Collaroy is a garden suburb on the northern beaches of Sydney and it was almost dawn as we arrived at the retreat centre while the sun broke through the haze over the nearby surf beach.
All was silent as we parked our car and walked through the venue to see if there were any early risers. In the chilly stillness we found fifty young men at Eucharistic adoration in the makeshift chapel. Then within a half-hour we had Mass at 7am after most of the retreatants had emerged from their rooms.
Overall, 160 men attended this Young Men of God retreat, which has been the annual high point of the YMG activities since 2004 when their first conference was held on the NSW South Coast.
These young men are a striking inspiration for those older Catholics who see empty pews at Sunday Mass and are concerned at the state of religious education in many Catholic schools as well as the lack of priestly vocations.
In fact, most seminaries are now far from empty and the Young Men of God and other young adult retreats show that an impressive youthful lay leadership has been emerging in recent years.
The YMG retreat followed the format for young adult weekends: Eucharistic adoration, daily Mass, prayer, guest speakers, lively discussions, personal testimonies, confession and two hours of free time.
Among the speakers was Father Ken Barker, Founder of the Missionaries of God's Love and Ben O'Heir, Co-Founder of the Young Men of God in Canberra ten years ago.
The following young men exemplify the range of lay leaders who gathered at Collaroy for the retreat.
Ben O'Heir, President of the YMG Brotherhood, is a young married man, a master builder, living and working in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne.
Robert Schroeders is director of university missions within the national evangelisation teams ministering in Brisbane's university chaplaincies and at the seminary at Banyo. Robert is also married with a young family.
Tim Davis, who is a youth leader from Melbourne and was master of ceremonies at the YMG Retreat, was an organiser for World Youth Day, Sydney, 2008, and is soon to move with his young wife to Coffs Harbour, to re-energise youth ministry on the north coast of New South Wales.
Fernando Farrugia, who is a teacher at Rostrevor College, Adelaide, led four other members of staff and sixteen senior students to the YMG Retreat. In Adelaide, he is an organiser of Volition Youth Ministry and Catholic Schools Youth Ministry (Australia).
Dany Rodriguez, a second year Law and Jurisprudence student at the University of Queensland, is a veteran of ministry with the National Evangelisation teams in parishes and secondary schools.
The Young Men of God are one of the networks of the Missionaries of God's Love, a new Australian religious congregation founded in Canberra in 1986 by Father Ken Barker. The Missionaries emerged from the Disciples of Jesus Covenant Communities and over the past 25 years the Congregation has become securely established with 20-25 priests ministering in Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines.
There are twelve young men in a two-year novitiate in Canberra and another twenty studying for the priesthood at the (Melbourne) Catholic Theological College and living at the Missionaries seminary at St Benedict's Parish, Burwood.
The Young Men of God was co-founded ten years ago by Father Barker and Ben O'Heir. Father Barker recalls that in the Jubilee Year 2000, he made a pilgrimage to Catholic shrines in Italy and at Assisi had the opportunity to pray at the Portiuncula, the small church where St Francis and his first Brothers spent much of their time.
As Father Ken prayed he sensed that God wanted him to initiate a movement of young men at first in Australia and later throughout the world. He wanted young men to rise up in the contemporary Church fired by a deep faith, purity of heart and strength of character to become formidable Christian leaders.
The Young Men of God was launched in Canberra but over the last ten years has spread to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, and in the words of its mission statement, "YMG is an Australian movement of 18-35 year old Catholic men making the most of life. We are committed passionately to being transformed by God's Word and empowered by the Spirit to stand courageously and be men of example and influence within our family, workplace, community and country.
"Our mission is to re-ignite men throughout our country to help them reach their God-given potential, to be heralds of the truth for future generations and to empower others to become what they are created to be."
The Collaroy Conference was a striking and very successful experience of the Young Men of God in action.
To reach the Young Men of God see the YMG website: www. ymgmovement.org; or contact Ben O'Heir (0410-403-763), Ben Galea (0439-999-196 or Luke O'Connor (0437-842-272).