Sydney initiative to strengthen Catholic influence at university

Sydney initiative to strengthen Catholic influence at university

Robert Haddad

This year, the Archbishop of Sydney, Dr George Pell, has embarked on a new initiative for students at Sydney University - the Catholic Chaplaincy Team. This initiative is aimed at bolstering the Catholic presence on campus through the setting up of a team of people committed to providing activities and support for Catholics on campus and all people of good will.

The Team has two full-time staff - Robert Haddad and Anthony McCarthy - both committed to leading, assisting and working with Catholic student groups on campus. They are backed up by a vibrant and dynamic part-time team in the persons of Lucy O'Connell and Louise and James Altham. The vision is to motivate Catholic students to get involved in activities of all sorts and at all levels, to form Catholic leaders of the future.

A wide variety of campus and off-campus activities have already been launched for 2002. The Chaplaincy Team is currently leading 10 small groups studying the Gospel of St John. This number includes two groups at the satellite campuses of Cumberland and the Law School, campuses either never visited or not visited in many years. Student attendance has been very encouraging, as well as the level of enthusiasm and participation.

On a more formal side, public forums or lectures by guest speakers on topics of interest are held every Wednesday at 1.00pm. Students have heard various speakers both clerical and lay share their knowledge and experience on the following topics: Why am I a Christian, Why am I a Catholic?; How do we have peace as an individual, peace as a nation, peace as a world?; Christ as Priest; The spirituality of St Thérèse; The value of, and devotion to relics.

All of these are open for any students to attend. Three theme weeks will also be held on chastity, vocations and apologetics at times to be announced. The Chaplaincy Team looks forward to both promoting and defending the Faith in an environment not necessarily friendly to Catholicism, especially on issues relating to life and sexuality.

One vehicle of promotion is the Chaplaincy's quarterly magazine, The Word, written and produced by the staff and distributed to students through the Chaplaincy's student centre. Lucy O'Connell also co-ordinates students to write and contribute articles which are either published by the Chaplaincy or forwarded to and reproduced in the Catholic Weekly. Every week, a member of the Chaplaincy Team promotes the daily Masses and the week's public lecture though the handing out of promotional material to passers-by in the campus grounds.

On the spiritual side, Masses are provided twice a day, at 12 noon and 1.00 pm. Holy hour - including Rosary, confessions and benediction - are held at 3.00pm. A team of four priests has been formed to assist the Chaplaincy in this work, most notably Father Joseph Sedjerari from the local Melkite Cathedral of St Michael's, Darlington. All the priests participating are noted for their orthodoxy and fidelity to the Holy Father.

Spiritual retreats throughout the year will provide students with higher levels of religious and intellectual formation. This includes the highly successful IMCSA (International Movement of Catholic Students, Australia) conference recently conducted in early April.

The Chaplaincy Team also recently promoted and participated in the visitation of the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux and Carnivale Christi. The latter was an initiative of team member Anthony McCarthy, and drew thousands of people to various plays, recitals and exhibitions throughout April and May. A truly impressive event, Carnivale Christi was supported and participated in by almost 50 students from Sydney University and amounts to a profoundly serious effort to show forth the splendour of Catholic culture through art, music and performance.

2002 also sees the Chaplaincy Team promoting a pilgrimage of students to World Youth Day (WYD) in Canada in July. Anthony McCarthy and Louise Altham will lead a group of ten students on a two-week pilgrimage through Mexico, the US and Canada. Initiatives have been put in place to raise funds for students and the Chaplaincy Team itself will assist in the subsidising of student tickets. Every week, the WYD pilgrims gather in the University Chapel of the Resurrection to pray for God's blessings on the upcoming pilgrimage.

Social side

On the lighter social side, the Chaplaincy Team also organises sporting teams (Touch and soccer), a weekly BBQ, and has opened a drop-in centre for students to visit, relax, read, talk, work and play darts, pool/ table-tennis, etc. This centre, otherwise known as the John Paul II Student Resource Centre ("JP 2"), is located immediately next to the main University campus (Level One, 245 Parramatta Rd, Broadway).

It is envisaged that over time JP 2 will become a hub of Catholic activity for students. A Catholic library is being set up, internet and printing facilities will be available, as well as space for individual study and group meetings. Students are free to drop into JP 2 whenever they please.

All these initiatives will keep the members of the Chaplaincy Team very busy. The years ahead should be fruitful ones for this new mission. Knowing that it is God who gives the increase, the Team hopes to assist the Church in her great mission of saving all people and bringing them to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2, 4).

  • Robert Haddad is Convenor of the Sydney University Chaplaincy Team for 2002 and is a Catholic secondary school teacher.

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