YOUNG Australian Catholics marched in their thousands to the steps of Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre last weekend – a pilgrim army united by faith and age, and urged by their bishops to “go and rebuild” the Church.
“Help stop the Church – my Church – from falling into ruin,” Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe told the 5500 young Catholics amassed at the opening event of the Australian Catholic Youth Festival 2019.
It was a rare chance for an aging Church to reach out to a crowd of young people – and the young people took it in their stride.
Albany Creek parish and Vinnies Queensland representative Tom Warren, 22, said he appreciated how the ACYF and Plenary Council 2020 were linked together, asking young people to listen to the Holy Spirit and speak to the Church.
“I guess I have been in the Church for some time and, for the Church to say ‘We’re listening to you’, I think it’s huge for young people, and young people really appreciate that,” he said.
Mr Warren said there had been many highlights to the festival.
“I really love how broad everything is … it’s huge,” he said.
“A very wide variety which I wasn’t honestly expecting, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting; but having that wide variety of everything that’s great about the Catholic Church is truly amazing and very surprising to have.”
Adele Nugara, from Nanango parish, and Megan Schick, from Kingaroy parish, could both feel the Holy Spirit at work at the ACYF.
“I think, for me, I felt really empty, and it’s just really good timing to be filled up,” Ms Schick said. “I felt the Spirit encouraging me to be open and I felt that Living Water, it’s been good – really good.”
Ms Schick said she loved to see all the bishops at the ACYF.
“It’s incredible being able to see them and their joy and their witness to us,” she said.
Ms Nugara agreed and said it was also great to see the joyful community; “it’s been so wonderful to be a part of it”.
She said she had learned so much at the ACYF she could bring back to her parish and school.
Mark Kandathiparambil, a Year 11 student from St Thomas More College, Sunnybank, made a personal decision to take responsibility for his Catholic faith at the ACYF in Sydney.
Born and raised in a Catholic family, who attend Mass at Sunnybank parish, Mr Kandathiparambil said before the ACYF, he hadn’t thought consciously about why he was a Catholic.
“Previously to that I hadn’t taken the initiative with my faith,” he said.
“That (ACYF Sydney) was the first opportunity I was provided to seek it myself, because I’m from a Catholic family; I’ve just been doing family rituals like going to church.
“But because of Sydney I was able to take the initiative and take the interest in my faith.
“I guess part of it is just knowing God’s plan for myself and trying to be the best I can be.”
When his school offered the chance to take students to the ACYF in Perth, he jumped at the opportunity.
About 41 students, staff and parishioners went to ACYF from Sunnybank.
Mr Kandathiparambil said being around 5500 young Catholics was inspiring.
“You can really feel the energy, especially at the plenary sessions,” he said.
“Everyone is just really passionate about faith and it’s really great to see.
“It can be tough at times because a lot of people in my class don’t really see religion as important or don’t really know it.”
St Thomas More College maths, science and religion teacher Paul Plant said giving students a chance to attend Catholic events like the ACYF provided “a lived experience” of the religious education curriculum.
“In the RE curriculum there’s learning about the faith, and there’s also a dimension in the RE curriculum about learning how to be religious in a particular way,” Mr Plant said.
“You can learn all you want about prayer but there’s something different about praying.
“You can learn from a text book, or from a learned experience of faith and God and relationships.
“(The ACYF) really deepens the experience for these students who have chosen to come along and are keen to come along, to deepen and learn similar things in a different context and have a lived experience.”
The 34-year-old Catholic father and member of Emmanuel Community said the ACYF provided a sense of the wider Church, and while he was proud of the Catholic culture at STMC, it was inspiring to hear the faith journeys of other communities.
“People who, even though I don’t know them, I hear them talk about their relationship with God and it sounds very familiar to me because it’s the same God,” Mr Plant said.
“There’s something really rich about discovering, amidst people’s differences, a unity that connects us to God and to the Church.”
In the day-one evening session, pilgrims heard from Missionary of God’s Love Sisters Therese Mills and Judy Bowe, who recently appeared on television show The Amazing Race.
Sr Bowe 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 the Holy Spirit.
“When it’s God, anything can happen,” she said. “It was so ‘God’ because it was so positive.
“It was like the whole Church has this big collective laugh, all together.”
Sr Mills said they were given the opportunity to bring the Gospel message to people’s lounge rooms through actions like praying at the demilitarised zone on the border of North and South Korea.
And that allowed them to speak with their fellow contestants and crew – and the audience – about their own vocation and how God can work in people’s lives.
“If you know that you’re listening to the Holy Spirit, you can do anything with great courage that it will go well,” Sr Mills said.