies. There were workshops on topics such as service, prayer, leadership and social justice and live performances from popular Christian artists such as Joe Melendrez and Fr Rob Galea.
An Encounter Expo comprised more than 80 stalls from participating Catholic agencies, organisations, religious orders, and ecclesial movements. A Justice Activity Centre provided participants with a unique opportunity to directly engage in justice issues and contribute to the lives of others in a hands-on way.
Each participant from Maitland-Newcastle had a unique reason for attending the festival.
Daniel Abrams, a student from All Saints’ College, St Mary’s Campus, Maitland said: “I’m mainly looking forward to the energy of everybody and that community spirit. Coming here, obtaining that energy, bringing it all back to my school and trying to implement all that energy to see what gets people up and going.”
Group co-ordinator for Maitland-Newcastle, Samantha Hill, who was responsible for the planning and overseeing of our Diocese’s involvement in the festival, had the following to say of the experience: “The best part about being a group co-ordinator is the fact that I get to accompany young people from our Diocese along a faith journey.
“Some of these young people are experiencing the festival for the first time, so I get to have these conversations with them about what workshops they’ve been to, what they’ve experienced, what their thoughts have been and what they’re feeling. So as they’re breaking open their experiences I’m living the experience through them and I’m seeing their faith grow and be nourished as they’re exploring the festival for the first time and exploring what their faith means to them.”
Ms Hill was accompanied by a steering committee that included Bishop Bill Wright, Fr Anthony Coloma (festival chaplain), Paul Greaves (assistant director, Catholic Schools Office), Renata Powell (teacher, Catholic Schools), Mary-Anne DeLuca (Mission and Outreach support officer) and me representing the communications team.
The festival concluded with a pilgrimage walk in 40°C heat from Perth Exhibition Centre where the majority of the festival took place, to a Closing Mass at Trinity College several kilometres away.
“Take the chance, take your courage in both hands, and open your hearts and your lives to Jesus,” Archbishop of Perth, Timothy Costello imparted to the congregation during his homily at Mass. “Don’t walk away sad from Jesus. He is our Way, he is our Truth, he is our Life.”
At the conclusion of ACYF, Maitland-Newcastle’s participants had the option to stay for a two-day spiritual retreat at St John of God Retreat Centre in Shoalwater, just 40 minutes outside of Perth.
“We know that ACYF is a really loud, busy experience, so you hear a speaker or you hear a song or you share a story, but the retreat experience is about stopping and having a chance to be still and silent, and to unpack and process and digest all of the things that you’ve experienced throughout the festival,” Ms Powell said of the experience.
“It’s a time for reflection, a time for pausing in prayer and in community with others.”
The location of 2021’s Australian Catholic Youth Festival is expected to be announced soon with Archbishop Costello sharing that it will be in a rural location.