In his post-synodal exhortation, Ecclesia in Oceania, the Holy Father writes, "A new evangelisation is needed today so that everyone may hear, understand and believe in God's mercy destined for all people in Jesus Christ."
This need is particularly great on university campuses across Australia where, each day, thousands of young people turn their minds towards fundamental questions of existence, morality and belief. Among these young people are many Catholics who will be expected to lead the Church in this new millennium. Unless the Catholic faith can be presented to them in a spiritually and intellectually credible manner, the Church will lose this potential pool of talent, not to mention priestly and religious vocations.
With this need in mind, the International Movement of Catholic Students Australia (IMCSA) hosted its annual national conference in Sydney from 2-5 April 2002 with the theme, "The Resurrection in the University".
Students travelled from all corners of the country, with almost 100 representatives from 20 of Australia's 36 universities and four other institutions of tertiary education meeting during the four-day conference.
Some of the institutions represented included the University of Queensland, Australian Catholic University (Melbourne and Brisbane campuses), University of Sydney, University of New South Wales, the John-Paul II Institute (Melbourne), University of Melbourne, Monash University, University of Tasmania, University of Adelaide, University of Western Australia and Notre Dame University (Fremantle).
Students of the Good Shepherd Seminary in Sydney also joined the conference participants at the annual IMCSA dinner. It is hoped that, as students at tertiary institutions, seminarians from across the country will play a greater role in the activities of the IMCSA in the future.
The theme of resurrection was developed over the next four days by a succession of speakers, including Fr Anthony Fisher OP (Melbourne), Fr John Parsons (Canberra-Goulburn), Anna Krohn (John-Paul II Institute Melbourne), the Hon Ronan Lee MP, Dr Patrick Quirk (Bond University), Dr Alistair Barrios (University of Queensland), Clara Geoghegan, Selina Hasham, Fr Paul Stenhouse MSC and Fr John Flader.
All of these speakers stressed the individual responsibility of each young person attending the conference. As burgeoning intellectuals, they are all part of a growing group of Catholics responding to the Holy Father's call to evangelise the world by sharing and remaining loyal to the deposit of faith.
As a special guest at the conference, Archbishop George Pell joined Karl Schmude of the Campion Foundation, university students and chaplaincy ministers on a discussion panel which addressed the topic, "The University and the New Evangelisation."
His Grace remarked that while young people are there to "set the Church on fire", older people (himself included) are there to ensure they "don't burn it down." On a more serious note, he stressed the importance of, amongst other things, being Christ-centred at the university. Only after prayer, he said, could one begin to evangelise. He also pointed to the need for student leaders to begin training their successors as soon as possible in order to maintain the excellent work of Catholic societies on campuses.
A number of Church leaders and organisations demonstrated their interest in and support for a strong Catholic presence at university by providing financial assistance for the conference.
Indeed, without the generous support of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference and the Bishops' Committee for Laity, the IMCSA and its Annual Conference could scarcely exist. In particular, the students and chaplains of the IMCSA are most grateful to the Bishops' Committee for Laity, whose continued assistance makes the movement (and its growing enthusiasm) a practical reality.
This latest IMCSA conference has demonstrated that a "resurrection" is possible for universities, Catholic societies and even national movements such as the IMCSA.
The IMCSA is already planning its next conference in Melbourne for 2003 as well as a meeting with His Eminence, Cardinal Francis Stafford, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, which administers not only the international IMCS but also World Youth Day.
Those students interested in IMSCA should contact the new National President, Alex Sidhu, on 0410 646 193.
Nicholas Rynne is the immediate past National President of IMSCA.