Melbourne, along with Sydney, has been a pacesetter in young adult ministry. In the Sydney Archdiocese, Cardinal George Pell has promoted young adult ministry for many years with a cluster of projects designed to involve Catholic youth – while his two seminaries have provided almost thirty new priests for the Archdiocese since World Youth Day 2008.
At the same time, in the west of the Sydney metropolitan area, Dominican Bishop Anthony Fisher is providing an equal drive to revive this ministry in our country's most youthful diocese. Moreover, this is an area where Catholics are a higher percentage of the population than in most other regions of Australia.
New youth event
This year, however, the Archdiocese of Melbourne will host Australia's most exciting new youth event: the Australian Catholic Youth Festival. This event will gather 3,000-4,000 young Catholics from Australia and New Zealand for three days of liturgy, social events and celebration.
The Festival, to run from 5-7 December 2013, is intended to have something of the flavour of World Youth Day – if on a somewhat more modest scale – drawing together 14 to 25-year-old Catholics for a deeply formative experience.
It will be the largest national gathering of Catholic young people since World Youth Day 2008 and will be held five years after Pope Benedict XVI visited Australia for the Sydney WYD.
Bishop Fisher, the Bishops' Delegate for Youth, said the concept of a national youth event had been discussed for many years: "The Bishops Commission for Pastoral Life and the Australian Catholic Youth Council have invested a good amount of time reflecting on the purpose and structure of a national youth event.
"It will be an exciting and vibrant gathering of young people full of music, talks, prayer and exhibitions. The Festival will provide young people with an opportunity to encounter Christ through the Catholic Church in Australia, and provide bishops and Church leaders an opportunity to listen to and engage with young people on the issues and concerns in their lives."
The Festival's objective is to build upon the Australian Catholic Bishops' vision statement for Catholic youth ministry, Anointed and Sent, with the scriptural theme for the inaugural Festival to be, "the Spirit of the Lord is upon me" (Luke 4:18).
The main features planned for the Festival are:
• Where bishops and Church leaders can listen and interact with young people on topics of interest to youth.
• A time when all participants gather to celebrate, worship, pray, experience live music and listen to keynote presentations.
• Informative and practical sessions for young people to learn and discuss topics with specialised presenters.
• Times for presentation of the Catholic faith by bishops, priests, religious, teachers and lay people.
• Liturgy, the sacraments and a chapel for prayer will be available daily.
• A marketplace comprising a variety of vocation opportunities.
• An opportunity to experience powerful and engaging Catholic music and ministries from around the country.
• A chance to participate in service and action opportunities.
The main venues for the Festival are St Patrick's Cathedral and the nearby St Patrick's Campus of the Australian Catholic University, while large gatherings will take place at the Festival Hall, West Melbourne.
The Festival will mark a successful build on numerous smaller Melbourne young adult events. For example, the Thursday SIX30 Holy Hour, inaugurated by a group of young adults, has now been running at St Patrick's Cathedral for over ten years.
SIX30 is a weekly hour of prayer, music and a homily around the adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist, with priests available to hear confessions. Some 80-100 young men and women regularly attend the Holy Hour and afterwards go in groups to a local café or hotel for an evening meal.
A group of young Melbourne Catholics also inaugurated Theology in the Pub – an American concept – in 2009. After some trial-and-error, the Theology in the Pub leaders have located this monthly event at the Pump House Hotel in the inner Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy. It features a guest speaker, question and answer session, and a social atmosphere which many young Catholics find very appealing. Meals and drinks are also available and the event regularly draws 100-150 young men and women each month.
The weekly Holy Hour and monthly Theology in the Pub (with slight name variations) are to be found in other Australian dioceses, including Sydney and Parramatta. At the Commercial Hotel, adjacent to Parramatta Railway Station, it is not uncommon to have crowds of around 500-700 young adults in attendance at Theology on Tap.
This July will see World Youth Day celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. While some thousands of young Australian Catholics will make the journey to this faith extravaganza, many will not be able to make the journey due to the high costs involved. This makes events like the Australian Catholic Youth Festival even more important in providing similar opportunities here at home.
Festival contacts: Melbourne Archdiocesan Office for Youth (AOY), Thomas Carr Centre, 278 Victoria Parade, East Melbourne, Vic 3002, tel: (03) 9412-3300, fax: (03) 9415-9867, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, web: www. cam.org.au/youth