The popular iWitness Retreat commenced in 2008 in the wake of World Youth Day, Sydney, 15-20 July, and since then time has passed quickly. WYD Madrid has come and gone and now hundreds of thousands of young adult Catholics are looking forward to WYD Rio de Janeiro in 2013.
In this generous spirit of anticipation, the fifth Annual iWitness Retreat provided a spiritually uplifting experience for the 340 young Catholics who attended. The event was held at the The Tops Christian Conference Centre, Stanwell Tops, near the beach south of Sydney.
In 2008, after World Youth Day, a group of Catholic university students in Sydney initiated iWitness to maintain the WYD spirit. Since then the event has been blessed with outstanding leadership.
A further reason has been the generous support of sponsors which has enabled Conference fees to be kept to the minimum in order to secure a large attendance. These sponsors are Cardinal George Pell, Bishop Anthony Fisher OP of Parramatta, Dooleys Catholic Club, Lidcombe, and the Marriage and Family Centre of the Archdiocese of Sydney.
iWitness truly represents a celebration of young adult Catholic life. Its main purpose is to enrich participants' spiritual lives through a deepened relationship with Our Lord.
Included in the 2012 retreat program were Morning Office (using beautifully prepared booklets), daily Mass, the Forty Hours Eucharistic Adoration, inspirational talks and wide-ranging discussions. There were also priests available to hear confessions and most participants availed themselves of this opportunity.
This fifth iWitness Retreat took as its central theme, the Sacraments, the great channels of God's Grace for Christians.
Peter Holmes, a lecturer at Notre Dame University, spoke on "Sacramentality: a Grace-Filled Life", Sr Catherine Marie of the New York-founded (1991) Sisters of Life explored the sacrament of Confirmation and Father Paul Rowse OP addressed the Sacrament of Baptism.
The Sacrament of Holy Orders was explored by a number of speakers: Bishop Peter Comensoli, Father John Epeli, Deacon Dean Mathieson OFM (Cap) and Michael Jaksic, a Sydney seminarian.
Sr Mirian Caritas, another of the Sisters of Life, spoke about the Eucharist in terms of "Extravagant Love" and Dr Robert Tilley of the Catholic Institute of Sydney gave a presentation on the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession). Father Greg Morgan, Australia's youngest priest (aged 24) and a graduate of Redfield College, tackled the Sacrament of the Sick (Extreme Unction).
On Sunday morning, Christian Stephens and Therese Nichols (well-known on the Sydney Catholic youth scene) discussed "The Masculine Spirit and the Feminine Genius" in separate sessions for men and women. And following a tea break, Dr Ryan Messmore and his wife, Karin, provided a presentation on the Sacrament of Marriage in terms of an unbreakable Covenant in the tradition of the Sacred Scriptures. A Q&A session then followed with all four speakers fielding participants' questions.
This topic was timely, given that Australian society has experienced a sexual revolution over the past forty years which has reduced sexual intimacy to a casual indoor sport, with a paganised "sex without strings" and shifting relationships without rings increasingly commonplace.
Meanwhile the vision of the New Testament and consistent teaching of the Church continue to confront these perversions with its positive, wholesome vision of marriage as a one-flesh union with sex the seal on this permanent relationship. Every iWitness Conference has explored aspects of this vision.
Meanwhile, with so many challenging sessions, there was need for down time and periods of recreation. The iWitness team organised a range of imaginative 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, not only those with a natural aptitude for team sports.
Among the 340 participants were many who are prominent in Catholic life and their presence enriched the Retreat experience for everyone: Bishops Peter Comensoli and Julian Porteous from the Archdiocese of Sydney; popular university chaplains, Fathers Paul Rowse and Lam Vu OFM (Cap); and other Sydney priests engaged in youth ministry, Frs Michael de Stoop and Greg Morgan.
Also present were four Sisters of Life from the United States and four Sisters of St Cecilia (of Nashville, Tennessee) whose Sydney convent is in Regents Park.
Two representatives of the National Evangelisation Teams came from Brisbane while ten young men came from Redfield College.
As this edition of AD2000 goes to press, a five day annual Summer Program will have taken place at Campion College from 13-18 January. For information about future Campion programs consult the website, www.campion.edu.au, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Still to come, the annual Reasons for Hope Conference will be held at the Chittick Conference Centre, Gerringong, from 8-10 March 2013. Richard Sofratis is the contact for the organising team, email: richard at reasonsforhope.com.au