While the corrosive messages of the secular culture and the uncertain - lowest common denominator - focus of much of today's Catholic education have wrought havoc with the faith of most young Catholics, this paralysing malaise was absent from the Lake Hume Resort, Albury over the weekend of 9-11 July, 2010. This was because the Australian Catholic Students Association Conference was in session.
The toxic agenda of the cultural majority meant nothing to these 250 young women and men, strongly Catholic, bursting with enthusiasm and gifted with wide-ranging talents across the professional and business worlds. Many are university students, some are young alumni and a few are doing apprenticeships and trade training.
They were poised, tough and confident, untroubled by the pick-and-mix, a la carte belief patterns, agnostic prayer, unorthodox liturgies and sterile, soft-left political correctness of too many religious meetings and conferences
In contrast, the ACSA Conference is a celebration of faith, with aspects of a retreat. There are well-prepared Eucharistic celebrations, Masses in both the English and extraordinary Latin rites, energised by the music of a fine Schola trained by Ben Wilson. There are serious lectures, robust discussion and happy all around socialising.
The Conference commenced with Mass in the extraordinary Latin rite at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Thurgoona, followed by a festive afternoon tea, prepared by the members of the Christ the Priest Community who serve the Thurgoona parish.
Among the ACSA Conference highlights were:
• The all-night Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the Lake Hume Resort.
• The active weekend presence of Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett of Lismore.
• The inspiration provided by the presence of two Dominican Sisters from the Ganmain convent, four Dominican friars led by the famous Sydney University Chaplain, Fr Dom Murphy OP, and the members of the Community of Christ the Priest.
• The impressive lecturers, including Fr Mitch Pacwa SJ (the internationally famous Biblical scholar), Joe de Bruyn, Senior Vice-President of the ACTU, and Rocky Mimmo of the Ambrose Centre for Religious Liberty.
• The ACSA Annual General Meeting which saw Tom Horsfall elected President for the ensuing year, Tom's sister, Siobhan, Vice-President, Norbert Neville, Treasurer, Justin Gill, President of the Catholic Students Association, Sydney University, as Secretary and Chris Restall, as Publications Officer.
• Pat Doig and Matt Harradine provided a comprehensive photo coverage of the Conference;
• The many students from Campion Liberal Arts (Tertiary) College led by their Campion Students Association President, Alex Hobbs, together with Paul O'Donovan, and Chris and Peter McCumstie.
• The ACSA Alumni, including three members of the legendary O'Kane family from Yarrawonga, Camillus, Xavier and Myles.
• The many seminarians from Vianney College, Wagga, including liturgy Master of Ceremonies, Peter Zielinski.
• The ACSA Chaplain, Fr Greg Jordan SJ, who celebrated his 80th birthday during the weekend.
We have referred to some of the distinguished speakers who addressed ACSA, 2010. Most explored, from various angles, the challenges posed by a secular society to the Catholic Church and its mission, especially the challenges to the faith of many young Catholics.
The addresses included: "Catholics working for God in a secular society" (Joe de Bruyn), "Natural Law and Positivism" (Sophie York), "Religious Liberty and Australia" (Rocky Mimmo), "Heaven, Hell, the Diabolic and the Occult" (Fr P. Murphy), "Sharing your Faith without losing your friends" (Peter Holmes), "Faith and Reason" (Fr Mitch Pacwa) and "Catholics in Politics" (Pat Byrne, Thomas More Centre, Melbourne.)
ACSA's basic membership consists of dedicated Catholic tertiary students, but senior secondary students are welcome with two younger attendees being Tom Ramsey, a Year 12 student from Rockhampton, and 16-year-old Tom Hill, a Year 11 sporting star at Nowra Christian College.
Sincere Catholic educators, exhausted "in the trenches" of the Catholic education system, sometimes marginalised by feral careerists in the schools and agnostic trendies in the Catholic educational bureaucracies, might wonder, "from where have such impressive, dedicated, intelligent young Catholic leaders emerged?", as they rarely encounter such people.
The answer appears to be that they have been formed in an underworld of strong Catholic families, and vital new movements and congregations in the Church. Some were home-schooled or attended Anglican or other Christian schools and colleges, while others attended elite Jesuit and other colleges.
All have bucked peer group pressure and the toxic, anti-religious "aggro" around much of the Catholic system. There are also passionate members of the Latin Mass communities and of the networks surrounding the Franciscan Capuchin friars and the Missionaries of God's Love.
Altogether, they comprised the 250 young adults who made the ACSA 2010 Conference so inspiring an experience.