The Catholic Schools Youth Ministry Association was established in Canberra in 2007 by Peter Woods, Director of Mission and Life at St Edmund's College, Manuka. Since then the CSYMA has become a power for good in more than a hundred Catholic secondary schools throughout Australia.
The CSYMA's arrival on the Catholic secondary college scene was timely as many dedicated, practising Catholics have long despaired that there was little distinctively Catholic about our much vaunted secondary colleges.
There is a pervasive sense that instead of proclaiming the full Catholic faith involving belief, worship, lifestyle and service, many Catholic colleges have settled for "doing stuff for the poor" - a good thing certainly; and approved by the secular majority.
A school initiative for the marginalised such as a food van or tuition for recently arrived immigrants follows from one Gospel imperative and wins community approval. However, "belief, worship and a Christian lifestyle", fail to spark much interest.
Too many Catholic educators appear to have forgotten or rejected other, even more vital Gospel imperatives as are proclaimed in John 3:16-17: "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. God sent His Son into the world that the world might be saved through him."
Jesus is the centre of Christian catechesis, not the poor, although needless to say active concern for the "little, the less, the least and the lost" is a vital Gospel imperative.
It is ironic that in response to the secular mood, some schools have leached God and the Church from their rhetoric and, instead, speak endlessly of their various founders' ministry for the desperately poor, while the actual founder was squarely within the Church, proclaiming Jesus to the marginalised while ministering to their immediate physical needs.
It is fair to say that the beatified or canonised founder would be unimpressed with this distortion of his or her charism.
It was in response to this challenging situation that Peter Woods founded the Catholic Schools Youth Mission Association.
Therefore it is no surprise that the new association has grown rapidly. Its mandate is to support dedicated Catholic teachers in their ministry with in-service programs around Australia, along with online and printed material to assist reaching their students while inspiring them that they are not isolated but in an expanding network of convinced Catholic educators.
The CSYMA is flourishing for a cluster of reasons which include the following:
The euphoria generated by World Youth Days among some Catholic youth, especially after WYD in Sydney, 2008.
The quickening of young adult Catholic life over recent years with "Theology-on-Tap", SIX30 Holy Hours and the massive young adult conferences, retreats and festivals.
The CSYMA is closely associated with the Missionaries of God's Love, the quintessential new Catholic religious congregation founded in Canberra in 1986. The CSYMA's offices are in the Missionaries' Narrabundah parish complex and its National Director is Sr Therese Mills MGL of the associated women's congregation.
The CSYMA has recruited a number of impressive young Catholic adult leaders as a key part of its post-school ministry initiative while it has gained official acceptance by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) and embraced the principles of the new evangelisation.
At the core of the new evangelisation is the Church proclaiming Jesus Christ, God made man as the centre of its life. Its focus is not on traditional missionary activity among peoples who have never heard the Word of God, but on nations and cultures which have drifted from or rejected their Christian heritage and Catholic practice. This drift has occurred especially in the British Isles, North America, Western Europe and Australasia.
Obviously, many Catholic secondary schools are in need of a new evangelisation. While the reality varies from place to place it is likely that in most cases, the majority of the staff and the bulk of the senior students are no longer active Catholics.
CSYMA and the Church
The CSYMA aims to serve the Church by empowering young Catholics to live as disciples of Jesus Christ and by drawing youth into active participation in the mission and work of the Catholic faith community.
In pursuit of this objective the CSYMA trains staff and offers professional youth ministry formation to young people in the schools and provides links, ideas and access to young adult Catholic activities.
Over the last year the CSYMA has arranged "Youth Ministry Equipping Schools" in places as far apart as Sale (Victoria) and Canberra (ACT), actively supported the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Melbourne (5-7 December 2013) and the Ignite Conference in Brisbane, and sent its Post-School National Team on a mission to Fiji in November 2013.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference endorsed the work of the Association in 2008 when Archbishop Bathersby of Brisbane wrote to Peter Woods: "The Bishops Commission for Mission and Faith Formation approves the CSYMA as a post-World Youth Day faith formation and mission school initiative working alongside other faith and mission programs throughout Australia. I wish you all the best for the work of the CSYMA."
CSYMA Contact Details: Director, Sr Therese Mills, MGL, Assistant-Director, Mr Huw Warmenhoven, St Benedict's Church, Jerrabombera Ave, Narrabundah, ACT 2604, www.csyma.com, firstname.lastname@example.org