Last November, around 100 young Catholics from across Australia participated in an "Into the Deep" forum with members of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference at the University of NSW. The forum was organised by the Thomas More Centre in Sydney.
"Into the Deep" was held to explore, discuss and respond to issues arising from the recently released letter Catholic Bishops speak to the Young People of Australia, and to further strengthen the relationship forged by bishops and young people at World Youth Day 2000.
The forum included a six- member panel of Bishop Grech (Sandhurst), Bishop Manning (Parramatta) and Bishop Toohey (Wilcannia-Forbes), and young Catholics Selina Hasham (National Representative of WYD Committee), Anthony McCarthy (Society of St Peter, University of Sydney) and Alice Priest (Port Pirie).
Bishop Toohey opened the discussion by telling the young audience that they were charged with passing on the traditions of the Church in a world that is desperate for Truth.
"It's going to take a lot of courage from us - we can't just talk about it, we have to do it," he said, adding that like St Peter at the Sea of Galilee, Catholics must have the courage to say to God: "If you say so Lord, I will cast out the net."
Alice Priest, an Australian delegate to WYD 2000, emphasised the theme "Into the Deep", speaking of the call of Pope John Paul for the Church to move forward in holiness into the vast ocean, relying on the help of Christ.
Bishop Grech spoke of the need for all of us to discover our identity in God and live as people destined for eternity. He said there are "millions of ways to do it" - through parishes, political life, social life and relationships.
He offered St Thérèse of Lisieux - a Doctor of the Church who died at just 24 - as an example for young people to follow, by realising that when God asks for something it will always be achievable. Bishop Grech encouraged the audience to embrace the Cross, to be faithful to the basic tenants of the Faith, including the Holy Mass and the Sacraments, and to read the Bible.
Anthony McCarthy, 21, spoke of the need to bring Christ and Church teachings back into a confused world and of the need for the Australian Bishops to lead the way.
"We don't want superficiality. We need clarity, we need depth and we need leadership from the bishops, and then we will follow," he said, adding that young people need to be given clear direction on issues such as contraception, abortion, homosexuality and chastity. He stressed that every Catholic student must understand the role of the priesthood, particularly the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacrament of Confession.
Bishop Manning emphasised virtue in everyday life: love of God and neighbour, and the aim for sanctity. He encouraged young people to sanctify their place of work, and to see the image of God in the face of everyone they meet.
The final panellist, Selina Hasham, 32, also spoke of her desire to be a saint, encouraging young people to put aside their fears and realise that holiness is something everyone can achieve.
"What should we as young people look to our bishops for?" she said. "If we can ask anything of them, and I believe we can, we should demand of them, as shepherds of the faithful, first and foremost to be like Jesus - please show us how to be holy. Show us how to be saints."
The issue of vocations was discussed at length. Bishop Toohey put forward the challenge: where are all the vocations to the priesthood - is it that God is not calling or that young men are not responding?
The Bishops' Letter was well received by the audience, although there were suggestions that the next letter to young people needed more emphasis on chastity, contraception, the Sacraments, the culture of life and the role of the priesthood.
Helen Ransom is public relations assistant for Sydney Catholic Communications.