After World Youth Day 2000, a number of young Catholic pilgrims approached Dr George Pell, then Archbishop of Melbourne, to establish a weekly hour of Adoration for young Catholics in St Patrick's Cathedral. He agreed and the time chosen was 6.30pm on Thursday evenings
The event was known as SIX30 for some years and now is simply called the Holy Hour.
Since its inauguration, SIX30 has been planned and led by young adults who invite the priest, arrange the music and publicise the event. During the hour, at least one priest is available to hear confessions, and often there are several.
At the completion of the hour, many of the young men and women go to nearby pubs or cafés for a meal. However, once a month, the Archdiocese's Office of Youth Affairs (OYA) arranges a CultureEd event – a well-prepared meal plus popular speaker – at a venue within the Cathedral compound to follow the Holy Hour. This initiative has proven very popular.
A dedicated hour of Eucharistic Adoration is now arranged in numerous other dioceses including Sydney, Parramatta, Brisbane and Canberra-Goulburn.
Modern Youth Ministry
Youth ministry has existed for generations, so what is new and distinctive about the young adult ministry of Melbourne and other dioceses?
The OYA staff is comprised of young practising Catholics whose main target audience is their peers. These young men and women accept and follow the Church's teachings and attend Mass, receive the sacraments.
Many have returned through the Sacrament of Penance and some have rediscovered the practice of Adoration of Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament (through events such as the Holy Hour). These young Catholics respect the Church's leaders, both in Rome and in Australia, and are proud of their faith.
Youth ministry is an aspect of the Church's work defined by Pope Benedict XVI in many addresses. He reminded the Brazilian hierarchy, during a visit to Latin America in 2007, of the fundamental mission of the Church: "We Bishops have come together to manifest this central truth, since we are bound directly to Christ, the Good Shepherd. The mission entrusted to us as teachers of the faith, consists in recalling, in the words of the Apostle to the Gentiles, that our Saviour 'desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth' (1 Tim 2:4). This, and nothing else, is the purpose of the Church: the salvation of individual souls, one by one."
Catholic youth ministry exists to assist young men and women to save their souls, as the Holy Father said to the Brazilian bishops.
This revival of Catholic ministry to a target group – in this case, youth and young adults – has been significantly influenced by the thinking of Father (later Cardinal) Joseph Cardijn, a Belgian priest who began his ministry almost a century ago.
Joseph Cardijn was born to a poor family in a working-class suburb of Brussels in 1882 at the height of the Industrial Revolution. His was a devoted Catholic family and his parents saved so that their eldest child could enter the seminary.
The striking epiphany which provided the focus for his life's ministry came during Joseph's first holiday at home from the minor seminary. As Joseph was studying, his friends were working in the mills, mines and factories around Brussels.
He went looking for them and was appalled that, within a year of leaving primary school, they had lost their morals, were abandoning their faith and did not want to know him. They faced the shocking working conditions of the urban poor and were angry and embittered with life and the Church. Cardijn, on the other hand, was becoming a priest – and an enemy of the working class!
After ordination, Father Cardijn developed two revolutionary ideas which would have a permanent influence on Catholic ministry worldwide and are enjoying a revival today.
The first idea was that those evangelising young workers should be other youthful workers, trained to do so. By extension, those ministering to farmers should be farmers; to university students, other students; to manual workers, other manual workers, and so on. The priest's role was to discover, form and energise the leaders.
The second idea was, in summary, the See, Judge, Act model:
• Observe the challenge to be faced (after discussion with interested people).
• Judge the situation in the light of the Gospel.
• Act, i.e., prepare a program of action to deal with the situation.
Father Cardijn's methodology as a tool of review, evaluation and analysis was soon widely used in a range of Church organisations.
Over time, Father Cardijn founded the Young Catholic Workers and the International Young Christian Workers while other associations were established on the same model, such as the Young Catholic Students, the Young Catholic Farmers and so on.
Many associations ministering to young people include sporting and social activities and Cardijn's movements did so. However, the purpose of the latter was strongly religious with the aim of leading youth to Jesus Christ and assisting their life's journey towards eternal salvation.
The Archdiocese of Melbourne's Office of Youth Affairs, reaching out through its trained and experienced young Catholic leaders, represents a continuation of Joseph Cardijn's ideas with their proven successful track record.