iWitness 2010: an unforgettable retreat for young Catholics

iWitness 2010: an unforgettable retreat for young Catholics

Br Barry Coldrey

The Third Annual iWitness Retreat provided an unforgettable experience for the 230 young men and women who attended. It was held from 9-12 December at "The Tops" Conference Centre near Stanwell Park in the Wollongong area.

The corrosive message of the secular culture and the toxic agenda of the cultural majority has never fazed these young Catholic adults who are confident, gifted, well-educated and secure in their faith. This bodes well for the future lay leadership of the Church.

The iWitness leadership team arranged a program which balanced serious talks, daily Mass, wide audience participation and enjoyable events such as the iWitness Challenge and the Amazing Pilgrimage.

Overall the iWitness experience represents a celebration of Catholic faith in the context of serious lectures, robust discussion and wholesome socialising.

World Youth Day

In 2008, World Youth Day in Sydney energised young Australian Catholics and in the wake of Pope Benedict XVI's visit, the President of the Thomas More Society at Notre Dame University, Pat Langrell, and his executive initiated Theology-on-Tap at P.J. Gallagher's Irish Pub in Parramatta as a monthly event.

Theology-on-Tap was immediately successful with hundreds of young adults attending for a serious lecture and discussion in a social atmosphere of pub meals and a few drinks.

The iWitness Retreat was another of the team's initiatives, so as to maintain the momentum that World Youth Day had unleashed. The first iWitness Retreat was held at the Collaroy Centre late that year.

Meanwhile Pat Langrell's fame was spreading to Rome and the US and he was offered a post as Director of Young Adult Ministry in the Archdiocese of New York, an office he could scarcely refuse. However, as he moved onto the international scene, he passed the baton to his sister Jessica and his Thomas More Society team who rose to the occasion. This ensured that the iWitness Retreat did not wither and die but rather grew and flourished. Similarly, Theology-on-Tap has maintained its huge attendance figures over the past three years.

Among the many highlights of iWitness 2010:

- daily Mass, along with all-night Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on the Friday and Saturday nights;

- the well-prepared booklets for daily Masses and the morning Divine Office in the Conference Chapel;

- the supportive presence of Cardinal George Pell, Bishop Anthony Fisher OP, Bishop Julian Porteous and Bishop Tim Costelloe;

- the priests who celebrated Masses and heard confessions: Fathers Vincent Magat OP, Simon Ckuj (Ukrainian rite), Bill Millstead and Robert Stewart OFM Cap;

- the inspiration provided by young seminarians from the Good Shepherd Seminary at Homebush;

- the prominent lay speakers who included Robert Haddad, Peter Holmes, Anna Krohn and Katrina Lee;

- the presence of the Young Men of God leader Nick Morgan, Michael and Laura from the National Evangelisation Team in Brisbane and the Catholic Youth Services team from the Sydney Archdiocese;

- the presence also of two young Franciscan Capuchin Brothers, three Sisters from the Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia, Nashville, and two from Mount Schoenstatt, Western Sydney. 

The speakers who gave addresses at the Retreat explored the challenges posed by the secular society to the faith of many young adult Catholics. The overall theme was "Yeast of Society, Challenging a Secular Culture."

The topics covered included: "The Real Jesus and His Church" (Bishop Tim Costelloe); "The Devil Twists and Turns in 2010" (Bishop Julian Porteous); "The Two Hearts of Jesus and Mary" (Anna Krohn); "Grace and the Sacraments" (Robert Haddad); "Understanding the Mass and its new Translation" (Cardinal George Pell); and a question and answer session with Rocky Mimmo, Dr Michael Casey and Katrina Lee.

The Stanwell "Tops" management were impressed by these Catholic young men and women, indeed even awed at the presence of so many talented, sensible young adult leaders. Overall, throughout the four days there was a joyful, enthusiastic atmosphere signalling that all was going very well.

Participants' comments

The following are a few random comments from iWitness participants:

"iWitness: it's got what you need to strengthen your faith and lets you know you are not alone against the (secular) tide. iWitness fills you with the fire of the Holy Spirit to set the world ablaze" (Joe Hopkins, Hunter Valley).

"Great talks, balanced with plenty of fun, real variety, lovely food" (Robert Hill, Culburra Beach).

"An open, friendly, supportive environment to learn and grow in your faith. A chance to feel the support of the bishops and the Archdiocese of Sydney for young Catholic adults ... a really positive experience" (Luke Verrell).

There are two additional Young Adult Conference/Retreats available early this year: The Australian Catholic Students Association Conference at Notre Dame University (Broadway), on the weekend of 11-13 March 2011, and the Light to the Nations National Retreat of the Young Men of God at Galong, NSW, from 21-24 April 2011, during the Easter break.

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