By Emilie Ng
CHAPLAINCY and academic staff from a Queensland university are behind a new conference hoping to argue Christianity’s value in modern society.
The first-time conference, titled Spirit in the City, will be held at the Queensland University of Technology’s Gardens Point campus in July and will be aimed at young people.
QUT chaplain Fr Bavin Clarke and science services professor Alistair Barros are among the university staff organising the conference.
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge is the keynote speaker and will discuss ways the Christian faith can respond to atheism.
American professor Stephen Barr will give a lecture over Skype on the relationship between science and religion, while Campion College theology and philosphy lecturer Dr Matthew Tan, formerly of Brisbane, will discuss faith and “cyborgified culture”.
Jesuit Father Richard Leonard, journalist Tess Livingston and ABC Religion and Ethics online editor Scott Stephens will also be among guests.
The conference will also feature talks from young missionaries working for peer ministry Freedom, which offers faith studies to students at QUT’s Kelvin Grove and Gardens Point campuses, and which began work at the University of Queensland this year.
Professor Barros posed the idea for the conference after hearing a homily given by QUT chaplaincy assistant Deacon Russ Nelson in Kenmore parish.
The science services professor said Christianity could “engage issues that people face in contemporary society”.
“Faith can make sense of the world,” Prof Barros said.
“People are asking what on earth the Catholic faith, and any Christian faith for that matter, may have to offer in a thorny, secular environment.
“But past popes and deep thinkers, people driving great scientific discoveries, were finding truth and making sense of the world in the Catholic Church.
“We want young people to understand that the Catholic and Christian faith is highly adventurous.”
Prof Barros said the conference would also challenge the public discourse on religion and the quality of reports on Christian and Catholic affairs.
Fr Clarke said QUT was “the hardest secular university in the state” and the perfect setting for a conference on faith, culture and public affairs.
He said a first-year undergraduate student was “at the start of their self-determination” and an “invigorated faith encounter” was needed to help them maintain a Christian life.
“From my perspective as a priest, university work is taking young people here and now from a child experience of Catholicism to an adult experience,” Fr Clarke said.
He said the conference would showcase Freedom missionaries and their work, which was “solid, simple and core to Catholicism”.
Fr Clarke said their ministry at both the Gardens Point and Kelvin Grove campuses over the past five years had exponentially increased his workload in the confessional.
“Probably, if I were to measure Freedom’s impact, I’d have to say the place that I do so is not in the large numbers that gather in for Mass, for instance, but most profoundly is in the confessional,” he said.
“I don’t go more than two days without having someone in the confessional.
“I can say in the majority of cases those that come through the studies that are conducted here (by Freedom), are life-changing moments,” Fr Clarke said.
Spirit in the City 2015 will be held on Saturday, July 11, at P Block 413, QUT Gardens Point campus, Brisbane, from 8.30am and concluding with Mass at St Stephen’s Cathedral at 6pm.