The Lake Hume Weir Resort just outside Albury in NSW was bustling over the Australia Day weekend with over 400 people from at least 70 families, drawn from twelve dioceses, attending the inaugural national conference of the National Association of Catholic Families.
Sponsored by the Archdioceses of Melbourne and Sydney, the Diocese of Wagga Wagga, Catholic Super, Saint Mary MacKillop College, Albury, and St Patrick's parish, Albury, the conference had talks, workshops and activities in streams for small children, teenagers and young adults, those discerning their vocation and parents.
Holy Mass and all night Adoration however formed the centrepiece of this wonderful faith-filled weekend.
The keynote speaker for the event was Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green from the Wilcannia-Forbes Diocese who not only gave a wonderful personal testimony regarding his own vocation, but spoke knowledgeably about evangelisation using new technologies, especially as a means of connecting and supporting the faith development of young people in the Wilcannia-Forbes Diocese who live in remote areas.
The National Association of Catholic Families (NACF), founded in the UK, was inspired by the writings of John Paul II and based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Holy See's Charter for the Rights of the Family, as well as Familiaris Consortio and Humanae Vitae.
It began in Australia 20 years ago with Mary Clare and Chris Meney as the founding couple.
There are now families who meet in Albury (NSW), Benalla (N-E Vic), Melbourne, Picton and Sydney.
The national conference was an opportunity to inform, support and strengthen Catholic families to better deal with the challenges of living in modern Australia.
The weekend began with a pre-conference pilgrimage from St Patrick's parish in Albury to the Marian shrine at Thurgoona parish on Friday morning with the conference proper beginning mid-afternoon with Bishop Columba presiding over the opening Mass.
Many great speakers inspired the NACF participants including Fr Peter Murphy who encouraged youth to make a "True Love Waits" commitment.
Paul Ninnes spoke on the challenges of pornography and encouraged youth to realise that they are made in the image and likeness of God and to never lose sight of this.
Bernice and Maurice Boland from Ministry to the Newly Married ran a communication workshop, followed up by Ben and Juliana Smith speaking on the importance of praying together as a couple.
Adam Cooper from the John Paul II Institute encouraged families to look to the wisdom of the desert fathers and Andrew Mullins, author of Parenting for Character, stressed the importance of joy if we are to pass on a living faith in our families.
The Sunday program included talks on issues affecting men, suffering, natural family planning, starting a NACF group, and a report on the Synod of Bishops by Chris Meney.
There were catechetical programs for people of all ages including Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a children's catechetical program run by Andrew Kayser, a John Paul II Institute graduate and a presentation by the Missionaries of Charity for primary school aged children.
Other highlights included a canoe paddle down the Murray River and a family concert in which many families entertained the audience with skits, song and dance.
John Canavan had the audience in stitches with a comedy act and Bishop Columba got everyone toe-tapping to the tune of his bagpipes.
Saturday night of the conference concluded with a family bush dance and a pancake supper prepared by the O'Kane family.
The good of the conference can be summed up in the words of Lucy Robinson who travelled from Brisbane: "Many thanks for the magnificent work you put into running the weekend. We thoroughly enjoyed it and have been greatly encouraged by the witness of so many wonderful families. Even the two days of driving home seemed less onerous after the weekend!"
The concluding Mass was at St Patrick's Church in Albury where in front of a capacity crowd, 37 young people made their "True Love Waits" commitment. It was an awesome, grace-filled time!