The convention, held from 21 to 23 September, brought together 365 youth ministers from all over Australia and involved lectures, prayer, workshops, networking and friendship.
The Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle was represented by Sam Hill, Rebecca Piefke, Fr Camillus Nwahia, Sr Christine Ramada and myself.
Bishop of Parramatta, Vincent Long OFM Conv, welcomed everyone to the convention by encouraging them to walk unfamiliar paths and become travelling companions for the young. “We want the church to be a radically inclusive community,” Bishop Long said.
In discussion groups we shared stories about the often challenging realities young people face today and the gaps that exist in our ministry. Each group came overwhelmingly to the same conclusion - that the greatest need exhibited by young people was a sense of community and belonging.
Young people need to feel part of a community that walks with them when they face life’s tough decisions, reassuring them Jesus is real and able to walk alongside them on their journey. Fr Chris Ryan MGL spoke further on this topic, discussing the need for inclusive parishes that welcome young people into the whole life of the church - not placing them in a different group which doesn’t interact with the entire parish.
While these discussions were important, it was the final workshop of the convention that had the greatest impact on me when Diocese of Broken Bay Office for Evangelisation Director, Daniel Ang, spoke on bridging the gap between youth ministry and adult discipleship.
He began by posing a question: “How quick is the church at ‘discipling’ anyone?” Ang said. “We have taken a pastoral approach that assumes the sacraments will take care of it. This neglects our duty to awaken in each person an active and personal faith.”
This results in some Catholics being ‘sacramentalised’ but not ‘discipled’, he said.
On this point the catechism says: “The sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the church. It must be preceded by evangelisation, faith and conversion”. CCC1072.
Jesus says in Matthew 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
A disciple is someone who knows Jesus as a friend, who speaks and listens to Jesus. If someone is never told that Jesus can be this close to them, and only experiences God as a distant presence, they won’t have their life transformed and share that experience with others.
In my early life I can’t recall anyone speaking of having a close relationship with Jesus even though I went to Mass every Sunday with my family, attended a Catholic school, and received the sacraments of Baptism, Reconciliation, First Eucharist and Confirmation.
My ‘aha moment’ came when I was 15 and I went to a youth group called Antioch, where I heard Jesus being spoken of as a friend. As soon as I heard that I thought, “I want that”. That began a journey for me of building an amazing friendship with Jesus, praying and having prayers answered and later on, leaving university to become a volunteer missionary for ten years. Jesus is so real, so caring and he is able to communicate with us. As Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli said in his keynote address: “We are creatures on speaking terms with God.”