As we left our accommodation and walked towards the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre, Maitland-Newcastle’s group convened with other diocese’ groups and, before we knew it, the streets were filled with Catholic youth, all together for one purpose.
The energy was electric and excitement obvious as a pilgrim blasted ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ by Journey through a speaker as hundreds sang along on the way to ACYF.
The festival’s opening plenary session kicked off with a performance by Joe Melendrez, an American Christian rapper, who performed his hits, ‘Sacred’, ‘Chosen’ and ‘God’s Calling’.
Father Robert Galea, a priest of the Sandhurst Diocese and a renowned singer-songwriter, used the moments in between his epic performances to invite delegates to be open to the voice of God in their lives
“God is real,” Galea said. “Christ is alive. The Church of which you are a part is yearning to help you and to hear you, to teach you and to learn from you, to challenge you and to be challenged by you.”
“I pray that throughout this time, as we gather here as a family, as we gather here as your people, that you give us the grace to hear you speak.”
“Lord, we don’t want to walk out of this place the same way we walked in. We know that when you speak, our lives, our hearts are changed forever. So Lord, we give you the permission these next few days to speak to our hearts, to speak into our lives.
“Lord, we give you the permission to mess up our plans. We want you, Jesus. We want your guidance, Holy Spirit. You can take the world, you can take everything. Give us you. Come, Holy Spirit.”
Archbishop Costelloe’s opening address drew upon the exhortation St Francis of Assisi received 800 years ago and a similar encouragement from Pope Francis in more recent times.
He combined God’s request to St Francis’—"Go and rebuild my Church, which is falling into ruin”—with Pope Francis’ comments at World Youth Day 2016 in Poland.
Archbishop Costelloe challenged young people to “get up off your couches, go out and help rebuild my Church. Help it to set out on new and uncharted pathways. Help stop the Church, my Church, from falling into ruin.”
After the opening plenary and throughout the day, pilgrims had the opportunity to attend their choice of workshops and sessions on topics such as leadership, mental health, feminism, climate change and many more.
“As a teacher, I felt like I really got something out of that,” Maitland-Newcastle pilgrim Cyrena said of Karl Brown’s workshop, ‘Leading yourself before leading others’.
Other highlights of ACYF’s opening day included: The first two ‘Cruisin’ with Columba’ conversations, which were chats between Bishop Delegate for Youth Columba Macbeth-Green OSPPE and a group of young people; the first Bishops X-Change sessions, in which bishops from across the country engage with young people on important issues facing the Church and society; Dutch priest and author Fr Michel Remery asking the question, “Is there social media in heaven?”; a catechetical session on prayer, including participation in Sunday Mass; and an exploration of how young Catholics can continue to advocate for action on climate change.
In the evening plenary, pilgrims experienced humorous and faith-filled insights from Missionary of God’s Love Sisters Therese Mills and Judy Bowe, who recently appeared on the popular television show, ‘The Amazing Race’.
Sr Judy said when someone suggested the idea to go on the show, they thought it could be from God, but they needed to—in the theme of ACYF and the Plenary Council—'Listen to what the spirit is saying’.
“When it’s God, anything can happen. It was so ‘God’ because it was so positive. It was like the whole Church has this big collective laugh, all together,” Sr Judy explained.
Sebastian Duhau and Holly Roberts, who have each represented young Australian Catholics at the Vatican, told their peers that they should take up Pope Francis’ challenge to be “protagonists of change” and “the now of God”.
They explained that the Plenary Council 2020 allows people of all ages in Australia to be both of those things.
Delegates closed the first day by participating in the meditative prayer form that originated from the Taizé community in France, followed by a musical performance from Gen Bryant.