From 16-18 October 2003, Catholic Vocations, together with the Archdiocese of Melbourne, will be conducting the Hearts On Fire Vocations Congress. In development since 2001, this three-day event will be held in the month set aside to focus upon vocations in the Church during the Archdiocese of Melbourne's Contemplate - Launch Out pastoral initiative.
The event has the support of Pope John Paul II. Cardinal Sodano, the Vatican Secretary of State, in a letter sent on the Pope's behalf to Archbishop Denis Hart, writes: "The Holy Father was pleased to learn of the "Hearts On Fire" Vocations Congress being held in Melbourne and sends warm greetings to all participants ... In this year of the Rosary, [he] entrusts the work of the Congress to Mary, model of all disciples, and to the intercession of Blessed Mary MacKillop and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. As a pledge of joy and strength in our Lord Jesus Christ, he imparts to all present his Apostolic Blessing."
Thursday, 16 October is the 25th Anniversary of John Paul II's Pontificate, and Archbishop Hart will be celebrating this event, with the Holy Hour for Vocations on that evening also being in prayer for the Pope, while the Saturday Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral (6pm Vigil) will be the Archdiocesan Mass on his behalf.
There will also be a performance of the Passion according to Mark by the Gospel Project, under the direction of Damien Coleridge to be held at St Peter's Church Hall, Eastern Hill, just opposite St Patrick's Cathedral.
The idea for the Congress was inspired by a similar event held in the United States in December 2001 titled Journey at the Crossroads. This event saw close to 100,000 young adults attend a week of activities focusing upon vocations, from workshops to concerts and Masses. Even though not remotely on the same scale as the American event, the Hearts On Fire Vocations Congress aims to promote to Australian Catholics of all ages that each of us is called to a vocation through our Baptism.
The actual Congress and all activities leading to the event have been developed around the Scriptural theme, the Road to Emmaus (Lk 24: 1-32). Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus with the Lord, the Congress aims to open the eyes of many to what vocation is specifically asked of them.
There have been two Patrons - both Blesseds - chosen to guide this journey towards the Congress. Mary MacKillop was born less than 500 metres from where all of the activities during the Congress will be staged, and her intercession is of greatest importance and relevance. Pier Giorgio Frassati has been the Patron chosen by Pope John Paul II for the last two World Youth Days, and has become a popular role model for thousands of young Australians who have made their pilgrimage to these international youth events.
Titled "The Man of the Beatitudes" at his Beatification in 2000, Blessed Pier Giorgio has also inspired the development of a vocation discernment centre established in Western Australia, Casa Frassati. Despite being coordinated from Melbourne, the Hearts On Fire Vocations Congress has been developed through the invaluable assistance of many men and women within the Church both here and interstate. Two open forums were held in June and July 2002 which were attended by over one hundred people representing the priesthood, religious, married, single, consecrated, youth groups and Catholic agencies.
Valuable feedback from these meetings was obtained and presented to the official committee for the Congress at their first meeting in October 2002. This committee, chaired by Melbourne Auxiliary Bishop Mark Coleridge, was appointed by Archbishop Hart and consists of thirteen men and women representing all vocations.
This promotion will be achieved through many activities over the three days, such as an exhibition of Catholic life at the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton, over thirty workshops highlighting various elements young adults encounter during their vocation discernment journey, a concert in the Fitzroy Gardens, a family picnic, a fundraising ball, a Holy Hour for Vocations and finally, the event will be closed with Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral celebrated by Archbishop Hart.
These are only a few of the events planned to date - there are also several other surprise features of the Congress that will be announced closer to the event's staging.
Already the wheels are well and truly in motion for this event. The Congress Exhibition has over 130 display areas and these are rapidly selling out. Sponsorship has been secured from many areas, with generous support from the Catholic Education Office in Melbourne ensuring that close to 5,000 senior secondary and some junior school students can attend various activities during this three day event.
Parishes and schools throughout the Archdiocese have been overwhelmingly supportive, nominating individuals to assist with the promotion of the Congress within their areas. Prayer cards have been developed to pray for the Congress, and already 10,000 have been distributed throughout Australia. Also, a six weekly newsletter is keeping all updated with Congress progress, and can be viewed online at the Hearts On Fire Vocations Congress website at www.catholicvocation.org.au/heartsonfire.htm.
Joanne Grainger is the Congress Executive Officer who can be contacted on (03) 9926 5738.