It seems as if every time we turn around these days there is another bad news story both in the world, and in the Church. It could be that bad news travels fast, or that we have a fascination with bad news. Thankfully, there is plenty of good news around.
Take the story of Amy (not her real name), a parish youth leader who started her tertiary studies in Melbourne in 2003. Amy was struggling to reconcile the content of some of her lectures with her Catholic faith. She was looking for a simple grounding in the faith that she could undertake without compromising her full time study schedule.
What she found, along with many others, was the Certificate in Youth Ministry offered by Catholic Adult Education Melbourne (CAEM).
Over 30 people from ages 18 to 55 have completed four terms of classes, one evening a week, focused on the knowledge and skills needed to encourage young people to live out the Catholic faith in Church and community life.
For Amy, one night a week was a small thing compared to the benefits of the Certificate Course. "It helped me continue to search for good and useful knowledge and skills in my field while not losing my faith," she said.
Far from losing their faith, lecturers and mentors have watched Amy and her classmates grow in their ability to appreciate the faith and its direct application to each and every field, situation and circumstance in life.
In short, one of the good news stories of 2003 has been the 30 or so young adults eagerly learning their faith each week, and hearing their priests' and fellow parishioners' stories of their personal growth and positive input in their parish life and community.
From the prayerful retreat in February to the final packed class in November, the students and lecturers enjoyed sharing a unique opportunity to teach and learn the faith in simple practical ways.
The students were encouraged to bring questions and difficulties arising from their studies, friendships or work in the area of faith and morals into class sessions to discuss and study the Church's teachings in the relevant area.
The predominantly young class interacted well with mature students in the centre and the entire class are a sign of hope for the future of the Church.
The course included introductions to Philosophy, Scripture, the Catechism, the Theology of the Body, encouragement towards Christian virtue and the prayerful, Christ-like leadership much needed within the Church and society today.
Participants were asked to select from a variety of electives exploring how the 'rubber' of the Church's teaching 'hits the road' in areas such as: Drugs, Stress and Depression, Bioethics, Sharing the Faith, Modern Music, Mass Media, Premature Parenthood, Public Speaking, Camps and Retreats for Young People and Street Kids.
Many parishes eagerly offered sponsorships for young parishioners enrolled in the course and, since the course involved fieldwork in their local parish under the guidance of their parish priest, received the benefits in the excellent work of the students in those parishes.
A few students have already moved on to work in Youth Ministry, some intending to continue their study of the faith at degree level and all continuing to make valuable contributions within the Archdiocese.
Under the sponsorship of Archbishop Hart, the direction of Bishop Coleridge, and the supervision of CAEM Director, Anna Krohn, the Certificate in Youth Ministry will be offered again in Melbourne beginning in February 2004, along with other courses in faith formation.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Adult Education Centre (CAEC) in Sydney will launch a new Certificate of Youth Ministry, and a Certificate in Adult Faith Education beginning in February 2004 for the Archdiocese of Sydney.
Sydney's new Certificate in Youth Ministry will be similar in structure and content to Melbourne's course, drawing on many good resources and lecturers available in Sydney.
The Certificate in Adult Faith Education will include the core units of the Youth Certificate with added units such as Early Church History, Social Teachings of The Church, and more Scripture and will involve a variety of high quality lecturers under the direction of Fr John Flader, Director of CAEC, Sydney.
Both of the Sydney Certificate courses will also be available by correspondence for those interested, but not living within Sydney or Melbourne.
Students can enrol in all advertised courses at CAEC and take the course week by week along with the Sydney classes. The aim is to make the recorded lectures available via the Internet, but at present they will be mailed to students. The students will be able to submit their assignments for assessment by email or 'snail-mail'.
The assignments are tailored for adults of all levels of education and experience so, for those prepared to give it a go, it should not be beyond their ability.
This effectively makes these excellent courses in adult education in the faith available to all people within Australia. This is good news for people like 'Amy' who are eager to build up their faith so they can really live it, and bring life to their world.
"The future is in your hearts and in your hands" (John Paul II).
Anyone interested in these Adult Faith Education courses can obtain more details from Melbourne's CAEM on (03) 9412-3340 or www.melbourne.catholic.org.au/caem or Sydney's CAEC on (02) 9643-3660 or www.caec.com.au
Peter Holmes is Manager, Courses of Study, at Catholic Adult Education Centre Sydney. Until recently he was a Course Supervisor at Catholic Adult Education Melbourne, where he lectured in Scripture, evangelisation and Christian leadership.