The Missionaries of God's Love (MGL) is a new Religious Congregation founded by Fr Ken Barker in the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn in 1986. Already, a quarter century later, the Congregation has been established in Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines with professed members, priests and brothers.
In 2010 there were 31 young men in formation in Canberra and Burwood (Melbourne) with a further eight anticipated in early 2011. This is an impressive development when vocations to the priesthood and religious life have been sparse in recent years in Australia.
The MGL has arisen from the charismatic side of the Australian Catholic Church with many initially drawn from the flourishing Disciples of Jesus Convenant Communities. The Young Men of God (YMG) is an initiative of the last ten years being a lay movement sponsored by the Missionaries and established by Father Barker and a young Canberra electrician, Ben O'Heir.
Stand and be counted
At the Young Men of God Conference, held at the Collaroy Convention Centre in Sydney (15-17 October 2010), Ben recalled the short passage of Scripture which inspired him. It is where the Old Testament prophet remarks: "I looked for one to stand before Yarweh on behalf of this land and I found none."
The prophet was thinking of ancient Israel but Ben applied the words to contemporary secular Australia. He felt it was time to stand and be counted. Curiously, Ben's epiphany coincided with Father Barker's - it was indeed a complementary vision.
For Father Barker has written of the moment when he was called to establish the YMG Movement: "When I was in Assisi in the Jubilee Year 2000, I had the opportunity to pray at the Portiuncula, the small church where St Francis and his early Brothers spent much of their time. While praying I sensed that the Lord wanted me to initiate a movement of young men in Australia who would spread throughout the world.
"I wanted young men to rise up in the Church today with a deep faith, purity of heart and strength of character ... Now is the time to seize this moment of grace!"
In fact, the year 2000 was notable in young adult ministry for several new initiatives: the Thursday SIX30 Holy Hour commenced in Melbourne, the Australian Catholic Students Association was revitalised under talented, new orthodox leadership, and the Young Men of God was founded in Canberra.
The 2010 Young Men of God Conference mentioned above followed a proven and successful approach with Mass, prayer, lectures, opportunities for confession and free time for sports.
There were many highlights:
- The attendance of five priests to hear confessions. All of those at the Conference approached the Sacrament.
- The careful preparation of the liturgies and worship sessions.
- The attendance of YMG delegates from every state and territory giving the Conference a national character.
- Among those present were the Melbourne youth leader Tim Davis, three members of the Nichols family from Ballarat, Jake, Luke and Amos, the Campion College representatives, the Victorian and Sydney YMG leaders.
- Nick Seselta proved a very capable Master of Ceremonies and in the background, Nick Morgan was a reliable and conscientious organiser.
- The National Evangelisation Teams (NET) have a similar role in youth ministry to the Youth Mission Teams sponsored by the Missionaries and so the Conference was honoured by the presence of Robert Schroeders, leader of the NET team's Freedom Group which provides the Catholic Chaplaincy at the University of Queensland's Kelvin Grove Campus.
The Keynote Speaker was the famous English Catholic convert, John Pridmore, once a London East End gangster, who was granted the grace of conversion in a Pauline experience akin to the "Road to Damascus." Since his conversion, John has lectured extensively throughout the English-speaking world on his extraordinary life. He captivated his audience.
Other speakers included MGL priests, Fathers Ken, David and Geoff. Their intense faith and passionate style made each audience member feel God's personal call to a life of holiness: prayer, silence, the Word of God, daily examen and the Eucharist.
The husband and wife team, Francine and Byron Pirola, together with Karen Doyle, explored issues of sexuality, married life and the different but complementary psychologies of men and women.
During 2010 there have been three major national Retreat/Conferences for dedicated Catholic young adults in Australia:
- The Australian Catholic Students Association Conference, 17-19 July 2010, Lake Hume Resort, via Albury, NSW.
- The Young Men of God Conference, 15-17 October 2010, Collaroy Centre, Sydney.
- The iWitness Retreat, The Tops Conference Centre, Bendena Garden Road, Stanwell Tops, NSW 2508, 9-12 December 2010.
These form part of a steadily growing Catholic world of active young adult ministry in the first years of the third millennium.
At Easter, 2011, Father Barker and his Missionaries of God's Love are taking yet another initiative: the Light to the Nations Easter Youth Pilgrimage at the St Clement's Retreat Centre, Galong, NSW, 21-24 April 2011. For details: email: firstname.lastname@example.org; website: www.lttn.org.au; phone: (02) 6227-0917.
The Missionaries of God's Love (as with the new Campion College) need the generous financial support of the active Catholic community to fund their exciting initiatives for the new evangelisation in Australia.