The theme of the eighth annual Young Men of God (YMG) Conference held at The Tops Conference Centre, Stanwell Park, on the weekend of 12-14 October was "The Lord is my strength" (Ps. 28.7). Stanwell Park is a seaside resort south of Sydney.
On our arrival we found some forty young men at Eucharistic Adoration in a makeshift chapel. Within half an hour Mass was celebrated and everyone appeared to be present, including many exhausted after travelling from most parts of Australia.
The YMG 2012 Conference had its largest attendance since the Movement commenced with, overall, 180 men attending the Retreat which has been the annual high point of the YMG since 2005, when the first Conference was held.
Sign of hope
These enthusiastic young adults present a striking sign of hope for those who all too often see pews empty of young people at Sunday Masses.
Many are also concerned at the inadequacies of religious education in Catholic schools and at the paucity of priestly vocations. In fact, regarding the latter, things have been looking up with Australia's seven seminaries now far from emply: Melbourne has over 50 seminarians, Brisbane over 30 and the three seminaries in Sydney have between 60-70 seminarians. And the situation is even better in Perth and Wagga Wagga.
Meanwhile, the Young Men of God and other young adult retreats/conferences (iWitness, ACSA, Ignite) show that an impressive lay leadership has been emerging in recent years.
These young leaders have been evolving a format for their weekend events, namely, prayer, the Mass, Eucharistic Adoration and confession.
In addition, there are guest speakers, small group discussions and personal testimonies with a substantial amount of free time for informal sports or a trip to the surf beach at Stanwell Park.
At YMG 2012, there were many highlights, not least of them being the strong organising team led by Father Ken Barker and Ben O'Heir, the YMG's co-Founders, along with Dan Serratore, Ben Galea, Nathan Tran, and Nick and David Morgan.
Besides Father Barker, other priests in attendance included Fr David Callaghan mgl and Father Morgan Batt, the Vocations Director for the Archdiocese of Brisbane. An Australian Army Chaplain for ten years, Fr Morgan is an international mountaineer and has walked the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain. (His book: Up the Beaten Track, An Australian Pilgrim's Touch Stones and Stories is available from his Vocations Director address: Canali House, 47 Clyde Street, Herston, a Brisbane suburb).
Other speakers included Fr Tony McSweeney, Jonathon and Karen Doyle of Choisez Media and Father Ken Barker. The Doyles - with their three children - were recently granted the Australian Capital Territory Family of the Year Award.
Among the youth leaders present were Tim Davis, new Head of Evangelisation at John Paul College, Coffs Harbour, the Nicholls brothers, Sam and Amos, Anthony Niemann of Campion College, Chris Eaton mgl and Jeremy Grear of the National Evangelisation Teams (NET).
Tom Zinkel, a Religious Education Teacher at St Edmund's College, Canberra, was MC at the Conference and accompanied 20 young men from the College to the event. Another strong YMT supporter is Fernando Farrugia who, with three other staff members, accompanied 24 young men from Rostrevor College, Adelaide.
The YMG are one of the networks of the Missonaries of God's Love, which was founded in Canberra over 25 years ago by Father Ken Barker. The "Missionaries" emerged from the charismatic Disciples of Jesus Covenant Communities and since 1986 have experienced steady growth and established a presence throughout Australia, as well as in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and the Philippines.
In 2012, the MGL have twelve young men doing their Novitiate in Canberra and another 30 men preparing for the priesthood at their house at St Benedict's Parish, Burwood, in Melbourne.
As noted in earlier AD2000 articles, the YMG was co-founded over ten years ago by Father Barker and the young Canberra carpenter/builder, Ben O'Heir. In 2000, Father made a pilgrimage to Catholic shrines in Italy and in Assisi prayed at the Portiuncula, the small church where St Francis and his first Brothers prayed.
Gradually, Father Ken sensed that God wished him to initiate a movement of young men, at first in Australia and later throughout the world. He wanted young men to rise up in the contemporary world fired by a deep faith, purity of heart and strength of character to become impressive Christian leaders.
Over the past ten years, the Young Men of God have become widely established around Australia with contacts in the separate states: Ben O'Heir 0410-403-763 in Canberra; in Sydney, Ben Galea 0439-999-196; in Brisbane, Mark Doyle, 0425-427-766; in Adelaide, Fernando Farrugia 0400-147-974; and in Melbourne, Luke O'Connor 0437-842-272. These are the YMG leaders in their respective states.