The Sixth Annual iWitness Retreat at "The Tops" Conference Centre, Stanwell Park, from 12-15 December 2013, was another welcome success story.
Almost 300 young men and women attended, the cream of Catholic young adult leadership in the Archdiocese of Sydney. A few also came from distant parts.
This increasingly popular iWitness Retreat commenced in 2008 in the wake of World Youth Day, Sydney, and the atmosphere at "The Tops" has something of the enthusiasm and celebration associated with WYDs.
In fact, many at the Sixth Annual Retreat had been to WYD, Rio de Janeiro, earlier this year and look forward to World Youth Day, Krakow, in 2016.
The corrosive message of the secular culture and the toxic agenda of the cultural majority has never fazed these practising young Catholic adults who are gifted, confident and well-educated in their faith. This bodes well for the future lay leadership of the Church. iWitness as a celebration of youthful Catholic life is indeed an encouraging success story.
The main focus of the Retreat, as always, is enriching the participants' spiritual lives through a deepened relationship with Jesus Christ. There are daily Masses, 40 Hours Eucharistic Adoration, Morning and Evening Prayer of the Divine Office, a candle-lit Rosary led by Cardinal George Pell, enriching talks, wide-ranging discuss-ions and Q and A sessions.
There were priests available for the hearing of confessions throughout the long-weekend and five of them were present on the Saturday evening.
iWitness is arranged by a leadership group assisted by the resources of the Catholic Life, Marriage and Family office of the Archdiocese of Sydney. Leaders include: Anne-Marie McLaren, Natalie Ambrose, Clare Bonner, Anthony N'daira, Youth Co-ordinator at the large St Charbel's Maronite Rite parish at Punchbowl while Conor Power from Brisbane was the Liturgy Co-ordinator.
This capable leadership has been able to arrange significant sponsorship for iWitness to keep the attendance fees as low as possible and they are grateful to their Sponsors who include: Catholic Youth Services, Homebush, the Life, Marriage and Family Centre, NET Ministries (Australia), Catholic Super and the Dooleys Catholic Club at Lidcombe.
High quality speakers have been a constant iWitness feature. In 2013, the topics and speakers included: "Caritas in Veritate" (Charity in Truth, Papal Encyclical) by Dr Ryan Messmore, President of Campion College; "The New Evangelisation and You" by Archbishop Julian Porteous; "Pope Benedict's Biblical Scholarship and Prayer" by Professor Tracey Rowland; "Recent Popes and Beyond" by Cardinal George Pell; "The Spirit of the Liturgy" by Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Papal Nuncio; "Saved in Hope" by Dr Robert Tilley; "Deus Caritas Est" (God is Love) by Sr Mary Helen OP; and "Lumen Fidei" (Light of Faith) by Father Greg Morgan who is working on his PhD at Cambridge University. In fact, much of the input explored recent papal encyclicals and other documents.
Meanwhile, with intense prayer and liturgy and so many challenging sessions, there was need for periods of relaxation and recreation. The leader-ship team organised a range of imag-inative activities such as the "iWitness Challenge" and the "Amazing Pilgrimage". The former was an indoor evening and the latter, an outdoor sports event. All the games were arranged so that everyone could participate, and not just those with aptit-udes for team sports.
Cardinal Pell and three other bishops attended iWitness 2013: Archbishops Paul Gallagher, and Julian Porteous, plus Peter Comensoli, an Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney. There were also six younger priests who have been vitalising the youth scene: Paul Rowse OP, Anthony Bernard and Lam Vu OFM (Cap), who are highly regarded tertiary chaplains, and Mich-ael de Stoop, Thomas McFadden OFM (Cap) and Greg Morgan. Sr Mary Helen and Sr Cecilia Rose of the Dominican Sisters, Nashville, were also present.
The lay leadership was equally inspiring and included: Sam Clear, the international adventurer, of Harvest Travel, Anthony Doyle, the Catholic Chaplain at the Australian Defence Force Academy, and Christian Stephens, a Lecturer at Notre Dame University.
There were many others: the Australian Catholic Student Associ-ation's, President, Nick Smith, Media Spokesman, James Leach, Anne-Marie McLaren, the National Evangelisation Teams representatives, Steph Parkin and William Aupito Iuliano, and some ten young men from Redfield College, including Robert Assaf, Jonathan Bala, Matt Dimian and Matt Griffin, all of whom are planning to enter Sydney seminaries in early 2014.
The presence of vital Catholic leadership, established and upcoming, is a constant iWitness feature with the leaders inspiring and celebrating one-another's achievements.
Over the last ten years, since World Youth Days in Cologne and Toronto, there has been an explosion of vital young adult Catholic life in various places throughout Australia with increasing numbers of young men entering the seminaries. The iWitness Retreat is both a feature and catalyst of this life-giving movement in the Church.
Upcoming young adult events include: "Reasons for Hope" Retreat, 5-7 March, Benedict XVI Conference Centre, 347 Grose Hill Road, Grose Hill, email contact: richard_at_reasonsforhope.com.au
Australian Catholic Students Association Conference, 4-6 July 2014, at the Lake Hume Conference Centre, Albury, NSW, with the theme: "Build My Church", contact Nick Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org