On Saturday morning, 10 December 2011, Cardinal George Pell ordained four young men as Deacons in St Mary's Cathedral. In the evening, the Cardinal drove to The Tops Conference Centre at Stanwell Park to address the 260 young men and women - Catholic lay leaders - from the Sydney dioceses and beyond.
They were attending the Fourth Annual iWitness Conference, an initiative of a range of young adult Catholics many of whom studied at Notre Dame University and commenced the weekend in the wake of World Youth Day (Sydney) in 2008.
Young practising Catholics can feel rather isolated at times. However, at WYD Sydney and in Madrid this year - among vast numbers of their co-religionists - they were no longer alone; and on a smaller scale, among the 260 in attendance, they felt the strength of numbers and relevance.
iWitness is a celebration of young adult Catholic life. Its main focus is enriching the participants' spiritual lives through a deepened relationship with Our Lord. There were Morning and Evening Divine Office using beautifully prepared booklets, daily Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, inspirational talks, wide-ranging discussions, question-and-answer sessions and five priests available to hear confessions (which most took advantage of).
The organisers provided voluntary sessions of time-honoured Catholic devotions: the Angelus, the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross
iWitness has been blessed with stellar leaders who, along with those present, were grateful to Cardinal George Pell, Sydney auxiliary Bishop Peter Comensoli, and Fathers Paul Rouse OP, Michael de Stoop, Greg Morgan, Joe Gideon and Peter Kwok, for their involvement. Father Lam Vu OFM Cap, a popular university chaplain, made a cameo appearance on Friday evening.
The Conference was also blessed by the presence of many others in support:
• The prominent Sydney Catholic leaders and academics who addressed the Conference: Andrew Wood, Robert Tilley and Peter Holmes.
• The presence of representatives of the National Evangelisation Teams (NET) from Brisbane: Nattasha Pennington and Jeremy Grear.
• The attendance of four Sisters of Life, a Congregation founded in New York in recent years, three Dominican Sisters of Nashville, Tennessee, who came to Sydney four years ago, and two Sisters of Mercy from their Camperdown convent.
Among the other Conference identities were four members of the Hill family of Culburra Beach, NSW, and four members of the Langrell family, each representing the vitality of strong Catholic family life that flourishes despite the stifling embrace of secularism.
Redfield College was well represented and also involved were Anthony Ndaira, Youth Ministry Co-ordinator at the huge St Charbel's (Maronite) Parish at Punchbowl, and Jack Green from Doonside Parish who is preparing to enter the Holy Spirit Seminary, St Marys, Parramatta Diocese.
Richard Sofratsis, Team Chair of the Reasons for Hope Conference to be held at Chittick Lodge, Gerringong (NSW South Coast), on 16-18 March 2012, took part as did Father Bernard Gordon, Dean of first year students at the Good Shepherd Seminary in Homebush.
The Beatitudes provided the themes of the most of the talks: "Blessed are the poor in spirit ..." (Sisters of Life); "Blessed are those who mourn" (Bishop Comensoli) "Blessed are the meek" (Sr Mary Julian, RSM); and "Blessed are those who hunger ..." (Robert Tilley).
Sr Mary Rachel OP explored the Beatitude, "Blessed are the merciful", and Fr Bernard Gordon, "Blessed are the peacemakers".
On Sunday morning there was a lengthy session led by Robert Holmes who developed the topic, "Blessed are the pure in heart", which was followed by separate "Girl and Guy time".
This was, perhaps, the most appreciated phase of the iWitness experience.
In a society which has experienced a sexual revolution over 40 years which has reduced sexual intercourse to a casual indoor sport, with a pagan "sex without strings" and relationships without rings, now the norm.
The vision of the New Testament and the consistent teaching of the Church confront these perversions: marriage is a one-flesh union and sex is the seal on this permanent relationship. Every iWitness Conference discusses some aspects of the Catholic sexual vision.
With so many challenging sessions, there was need for recreation. The iWitness team organised a range of imaginative sports: the "iWitness Challenge" was organised for indoors while the "Amazing Pilgrimage" took place outdoors. All the games enabled everyone to participate, not simply those naturally gifted at sport.
During other breaks, some drove to Stanwell Park surf beach, a mere five minutes away, for a swim or surf.
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 and well-educated in their faith. This bodes well for the future lay leadership of the Church.
Understandably The Tops staff were most impressed by the presence of so many talented, sensible young adults with the pervasive joyful, enthusiastic atmosphere signalling that all was going very well.
iWitness as a celebration of young adult Catholic life was an encouraging success story.