THEY filled travel bags, buses and cars, excitedly waiting for Brisbane archdiocese’s national Catholic youth event, Ignite conference, to begin on the first Thursday of the September school holidays.
The arrival of up to 1500 young people was akin to the anticipation before a sold-out performance of an international artist.
But this was no performance, and front and centre was the most humble of attractions, Jesus Christ.
This key message, of remaining focused on Jesus, was reiterated to participants daily as the conference theme, “Empty”, was unpacked throughout keynote talks, workshops, small groups and sacramental encounters.
Welcoming new and returning delegates, Ignite youth director Kym Keady spoke of “feeling ready to be filled up” after the music leaders emmanuelworship offered their signature worship style to the enthused crowd.
National Evangelisation Teams (NET) staff member Justine Cumbo led the opening keynote session, encouraging all to “jump into the deep end of the Ignite experience”.
“God wants to meet you here in ways that you don’t expect,” she said.
“Maybe you want to empty some stuff out; God will meet you. You don’t need anything other than yourself.
“Let us be empty so that God can fill us.”
At the conference’s opening Mass the following day, Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said, “Jesus speaks at Ignite and the key task is to know Jesus”.
He also affirmed the “key question” of Jesus asking, “Who do you say I am?”
“We say the answer is, ‘You are the one who is crucified and risen’,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“(And) that is the only reason we come to this, the altar of sacrifice, which becomes the table of the feast.”
The Archbishop described the table of the feast as “the altar of death and resurrection … (and) the true answer to the question Jesus asked, ‘You are the crucified and risen one’”.
“It’s love that is the key to His suffering; love that is the fullness of life that lies beyond death, beyond the dimension of time and space,” he said.
“Christ says your task and mission, as you journey through time and space, is simply self-sacrificing love.
“At Ignite, say a big ‘Yes’ to love, whatever is your vocation, whatever you are doing.”
Participants continued to be “spiritually filled” by the first full day’s workshops and small groups, also delighting in dropping into or remaining at the vocations expo among an array of ministries.
Saturday-afternoon preparations for evening Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament ensured a small army of volunteers and members of Emmanuel Community continued their generous service behind the scenes.
Once night fell and following a keynote talk by Sandhurst diocese’s Fr Rob Galea about freedom from being “chained” to sin, a spirit of prayerfulness descended, with heightened reverence for the power and presence of Jesus Christ.
The preceding messages of the conference had allowed young people to enter into the reality of “becoming empty” to allow God to enter their lives completely.
Dawn of day three invited the testimony of four panellists – Chris Lee, Nikki Lysaght, Gary Pinto and Damian Harman – as they shared personal experiences or written sentiments to their childhood self.
Each speaker was appreciated for offering an overwhelmingly honest and emotional encounter of past hurts and lessons learnt with father-of-three and Brisbane Catholic Damian Harman receiving a standing ovation.
International guest and singer-songwriter Gary Pinto spoke of how devotion to the Divine Mercy of Jesus Christ helped overcome “being bedridden for five months and not knowing why”.
“I was touring with an artist who, every time I would go to hug her, would freak out,” he said.
“I understood she’d been battling depression … (and) at one point, Mum came to hug me and I did that too, pulled away.
“At that point, I crumbled, my family were about to hospitalise me.”
Mr Pinto said God was prompting a sense of “being emptied of” incidents of shame and guilt of his past.
“At that time, I thought I couldn’t connect to God because I was so twisted,” he said.
“I didn’t think of God’s mercy but God’s judgement.”
In time, Mr Pinto implored the help of Jesus Christ in a new way.
“I had a picture of the Divine Mercy (as commissioned by St Faustina) and I’d look at it and say, ‘Jesus, help me; Jesus, help me; Jesus, help me,” he said.
“It wasn’t until I said, ‘Lord, I give you my body, my heart, my soul, my will, under your blood’ that this peace came over my room and my body. I was healed.”
That evening, Emmanuel Community moderator Pat Keady unpacked the gift and relevance of the Holy Spirit.
All gathered had the opportunity to enter into a time of prayerfulness among prayer teams for individual requests, more heightened emotion and a true sense of God’s powerful presence.
On the morning of the final day, Ignite Youth Leadership team member Tash Mierendorf endorsed all youth by sharing her pride in the future of the Church through its young people.
“When I look out at you, I’m so proud,” she said.
“If this is what it means to be a young Catholic in the Church in 2018, then I am so proud to stand alongside you.
“If this is what the Church has coming, we have a new generation.”
Missionaries of God’s Love Father Chris Eaton, from Melbourne, inspired a sense of mission “beyond the mountaintop experience” and ongoingly, at the closing Eucharist.
“It takes a moment to say, ‘Yes’ to God, a ‘Yes’ to be open about your faith,” he said.
“That’s why this conference is called Ignite, so that the flame can begin in your life, for the rest of your life and forever.”
Fr Eaton said a “Yes” to God “doesn’t have to be complicated”.
“Do not be afraid of what other people think,” he said.
“Listen to the Holy Spirit and what He’s asking you to do, to make those little decisions.
“Those little decisions will have big impacts as it is God asking you to do it.
“I invite you to go from here and say, ‘Yes’ to God … (and) don’t give up because He will lead you to heaven and He will lead as many people as He can, through you, into His heart.”
With hearts overflowing with faith-filled encounters among new and reconnected friends, homeward destinations beckoned for students, teaching staff, dozens of primary schoolers within Ignite Kids, families, priests, religious, diocesan and school representatives from near and far.
Continued enthusiasm for the “New Again” theme of next year’s aligned conferences, announced for September 26-29 in Brisbane and, for the first time, in Sydney from October 3-6, was palpable and many committed to returning.
This year’s Ignite Conference was the 14th of its kind in Brisbane archdiocese and organised by Ignite Youth, a ministry of Emmanuel Community.
More details of Ignite Youth events or registration for Ignite Conference 2019 can be found at www.igniteyouth.com