The annual "Reasons for Hope" Retreat at Chittick Lodge, Gerringong, from 16-18 March, was an impressive celebration of faith for the eighty young Catholic men and women who attended.
This annual weekend event is in its fifteenth year and even predates the Annual Australian Catholic Students Association Conference by some years.
In 1996, there were fewer reasons for confidence among young Australian Catholic adults than there presently are. The vibrant, flourishing Catholic life around Theology-on-Tap, the SIX30 Holy Hour and the many retreats and conferences (ACSA, Young Men of God, iWitness, YPAT and MAGIS) did not exist.
In addition, the vitality provided by the increasing numbers of vocations to the Missionaries of God's Love, the Franciscan (Capuchins), the Dominican Sisters of Nashville (Tennessee), the Fraternas, the Verbum Dei Missionaries and the Dominican Friars were for the future.
There have been significant developments over those fifteen years and mostly for the better. In the April AD2000, for example, there was an article on the flourishing state of the Australian seminaries.
The situation is similar with youth ministry and the team which developed the "Reasons for Hope" Retreat are pioneers in this development.
In 1996, Matt Woodbury was a youth leader at the Queen of Peace Parish, Normanhurst, and Anthony English was managing a similar "Veritas" Young Adult ministry at St Bernadette's, Castle Hill. They felt that an intense, deeply spiritual weekend Retreat would energise and focus the keen young Catholics in their groups and so they planned a weekend away although they were uncertain as to whether they would attract adequate numbers to constitute a success.
As it happened, sixty young adults attended and gave the organisers real reasons for hope that their initiative would become a permanent annual event. Fifteen years later, their venture has proved its worth and continuity. Of course, as time passes, leaders move on. Today, Richard Sofatzis and Bridget Spinks have assumed leadership as earlier leaders have moved on to other roles in the Church.
The proven program for the "Reasons for Hope" Retreats includes the following:
• Intense prayer including overnight Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament as in the Forty Hours Adoration at Gerringong.
• Uplifting liturgy with Daily Mass and Benediction, often with a Schola to add a rich musical dimension.
• Solid keynote addresses by noted speakers, such as at the latest Retreat, Bishop Peter Commensoli, David Clarke, MLC, Dr Jovina Graham and Tim Cannon.
• Free time on the Saturday afternoon for recreational activities, such as at the nearby surf beach
• A major social event on one evening, with the 2012 weekend including an Irish (St Patrick's Day) theme.
Cardinal George Pell often advises young Catholics that they need at least some young adult Catholic friends. Well-attended events such as the present Retreat enable this to happen, reminding young practising Catholics that they are not alone.
At the 2012 Retreat, after the participants assembled from around Australia on Friday evening, the Notre Dame University Chaplain, Fr Lam Vu, welcomed Bishop Peter Ingham of Wollongong when he arrived to celebrate Mass and initiate the Forty Hours Adoration.
On Saturday morning, Bishop Peter Commensoli, an auxiliary bishop of the Sydney Archdiocese, arrived to celebrate High Mass in honour of St Patrick's Day, with Fr Lam a concelebrant. Following Mass and morning tea, Bishop Commensoli gave an address on "The Sacraments and Divine Love." This was very much in the spirit of World Youth Days where bishops and other international church leaders provide catechesis on core teachings to young Catholics.
There were other sessions during the day, led by Sr Maria Kolbe OP, Anthony English, Judi Limbers and Christian Stephens.
On the Sunday morning, prior to the final Mass, a "Faith-in-Action" Forum was presented by leading lay Catholics, David Clarke MLC (Liberal, NSW), Dr Jovina Graham and young lawyer and musician, Tim Cannon.
Among the participants were current and future Catholic leaders. These included members of the Sofatzis family, David, Richard, Thomas, Harry, Peter, Lucy and mother, Gillian, four members of the Hill family, Matt, Tom, Bob and Luke, and three Slee brothers from St James in northern Victoria, Joseph, Ben and Jacob.
The youth leaders from Albury and Wagga Wagga arranged for two minibus loads of young Catholics from their respective areas to attend. Also present were Campion College graduates, Mathieu Couture and Paul O'Donovan, and Kate Gibson who travelled from Perth.
Following the 2012 Retreat, there will be a number of similar events during the year that should prove attractive for young adult Catholics serious about their faith.
• Australian Catholic Students Association Conference, Queens College, University of Melbourne, 6-8 July. (Contacts: Chris Restall (0433-057-403) and James Leach (0421-215-240).
• Young Men of God Retreat, Collaroy Centre, Sydney, 12-14 October.
• YPAT, Youth Political Activists Training (www.ypat.org.au), July (after ACSA Conference), Mannix College, Monash University. (Contact Paul O'Donovan (0424-363-462, email: email@example.com)