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‘We’re just trying to help people meet Jesus’: Why young Catholics flock to Ignite Conference

Fervour: “But at the heart of that very first one … it’s just to lead young people to encounter God’s love for them so that their hearts and lives can be transformed for life.”

THEY gathered, foot-stomping and singing, their thurible reimagined as a smoke-machine, with untamed school-holiday haircuts and fluoro wrist-bands; and they radiated a festival fervour suggesting Jagger or Bowie was up next – this was Ignite Conference 2019. 

More than 1500 young people from across Queensland and New South Wales gathered for four days of sacraments, music and workshops at Mueller College, Rothwell, over the weekend of September 26-29.

“I just love coming to this event,” Miah Redfern, of Port Macquarie, said, standing alongside two of her friends.

“I love the experiences I get out of Ignite and I love the people that I meet.

“There’s always someone nice to meet.”

Daniel Ward, one of Miah’s friends, said he came to Ignite to grow his faith, meet new people and have some fun.

He said it was always great to see the different Catholic groups talking about their ministries at the stalls.

“It’s always great to see who’s here, like the Missionaries of God’s Love, and NET (National Evangelisation Teams) Ministries,” he said.

“They’re always interesting to talk to and where I could go with them when I finish school and things like that.”

Festival friends: Miah Redfern, Daniel Ward and Ariana Smajstr walking back from a workshop to the opening Mass of Ignite Conference 2019.

Below the stage area were the stalls, where groups like Caritas, Holy Spirit Seminary and others were stoking interest for their ministries. 

Caritas Queensland region justice educator Kerry Drysdale, who was manning one of the stalls, said he was there to promote the work of Caritas in countries across the world.

“(To) promote the work of Caritas in our schools and it’s around promoting Catholic social teaching – social justice and caring for creation are the main things at the moment,” he said.

“A lot of the kids who come here are from Catholic schools and are aware of Caritas, particularly Project Compassion. 

“This gives us an opportunity to meet kids and others who attend conference face-to-face. 

“It’s good to have the various organisations here that represent the breadth of the Catholic sector.”

Capuchin Father Thomas McFadden was running a stall too, starting conversations about vocations and inspiring young people to live the Gospel.

“It’s very important for young people to see the variety of vocations that exist in the Church, so they can really open their hearts to what the (Holy) Spirit is inspiring and so they can live whatever God’s calling them to,” he said.

Canossian Sister Melissa Dwyer said Ignite was a great chance to plant seeds in people’s hearts.

“It’s not about becoming religious; it’s about finding what God’s calling them to and what their dream is,” she said.

“I love seeing young people discover who God is for them.”

Emmanuel Community moderator Pat Keady said at the heart of Ignite Conference was the “deep love God has for His young people”.

“As a young person who was a missionary in the nineties and I did a couple years on NET, I’m like: there’s still so many who don’t know Jesus and we have to reach them somehow, anyhow, doing whatever we can,” Mr Keady said. 

“And with the band of people around us in the Emmanuel Community at the time, the first Ignite Conference in 2001, we decided let’s run a conference. 

“But at the heart of that very first one … it’s just to lead young people to encounter God’s love for them so that their hearts and lives can be transformed for life. 

“Truly and honestly, we’re just trying to help people meet Jesus.”

Meeting new people: Ignite Conference was a chance for young people to network and grow in faith.

Mr Keady said a lot of young people he had met said the Church seemed like an “old institution, a hindrance to their faith”.

It was difficult for him to hear.

“But we get how you feel that,” he said.

“If we could provide an alternative doorway and experience of that same Church with those barriers removed, at the heart of it all, they experience no barriers and meet Christ face to face, which is still what happens and we report happening on the Friday night when we have Adoration – young people seeing Jesus face to face and saying, ‘Oh, my God, I feel like I’ve just seen God’. 

“If that’s what it’s not about we should shut the doors and go home. 

“I’m so pleased when I hear that; they still write in: ‘my life has changed, I feel like I’ve met Jesus’. 

“It brings you to tears to read it.”

Ignite’s opening Mass on the Friday was celebrated by Monsignor Peter Meneely and concelebrated by a dozen more priests and altar-served by seminarians.

In his homily, Msgr Meneely said it was great to see so many young people from across Australia at Ignite Conference.

He said it was a great few days of prayer, but he also said not to fear the more difficult times of our lives.

“It’s in those parts of our lives that we feel we want to hide, those parts of our lives that trouble us, those parts of our lives where we feel most invaded – celebrate it – that’s where God will be found,” he said.

“It’s there that we come to a point of loneliness and humility in our lives that we can’t solve the problems ourselves and God comes to fill that space in the our lives.”

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