The famous author Mark Twain once wrote, 'There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist'. Such a saying is quintessential to the Young Political Activists Training (YPAT) experience, which seeks to motivate young people to become involved in political, moral and social issues.
It was therefore a privilege to be involved in the YPAT Conference hosted by the Thomas More Centre in Melbourne from 28 January to 3 February 2010 for it enabled me to gain an enlightened view of many issues in modern Australia, encompassing the pro-life movement, the machinations of the legal system, the inner workings of parliament and many other issues particularly relevant to young people today.
The ethos of the conference centred on a need to act: combating the decay that is so evident in modern culture, and restoring the proper place of Judeo-Christian values within Australian society.
Among the speakers Joseph Santamaria examined the role of conscience, morality and the law, while John Ballantyne spoke on the role of Christian humanism in the economy and the very real dangers of certain ideologies such as Marxism. Senator Cory Bernardi's insights into the political landscape, and his own personal challenges provided interesting reflections on the issues dominating parliamentary debate.
Bill Muehlenburg detailed the 'culture' war raging between those that would break down Christian culture and values, and those that would uphold it, while Tim Cannon, Patrick Byrne and Damian Wyld gave essential practical advice on how to act in the modern political landscape.
Inspiring speakers such Dr Adam Cooper and Paul Gray covered the negative aspects pertaining to the necessities and challenges in the push to further distance the world from the Judeo-Christian values of the past.
Visiting clergy, such as Archbishop Denis Hart, Bishop Elliott, Fr Glen Tattersall, Fr Joseph Pich and others, not only said Mass, but gave their own unique view of Catholicism in the public sphere, which clearly has a lot to offer the world in motivation, love and change.
One of the most poignant speakers was Mrs Rita Joseph, who expressed her own disillusionment at the present course of the UN, away from the values on which it was founded. Likewise, Kevin Donnelly's observations regarding the degradation of the education system added to the sense of urgency in changing society today.
Mrs Lydia Soares' personal treatise regarding the conflict in East Timor was unsettling, but inspired hope that stability and social cohesion can yet avail in this beleaguered country. A highlight was Peter Westmore's talk on the inspiring life and legacy of the late Catholic social activist, B.A. Santamaria.
The conference ended somewhat fittingly with a chaotic debate, chaired by the Anh Nguyen, who earlier in the week examined the role the Catholic Church has played in terms of social teaching. The very idea of 'Catholic social teaching' was certainly a hallmark of the conference, and struck everybody as an ethos centred on the common good, the family and a profound respect for life.
It is a shame that such a teaching, which would certainly enrich life and debate, is not more prominently known. The task to restore the place of such humane social teachings was pinpointed throughout the conference as the responsibility of every Christian, and all those who acknowledge the common good and the right to life as essential values.
It was astonishing to see the intellectual development of all the YPAT participants, and one can clearly hope for the future with youth such as this now present in the world; hungry to do well for the world and others.
Other conference highlights included a tour of Parliament House by DLP member Peter Kavanagh and the excellent venue of Mannix College.
Perhaps the most important aspect, however, was the motivation instilled in all those that attended. Not only were strong friendships forged, but each left with a desire to change the world. The centre point of the conference was to act rather than stay silent, to take up the challenge to reverse or halt damaging legal and social change which could severely undermine the Judeo-Christian beliefs that have long underpinned the Western world.
How can one not remain changed and inspired after such a conference? Discussion before and after the talks was extensive and informative, as each of us negotiated the ideas presented in each speech. This was certainly an experience of a lifetime, one that inspired a mission in all of us by helping us to understand what God's particular plan is for each of us.
YPAT centres on the tough questions we all have to face, and we learn that it is no good to remain disinterested, apathetic or casual in regard to the world; rather we must actively strive for a better state of things. In Edmund Burke's immortal words, 'The only thing necessary for evil to succeed is for the good men to do nothing'. I am confident every participant will strive to be a force for good.
Richard Lyons is a 2009 St Kevin's College graduate and is currently studying for a Bachelor of Arts at Melbourne University.
YPAT Conferences will be held in July 2010 in both Sydney and Melbourne. For more information see www.ypat.org.au