Maitland-Newcastle heads to ACYF: Day 5 (Festival Day 2)

“It will be hard to match the energy of yesterday,” I heard a young pilgrim say as we walked into the day two opening plenary session of the Australian Catholic Youth Festival 2019. Hard, yes, but it happened.

Following the ‘opening ceremony’ style of day one’s morning session, Monday's plenaries had more time to get to the heart of what ACYF is all about.

Modern slavery abolitionist and founding director of the Walk Free Foundation, Grace Forrest delivered a powerful keynote speech during the morning plenary session, imploring young people to become part of the solution to eliminate modern slavery.

“Ending modern slavery is going to take a major global economic shift and cultural change,” she said. “Slavery is a complex issue that has been hundreds of years in the making, it is not going to be solved overnight. So, we have to embrace compromise and collaboration to create solutions.”

“If you care about climate change and protecting our natural environment, then you care about slavery. If you care about vulnerable people such as refugees, then you care about slavery. If you consider yourself a feminist, then you care about slavery.

“Imagine that power you have in your hands every single day. Power, used for good, embraced and encouraged is the game changer we need to be the last generation living with modern slavery. You have that power, don’t waste it.”

Missionaries of God’s Love Sister Bernadette Toohey and Fr Chris Ryan offered four practical ways young people can listen to the Holy Spirit – silence, signs, start and surrender.

“If we want to listen to the voice of God in our lives, we need to enter into times of silence,” Sr Bernadette said. “The thing about silence that I discovered is that it’s actually not that quiet, it’s actually when you can hear the voice of God the loudest.”

“We need to start making practical steps and start moving in the direction we feel we are called to go and to listen to the Spirit on the journey.”

Fr Chris added, “God gives us signs about what we are called to do, what he wants us to do with our lives. Occasionally God gets really direct and really overt, but most of the time, its more about small signs that add up to something, that add up to a direction.”

“Our plans and our agendas can sometimes get in the way of really saying yes to what God wants of us, so it’s crucial to be able to surrender, to be able to say ‘yes God, I want to do whatever you want.’”

Sr Bernadette and Fr Chris then called upon the teachers and youth ministers in the audience to bless and pray for the young people travelling with them, and the young people, in turn, were asked to pray for them.

Victorian-based priest and popular Christian musician, Fr Rob Galea told the young crowd, “God calls us to surrender not just because it’s going to make us weak, but because it’s going to make us stronger. So, Lord Jesus, we surrender to you, we surrender our hearts to you.”

At the conclusion of the morning plenary session, day two continued in a similar fashion to day one, with a variety of workshops, performances and informative sessions for young pilgrims to choose from.

Maitland-Newcastle’s own Bishop Bill Wright, along with Bishop Vincent Long of Parramatta Diocese, participated in a ‘Bishop’s X-Change: A Church that is open to conversion, renewal and reform’.

The workshop encouraged participants to engage in small group discussion starting with the question, ‘What does it mean to you for us to be a Christ-centred Church that is open to conversion, renewal and reform?’

Maitland-Newcastle Group Coordinator, Samantha Hill, had the following to say on the topic:

“What are we asking young people to be a part of? What are we welcoming them to? In some ways, we are the Church of the 21st century, but in other ways we are still so far in the past. It’s about finding that balance.”

Bishop Bill said, “Jesus was a reformer. He was challenging the beliefs of the people of God in his time. So, what I think we need to do is focus on that ‘Christ-centred’ part.”

During the evening plenary session, locals from the Kimberley region sung and performed in a special ceremony, honouring the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

During his homily, Bishop Saunders said, “With Jesus Christ in our heart, there is no need to be afraid.”

“Our faith allows us to see God looking favourably upon us and to know that with Jesus Christ in our hearts, in our minds and in our whole being, that we can be what God has called us to be.

“The words of the angel Gabriel [from today’s Gospel] need to echo in our hearts and minds – ‘be not afraid’.

“When you feel sad and lonely, when you feel hurt inside, remember Jesus Christ and ‘be not afraid.’ When you feel that society is against you and is putting you down, ‘be not afraid’ because Jesus is with you.

“To you who have lost people, family and friends [to suicide and self-harm], ‘be not afraid’ because Jesus Christ lives in your heart. If your families are hurt and suffering, if they feel as though they have been left aside, then ‘be not afraid’ because Jesus Christ is with you, He reigns in your heart.

“If you suffer racism in this country of ours, it hurts, but ‘be not afraid’ because Jesus Christ gives you the strength to know that you are loved eternally by a God who has a boundless appreciation and a warmth from you that can be found nowhere else except in His loving arms.

“Nothing is impossible to God,” he concluded.

American speaker, evangelist and author, Katie Prejean McGrady told the Church of Australia that they are made “not just for something great”.

“You are not only made to make an impact in this world, but ultimately, you are made to have a seat in the heavenly Kingdom and you were made to worship God for all of eternity, but you, as a young person in Australia in 2019 are uniquely suited to be a witness and a voice to the goodness of God,” she said.

Katie then asked the young people a question she asked her two-year-old daughter when she caught her fixated during the consecration of the Eucharist during their local Mass – “Jesus is coming, what do you think he is going to do?”

In his ‘Cruisin’ with Columba’ segment, Bishop Columba spoke to four Indigenous young people from the Dioceses of Cairns, Broome and Lismore in a raw and open conversation about their personal struggles, to the affirmation of the whole crowd.

ACYF took a solemn turn as members from the Diocese of Wollongong, including Bishop Brian Mascord and musical duo Gus and Iggy led pilgrims in Eucharistic Adoration.

To wrap up the evening, several of the festival’s performing artists appeared on stage for a medley of hits featuring Fr Rob and his band.

ACYF concludes on Tuesday with a pilgrimage walk from the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre to Trinity College in East Perth, where a series of musical performances and closing mass will take place.

The location of the next ACYF, expected to be in 2021, is set to be announced at the closing Mass.

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Alexander Foster

Alexander Foster is a Marketing and Communications Coordinator for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle