To its critics, an international body of young Catholics meeting once a year must seem like a token response at best. It is the sort of thing no bishops' conference could refuse to fund and which if it does no discernible good, probably doesn't do any harm either.
In the decades since Vatican II there has been a lot of activity, broadly thought to engage the young, which has failed to treat them or its mission very seriously.
Catholic students representing every state gathered in Brisbane last month for the annual national conference of the International Movement of Catholic Students Australia (IMCSA). While some states were under-represented, at least those who came were evidently serious about their faith.
The Book of Job provided the theme: "But Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?" and some of it came from the pen of the keynote speaker, Fr James Schall SJ, a professor in the Department of Government, Georgetown University. Prevented by illness from delivering it in person, his speech on "The Greatest Things in this World" dealt with our divided nature - a longing for the familiar and longing for the divine.
Developing Evelyn Waugh's sense of exile, ("for here we have no abiding city, but look for one that is to come") he cited Chesterton's intuition of how it is possible to be "homesick even at home". From there came a descant, via Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas to self-knowledge and right understanding.
Fr Schall concluded: "The Socratic admonition, the knowing 'that we do not know', the knowing of ourselves, leads to knowing that the Godhead is Trinity, that God is not alone, that we already have a place to begin to 'know ourselves'."
Other speakers included Dr Tracey Rowland, Dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, Patrick Quirk, Associate Professor Ave Maria Catholic Law School, Eamonn Keane, and the movement's chaplin, Fr Gregory Jordan SJ.
The IMCSA is a member of the International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS), which is itself a constituent part of Pax Romana, a lay movement established in the 1920s. It exists to provide practical support for Catholic student clubs and societies on university campuses and to assist students in their individual apostolates.
Judging by the people attending the conference, the issues that concerned them were starkly at odds with what most of the clergy imagine when they talk about youth ministry. One zone of contention, or at least interest, was the varying degrees of attachment to the Latin Mass or the more conservative liturgical options within the Novus Ordo.
Social historians might be interested to note that there was all-night adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; something, until recently, unheard of amongst undergraduates.
It was heart-warming to note that Catholic students across the nation are interested in the same issues of abortion, ethics, questions of gender, love and responsibility, as well as conventional and student politics.
But perhaps the most salient feature of informal conversation between sessions, as well as during discussion time, was the preoccupation with articulating a Catholic worldview on campus. The most conspicuous indication of this was the level of enthusiasm for pro-life organised groups and demonstrations.
The 2005 IMCSA National Conference will be held in Sydney. For further information about IMCSA or to get in touch with your local representative please email me: email@example.com
Aaron Russell is National Secretary of IMCSA - www.imcsa.org.au