Gerringong is a popular beach resort two hours' drive south of Sydney, on the NSW South Coast. On the weekend of 8-10 March, Chittick Lodge, Gerringong, was "packed to the rafters" with over 100 enthusiastic young Catholic adults for their annual Retreat. They came from all over New South Wales, from Newcastle to the Riverina.
The lush scenery, the mountain background, the impressive organisation and the glorious weather made for a very uplifting and enjoyable weekend. Chittick Lodge is a comfortable, purpose-built and well-appointed facility located a couple of hundred metres from Werri Surf Beach.
Archbishop (Emeritus) Barry Hickey was keynote speaker and remained with the group over the whole weekend while Father Anthony Bernard, PP Camperdown, the University of Sydney parish, was Chaplain.
They were joined by a number of New South Wales Catholic leaders including: Dominic Perrottet MP (Liberal, Castle Hill), Rocky Mimmo, Founder and Chair of the Ambrose Centre for Religious Liberty, Andrew Flores, young adult leader in the Wagga Wagga Diocese, Claire Cannon, Manager of Portico Books in Sydney and Fraternas, Eileen Leyne and Cecilia Figueroa, of the Marian Community of Reconciliation, University Chaplains.
The Reasons for Hope format was initiated in 1996 by Matt Woodbury, a youth leader in the Normanhurst Parish in Sydney's northern suburbs. As the years pass, the leadership team renews itself constantly and at present, Richard Sofatzis of the well-known Hurstville Catholic family is Chair. Richard is assisted by Bridget Spinks, Adrianne Moore and Alison Varga, all well-known on the NSW young adult scene. They provided arguably, their best camp ever.
Richard and the team are anxious to thank their varied sponsors whose generosity makes it possible to keep fees so low with costs below most similar weekend camps. Cardinal George Pell, via the Archdiocese of Sydney, is the major sponsor and the others are the Hurstville Catholic Club ("Club Central"), the Thomas More Centre (Sydney) and the Culburra Beach Surf Life Saving Club.
There was a time when young adult Catholics could feel isolated with some parishes not particularly "youth friendly" and others with few young adults attending their Sunday Masses. In view of this, in eastern Australia, the regular Conferences and Retreats (Reasons for Hope, iWitness, ACSA, Young Men of God, YPAT) enable participants to provide moral support for one another.
At the international level, World Youth Days have provided this on a massive scale. These events are a celebration of young adult Catholic life which assist young Catholics to make friends-in-the-faith and inspire confidence.
Their main focus and the basic direction of Reasons for Hope involve enriching the participants' spiritual lives through a deepened relationship with Our Lord. There are daily Mass, Forty Hours Eucharistic Adoration, access to confession (which most took advantage of), inspirational talks, Question and Answer sessions, the Candle Lit Rosary walking to and from the Werri Beach foreshore, and recreational activities
Prayer was the principal theme in Saturday's talks: "Rich in Mercy, Rich in Love" (Fr Anthony Bernard), "Why do we need to pray?" (Archbishop Barry Hickey), "The Lamb's Supper: the Greatest Prayer" (Andrew Wood), "I know the Plans I have for You" (Sr Mary Julian RSM, Fr Anthony, Andrew Flores, Philippa and Luke Caulfield). The last was a Q and A session.
On Sunday morning, Archbishop Hickey addressed the challenging theme: "What will Heaven be like?" As he said: "I have not been there – yet!" Afterwards, there was the Faith-in-Action Forum facilitated by Dominic Perrett, Rocky Mimmo and Katie Fillilove while after lunch a five-person Q and A panel discussed "Evangelisation in the 21st Century", likely to be a major theme of the Pontificate of the newly-elected Pope Francis.
With so many spiritually uplifting liturgies, talks and Q & A sessions, there was need for periods of relaxation. On Saturday afternoon, the brilliant sunny weather drew many to the beach and the Culburra Beach Surf Club while in the evening, after dinner and the Candlelight Rosary on the beach, came demonstrations of the participants' musical and dancing skills.
Those who made Reasons for Hope such a successful weekend included members of the excellent choir and the volunteer catering team led by Rachel Varga.
Among the young Catholic leaders from many parts of NSW were Jerome Smith, son of NSW Attorney-General, Greg Smith, and Paul Clipsham, who led a group from the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese comprising young men and women who are revitalising young adult Catholic life in that diocese (via Theology-on-Tap and the Holy Hour). Campion College and the Diocese of Wollongong were also well represented.
In short, Reasons for Hope shows that young adult Catholic life continues to flourish while the advent of an exciting new Pope is likely to accelerate the upward trend.
Finally, the Australian Catholic Students Association Conference is due to be held at the Women's Residential College, University of Queensland, St Lucia, on the weekend of 5-7 July during the mid-year university vacation. Richard Lyons, University of Melbourne, is the current ACSA President.