The Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton, Melbourne, is one of the world's oldest and largest exhibition pavilions. Many would be familiar with Charles Nuttall's painting of the opening of Australia's first Federal Parliament held at this great domed hall in 1901.
In October this year, the Archdiocese of Melbourne hosted the "Hearts on Fire" Vocations Congress, where there were exhibitions and displays by many priests, religious sisters and brothers from all parts of Australia. There was also a good representation of Catholic groups and agencies that provide services to families, youth, the destitute, aboriginals, education, the sick and dying, as well as sacred art and music.
In my view, the event was a resounding success on many levels.
Firstly, numbers for the different events spanning three days were higher than expected. Secondly, a number of young people who attended the Congress, have called the vocations office to indicated a desire to apply for studies to the priesthood and religious life. Thirdly, I noticed at the Congress a cheerful and positive spirit between religious who might not normally meet or speak to one another. And lastly, young people reported being amazed at discovering just how many priests, nuns and brothers we have in Australia, and at how much they do and have done for their communities and society.
For the Vigil of the Congress, 550 people, mostly young adults, joined in a two-kilometre Rosary procession from St Mary's, West Melbourne, to St Patrick's Cathedral. The group stopped at the Victoria Market to pray for all workers and then stopped at St Vincent's Hospital to pray for all the sick and the doctors, nurses and others who care for them.
Further on, they stopped at the Australian Catholic University to pray for all students and teachers. Finally they gathered and were joined by more people to almost fill the cathedral for a Holy Hour dedicated to vocations led by Archbishop Denis Hart.
That same night and for the next two days a Passion Play based on St Mark's Gospel, was staged at Trades Hall.
At the Royal Exhibition Building a crowd of about 10,000, mostly college students, walked through the display area intermingling with priests, brothers, nuns and lay people committed to special ministries and services. They were entertained by African drummers and an extraordinary juggler from Spain, Paul Ponse, who is well known in Europe and adds a testimony to his faith in Christ to his performances.
Also at the Exhibition Building were workshops on different vocations and topics: the priesthood, religious life, marriage, social justice, spirituality, Blessed Mary MacKillop and Blessed Pier Giorgo Frasatti. A Family Day picnic was held at the Fitzroy Gardens where hundreds were entertained by African Gospel singers.
Finally, Archbishop Hart closed the Congress with a Mass in the packed cathedral that also celebrated John Paul II's 25th Jubilee as our Pope. He thanked all who had worked hard to organise the Congress, especially Miss Jo Grainger, its Executive Officer.