Full conference details: www.towards2008.org.au
It has been over five years since the rejuvenation of the Australian Catholic Students Association (ACSA), formerly known as the International Movement of Catholic Students (Australia), which has seen it transformed into a instrument for revitalising the spiritual and intellectual faith of Catholic tertiary students around the nation.
ACSA, which is established under the Australian Conference of Catholic Bishops to act as the peak body for Catholic tertiary students in Australia, is one of the good news stories of the Church in Australia in the new millennium.
ACSA National Conferences in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne over the last three years have all drawn in excess of 200 delegates with all states being represented. This year's national event looks likely to draw upwards of 400 students and young adults as excitement builds over the upcoming Sydney World Youth Day.
Two of its main goals are to provide support for the various Catholic student groups and chaplaincies based at universities throughout the country, and to proclaim a Catholic voice on issues of importance to students and young people. This has been achieved through the attraction of media coverage, for example, in its opposition to Federal legislation on RU486 and therapeutic cloning.
The other aim of ACSA is to assist in the individual formation of young people as the spiritual hazards of the university campus can be obvious.
At the 2005 National Conference, Rev Dr John Fleming, Dr David Daintree and Associate Professor Tracey Rowland pointed out the dangers and fallacies of an intellectual tradition crippled by relativism and post-modernism.
Other speakers tackled the erroneous efforts to separate faith from reason, most apparent in recent attempts to prove the mutual exclusivity of belief in both God and science. Fr Greg Jordan SJ, ACSA's National Chaplain, explained the twofold approach in an address to students:
'Personal development is paramount, but you cannot ignore the demands of society ... you are passing through institutions where the future leaders of the nation are being formed.'
This theme was taken up by Kevin Andrews MHR at the 2006 Conference in Melbourne. He stated that we must strive for virtue and 'live our lives out of a profound sense of responsibility for those with whom we share this existence'. Only then are we able to 'imbue the world again with a spiritual dimension'.
It is crucial that all young Catholics take up this challenge to make a contribution to public life, and not satisfy themselves merely with a private, if pious, existence. The suffusion of society by a strong Catholic culture, a sense of our Christian inheritance spanning two millennia, and a hope for rewards beyond the crass modern desire for 'sex and shopping', serve a dual purpose: to ensure a just and virtuous society in this world, and the salvation of more souls, through evangelisation, in the next.
Perhaps one of the biggest opportunities will arise next year when Sydney hosts World Youth Day.
Therefore, this July ACSA will be hosting the 2028 CONGRESS - highlighting that the effects of WYD will be visible for 20 years or more - to encompass the many challenges that will face Australian Catholicism in the years following 2008. Bishop Anthony Fisher OP will deliver the keynote Mannix Address, while Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM, from Denver in the United States, will deliver a public lecture entitled '2028: The Church and the Next Generation'.
Other guest speakers include Tony Abbott, Archbishop Phillip Wilson, Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett, Cardinal Edward Cassidy, Dr Tracey Rowland, Dr John Fleming, Angela Shanahan and Fr Anthony Percy. They will cover topics such as evangelisation and the media, theology of the body, liberal education, liturgy, and the culture of life and death.
Our national capital, Canberra, is a fitting venue, with plans for a Mass for fallen soldiers and visits to our national icons, as well as the MacKillop Ball to be held at Parliament House. In the middle of the languid winter vacation, over three short, intense days, it is hoped that a stiff Catholic breeze will enliven the faith of young people from all over Australia and, once scattered back across the country, inspire them to spread the Christian message and demonstrate the Christian leadership that this nation deserves.
This is not an easy task to convert from vision to reality. ACSA's constituency is continually changing, as students graduate and enter professional life. This is why the Catholic Young Adults Network (CYA), established by ACSA late last year, is co-host of this year's Congress.
Furthermore, the individual Catholic university groups and chaplaincies, as the organisations with which students have regular contact, must be constantly strengthened, especially with local ecclesiastical support. In this respect, ACSA is grateful for the continuing support of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference, and the support provided by individual dioceses.
The wide experience of university life, the matrix of friendship, love, sport, and academia, must remain infused with the Catholic faith. Youth zealously exerts its own unique passions that present a danger, but also an opportunity which we cannot miss, to rebuild the Church brick by brick, bolstered by a new, bold generation. It is hoped that ACSA might play a small part in such a great undertaking.
The 2028 CONGRESS for students and young adults will be held in Canberra from 6-8 July 2007. For further information, please visit www.towards2008.org.au or contact Aaron Russell on 0401 927 502.
Patrick Giam is the editor of 'Sentinel', the journal of the Australian Catholic Students Association. Email: sentinel @ catholicstudents.org.au