Close to 200 young people travelled up to 2,000 kilometres across Australia to attend the 1999 Thomas More Summer School at Newman College, Melbourne University, between 12-14 February. They came to learn about their faith, their place in the world as young Catholics and to meet as many people as possible. From all accounts the Summer School was another resounding sucess.
The theme this year was 1999 The year of God the Father: A journey of Conversion. For the last two years the Summer School theme has followed the guidelines of preparation for the new Millennium set down by the Holy Father in his 1994 document Tertio Millennio Adveniente. The Holy Father has asked Catholics to use the years 1997-1999 as preparatory years for the New Millennium. This year, the Holy Father has asked us to complete our preparation in what he calls a journey of conversion of heart from sin to good.
Many aspects of the Holy Father's 1999 theme were covered at this year's Summer School.
In what is now a tradition for the Summer School, Archbishop George Pell gave the opening address - titled "Jubilee 2000: the real reason to celebrate." In it he encouraged participants to be proud of their Christian heritage: "As Christians we have a terribly optimistic message to offer. The best preparation for the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ would be to take on doing something in one extra area. For instance, doing something about abortion, euthanasia, bringing a Christian influence to trade unions, being involved with Catholic doctors, Catholic lawyers, or your local football team. There are 1001 areas in which we could be involved in bringing the Christian message to those around us."
Bishop Denis Hart's topic was on the "Spiritual preparation for the New Millennium", which offered a detailed insight into the meaning of a Christian Jubilee. He pointed out that the idea of a Jubilee every 50 years goes back to the Old Testament as a time of rest, when sewing and harvesting were prohibited, mortgages and debts were cancelled and slaves were liberated.
From the year 1300, the Bishop continued, the Church instituted a jubilee, every 50 years. The Scriptural tradition of letting the land lie fallow as a condition for growth is linked to the Christian idea of a retreat or reflection before any important time in life. The Holy Father wants us to take time to reflect and then to move forward with greater energy, he said. The Holy See is already leading the way, calling for the reduction of world debt in the needy nations, and in working for equality and the rights of people.
Tracey Rowland, a doctoral student at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University, spoke on the issue of "Secularism and the State". She referred to a "civil war" going on in our institutions between the theists, the liberals and the Nietzscheans. Former star AFL footballer, Steven Lawrence, and his wife Annie, gave a personal account of their marriage - which was, in itself, a wonderful promotion of that sacrament.
Dr Hayden Ramsay, a young philosopher from Scotland (and a seminary lecturer and adviser to Archbishop Pell on philosophical matters), spoke on "Faith and Reason: a Philosophy for Life," based on the Holy Father's new encyclical. Dr Ramsay encouraged his listeners to think about and to know the Catholic faith so that they can give a rational account of it if challenged.
Anthony Krohn, a barrister, spoke on the ever-increasing "global problem" of refugees. His salient example was a familiar one: that of a family from Bethlehem, 2000 years ago, which travelled into exile in Egypt. Mr Justice Jim Macken, a former judge of the New South Wales Industrial Commission, gave a provocative address on global corporations and their effect on the right of all humans to work. He encouraged Summer School participants to read Pope John Paul II's encyclicals.
The Summer School has, every year, had great support from Melbourne's clergy, and this year was no exception, with lectures from Fr John Flader on the Sacrament of Penance, Fr Greg Pritchard on the virtue of charity, Fr Shane Hoctor on "A Spiritual Plan for Life" and from Monsignor Peter Elliott, who closed the conference with the topic "Mary: Model of discipleship."
As is the tradition with the Thomas More Summer School, old friendships were renewed and new ones begun. It is a perfect opportunity for like-minded Catholics in a very secular world to meet and converse. A number of social events were organised, including a video and pizza night featuring A Man For All Seasons, a film based on Robert Bolt's play depicting the life and death of the Summer School's patron, St Thomas More.
Mass was celebrated on Saturday and Sunday in the Newman Chapel, and confessions were heard by three priests on both days. A bookstall was run by the John XXIII Co-op Bookshop and the Daughters of St Paul.
Over the coming year we will reflect, think and act on what we learnt at the 1999 Summer School and how to best prepare ourselves to celebrate the coming Great Jubilee Year 2000.
(The Thomas More Centre has had many requests for tapes of the 1999 Summer School talks and hopes to make these available for sale within the next month.)