Two factors have wrought havoc with the practice of their faith among many young Catholics: the 'atomic radiation' of secularism flowing from the cultural majority; and the uncertain, lowest common denominator focus of an unfortunate proportion of Catholic education.
However, there was no sense of this numbing malaise among the 200 delegates at the Australian Catholic Students' Association Conference at Notre Dame University, Broadway (Sydney), on the weekend of 11-13 March, 2011. Every facet of the Conference was authentically Catholic.
These 200 young people were a talented cross-section of contemporary Catholic leadership, cool, confident and orthodox, untroubled by the cafeteria belief patterns, agnostic prayer, secularised liturgies and sterile, soft-left political correctness of too many Catholic meetings and conferences.
At their latest conference the ACSA was energised by impressive speakers led by Cardinal Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, Cardinal George Pell, Professor Tracey Rowland of the John Paul II Institute in Melbourne, and Miranda Devine, a prominent journalist.
The Conference began with Mass at St Benedict's, Broadway, celebrated by ACSA's chaplain, Father Greg Jordan SJ. The music was provided by the Campion College Schola and assisting Father Jordan at Masses and other liturgies were Lismore Diocese seminarians from Vianney College, Wagga Wagga.
It has been ten years since ACSA was transformed under the leadership of Cardinal George Pell to revitalise the spiritual and intellectual life of Catholic tertiary students and young alumni. ACSA is their peak representative association whose objectives are to provide support for the various student groups and chaplaincies at tertiary institutions throughout Australia and to proclaim a Catholic voice on issues of importance for students and young alumni.
ACSA and its state affiliates have a vigorous presence in opposing aspects of the secular culture such as the legalisation of euthanasia and abortion. Since its inception ACSA has arranged annual National Conferences in Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Albury.
The 2011 Conference included Challenge, the Alumni Luncheon and the Conference Dinner with guest speaker, Cardinal Pell.
On Friday evening, Cardinal Raymond Burke, the Conference Keynote Speaker, gave an impressive address to a vast crowd at the University of Technology. He stressed the urgency of Catholic professional leaders being involved in politics and community debate. Their contribution should reflect objective moral principles and resist the marginalisation of Christianity from public life. Many of Sydney's political and professional leaders were present along with interstate visitors.
The Alumni Luncheon on Saturday at the Essen Restaurant near Notre Dame University was organised by Dr Xavier O'Kane and addressed by the new Liberal member for Castle Hill, Dom Pettit, with Greg Smith MLC (Shadow Attorney-General) present.
In the evening, in the Great Hall of St John's College, University of Sydney, the ACSA delegates celebrated with a gala dinner in the presence of Cardinals Burke and Pell.
In his Mannix Oration Cardinal Pell ranged over the challenges which practising Christians face in today's society. He stressed that young Catholics needed "friends in the faith", other young Catholics who shared their values and interests.
On Sunday the Annual General Meeting elected a new leadership group for the following twelve months. The new leader is Justin Gill, currently President of the Catholic Students Society at the University of Sydney.
Young Catholic leaders
Many middle-aged and older Catholics, faced with few young Catholics in the pews at their parish churches on Sundays, may wonder where such impressive young Catholic leaders have emerged as they rarely, if ever, encounter such people.
The answer appears to be that they are the products of strong Catholic families, home schoolers and vital new movements and communities. Some attended non-Catholic independent or state schools. Others have bucked the negative peer group pressures all too prevalent in many Catholic secondary colleges. Not a few are members of Latin Mass communities or the networks surrounding the Franciscan Capuchin friars, the Dominicans and the Missionaries of God's Love.
Altogether they comprised the 200 young adults who made the ACSA 2011 Conference so inspiring an experience.
In the following months there are further avenues of consolidation for orthodox young Catholics:
YPAT (Youth Political Action Training) 1-7 July 2011 at Mannix College, Monash University, Clayton, 3168. This is arranged by the Thomas More Centre, 35 Whitehorse Road, Balwyn, Vic 3103. Convenor: James Leach, same address.
Young Men of God Conference, Collaroy Centre, 13-15 October 2011, Missionaries of God's Love, Disciples of Jesus Covenant Communities.
iWitness Retreat, Stanwell Tops Conference Centre, via Wollongong, New South Wales, 8-11 December 2011. Convenor: Amy Vierboom.
Michael Mendieta is now Marketing Co-ordinator at Campion College, 8-14 Austin Woodbury Place, Old Toongabbie, NSW 2146. email: m.mendieta at campion.edu.au and Phone: (02) 98969309.