While the corrosive message of the secular society and the uncertain - lowest common denominator - focus of much Catholic education have wrought havoc with practice of the faith among young Catholics, this numbing malaise was absent from the Abbey Function Centre, Gold Creek, on the edge of Canberra on the weekend of 6-8 July 2007.
Over three hundred young men and women, from all states of Australia, tertiary students and workers, gathered to pray, inspire and celebrate their faith at the 2007 Australian Catholic Students Association Conference (ACSA).
They were cool and confident, ardent and enthusiastic, untroubled by the à la carte belief patterns, agnostic prayer, unorthodox liturgies and sterile, soft-Left political correctness of so many Catholic meetings and conferences.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, Colorado, a Capuchin friar, gave the keynote address: 'I am neither liberal nor conservative', he said, 'I am Catholic. I teach the life and message of Jesus Christ and His Church, full and entire.' His words were greeted warmly as were those of Bishop Anthony Fisher OP who also gave a fine address.
At the Conference dinner in the Great Hall of Parliament House, Senator Ron Boswell (National Party, Queensland), representing Prime Minister, John Howard, remarked, inter alia, 'You are a minority among your peers'.
During the Conference at the AGM, a new seven-person ACSA executive was elected. Camillus O'Kane, a Town Planning student at the University of New South Wales, is the new President and he is supported by a strong team.
Camillus has a broad vision for his Presidency focussed on World Youth Day and the chances WYD opens for the Church in Australia. 'Our next Conference will be held in Sydney, close to World Youth Day. We will be looking for international 'superstar' speakers to fire the event. I want a close relationship with Bishop Anthony Fisher who is head of the WYD Planning Team. Overall, I hope to be a humble worker in Christ's vineyard and a tower of strength to my awesome team.'
Twenty-one-year-old Camillus has the drive and intelligence to lead, as a personal Conference memory might illustrate.
On Saturday evening, we arrived in the underground car park of Parliament House around the same time. He had dropped off Cardinal Cassidy and Archbishop Chaput at the front door. Camillus was hurrying for pre-dinner drinks with the bishops, parliamentarians and other dignitaries, but he said: 'You're with me, Brother, and I'm President, stick with me and no-one will say a word.' So I walked beside Camillus into the Great Hall and sipped champagne with the bishops, parliamentarians and other VIPs and no-one questioned my presence!
However, while the conference organisation was sound, the AGM went smoothly and the new ACSA is impressive, prayer and liturgy came first.
The event opened with Mass at the Changi Memorial Chapel at the Royal Military College, Duntroon. Archbishop Max Davis, the Military Ordinary, was principal celebrant. 'I've never had so many young people in my church', he remarked.
On Saturday, Archbishop Wilson of Adelaide led five other cardinals and bishops in concelebrating Mass in St Christopher's Cathedral, where Archbishop Chaput preached the homily.
Before the Conference ended on Sunday, the whole group was bussed to John XXIII College Chapel at Australian National University for a final Mass celebrated by Cardinal Edward Cassidy while Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett of Lismore preached.
At the Gold Creek Chapel, from Friday evening to Saturday morning, relays of young men and women maintained constant prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. When the writer arrived at 7 a.m. to participate there were eleven young people praying in silent adoration before their Risen Lord. It was a good omen for the Conference.
At the working sessions, the speakers included Health Minister, Tony Abbott, who spoke on 'Life and Death in 2028'; Archbishop Chaput on 'The Church and the next Generation'; Rev Dr John Fleming, President of Campion College, on 'The Liberal Arts and Technical Training'; and Archbishop Wilson on the media over the next 20 years.
Sincere Catholic educators, exhausted 'in the trenches' of the Catholic education system, marginalised by feral careerists in the schools and agnostic 'trendies' in the Catholic educational bureaucracies, might wonder, 'From where did such dedicated, intelligent, confident young Catholics emerge? We have never seen them.'
The answer appears to be that they have been formed in an 'underworld' of vital new movements and congregations in the Church. Some were home- schooled, others study at Campion College or attended Anglican, or other Christian schools and colleges.
Some attended elite Jesuit colleges where family wealth and high social status gave them the personal confidence to buck peer group pressure and the toxic, anti-religious 'aggro' around much of the Catholic system. There are also the passionate members of Latin Mass communities.
In addition, some religious congregations support youth ministry. Young men and women from their circles were present in numbers. Some are associated with the Disciples of Jesus Covenant Communities and the Missionaries of God's Love; others with the Franciscan Capuchin Youth Ministry. Altogether, they provided the over 300 young men and women who made the 2007 ACSA Conference so inspiring an experience.