Wrapping up the Australian Catholic Youth Festival

They say happiness is contagious and, after witnessing the joy of 20,000 young people at the Australian Catholic Youth Festival, I know it’s true.

Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher’s address to the opening plenary set the tone for the three-day event. “Young Catholics must set the world on fire with their faith. You must be spiritual flamethrowers. You must have the awesomeness of an Australian bushfire, without the destruction.”

Interrupted repeatedly by cheers throughout his speech, Archbishop Fisher passionately told the youth that by saying ‘yes’ to God, young people could allow God to make something great out of them. He reminded the youth of Pope Francis’ challenge to young people at World Youth Day in Poland in 2016 – which was to have a faith that Opens new horizons for Spreading Joy. This was adopted as the theme for the festival. Archbishop Fisher finished by saying: “To every young woman and man here, open your eyes and hearts and minds to new horizons.”

The festival proved as diverse as it was inspiring - featuring discussions on dating, sexuality, interfaith relations, drugs and alcohol and vocation in the modern world, to name a few.

Canadian musician Matt Maher was the headline performer.  He spoke thoughtfully about his vocation and learning to trust in God’s plans. His advice for young people: Waste more time at the feet of Jesus and the rest of your life should go according to God’s plan.

“We all have the same amount of time as Bill Gates. He has infinitely more financial resources – but he cannot buy himself more time,” Maher said to a packed crowd. Maher engaged and captivated the young crowd with his honesty. “I’m not a Christian expert, I’m just another broken sinner - and God gave me the ability to voice my concerns and my needs through music, and other people can identify with it.”

He continued: “I guess that’s ultimately how you keep balance. You remember, at the end of the day, my music is just who I am. It comes out of my vocation as a husband and a father. It’s a reflection, hopefully, of having an interior life, praying and pursuing Jesus. And I try to just be as transparent with that as I can.”

2016 Young Australian of the Year recipients Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett are the two men behind the ground-breaking charity Orange Sky Australia. They hosted an inspiring discussion on the Power of a Conversation’. The two best mates from Brisbane founded Orange Sky Laundry in 2014 – a world-first, free mobile laundry service for people experiencing homelessness.

“Our mission is to positively connect communities and we have more than 100 volunteers who facilitate genuine and non-judgemental conversations every single day,” Patchett said. “We’ve met so many incredible people on our three-year journey, and we hope that by sharing these stories, we will inspire others to make a difference,” added Marchesi.

Fr Rob Galea’s energy was infectious and his upbeat performances were a highlight for many. Sr Hilda OSB, who rose to fame after appearing in the ABC reality television series The Abbey, guaranteed the crowd plenty of laughs with her coffee-chat sessions Hanging with Hilda’.

Texan performer Steve Angrisano, who seemed accustomed to our heat, got the crowd up and dancing on the outside stage. Musician, author, speaker and worship leader from Los Angeles, Emily Wilson, hosted a discussion He Calls You Woman. Emily reflected on the infinite mercy and love of God and reminded young women that no matter how far we may stray from Christ, he never calls us unworthy, sinful or unlovable.

The festival finished with a pilgrimage and Australia’s biggest Catholic Mass since World Youth Day in 2008. Maitland-Newcastle pilgrims were among the thousands who started at Milsons Point and made their way across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Making the most of the views from the bridge, which is an amazing vantage point, the pilgrimage then wove through The Rocks and Circular Quay before arriving at the Domain for Mass.

As Archbishop Fisher so aptly stated: “Right from the start you could sense the Holy Spirt among the them…. And I don’t mean that everything’s good for them. A lot of them have doubts and questions and, probably, struggles in their lives - but you really saw a good side of young Catholic Australia.”

The festival was an honest and liberating experience for the young Catholics who attended and the lessons learned during the three-days promise to be long-lasting.

Follow mnnews.today on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.