Don’t settle for less than God: Hopes for the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Sydney

Reading Time: 3 minutes
La Salle College, Bankstown, teacher Simon Rassy. PHOTO: Supplied

My name is Simon Rassy. I am a young Catholic school teacher and youth minister and I am really excited about attending the Australian Catholic Youth Festival coming up this year in December. I expect to meet many other young members of the Church through this event and foresee that it will a great way to kick-start the liturgical Year of Youth for 2018.

What a way to re-ignite the fire of Sydney World Youth Day 2008! Sydney will again be buzzing with thousands of young people hoping to renew, strengthen or discover their relationship with God, Jesus and the Church. I can see that the theme for ACYF is taken from the inspiring words of Pope Francis spoken at the WYD16 Vigil Mass to over 1.5 million young people in Krakow: “Jesus is not the Lord of comfort, security and ease.

Following Jesus demands a good dose of courage, a readiness to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and to set out on new and uncharted paths. To blaze trails that open up new horizons capable for spreading joy, the joy that is born of God’s love and wells up in your hearts with every act of mercy.” (Vigil with Young People, WYD Krakow, 30 July 2016).

For many of us, the comfort of a night-in, eating pizza and watching Netflix often is more interesting than the challenge of going out and spreading the message of joy and mercy we receive from Christ. However, like any good parent, the Church wants us to give up the sofa and the TV remote and to strive to be more fully alive in Christ. The Church recognises that young people have the potential to always be more and do more. During this festival I hope that I and so many other young people will be challenged and inspired to become more active members of a dynamic, joyful and merciful Church, a Church which takes pride in its young people and the work they do.

In some of his recent writings Pope Francis has touched upon the theme of youth by reflecting on the words and actions of the young Mary, mother of Jesus. He identifies that when Mary, who was very young, received the unexpected message from the Angel Gabriel she said “Yes” instantly and set out with haste to visit her heavily pregnant cousin Elizabeth.

This model of selflessness and sacrifice is one which we should all try to emulate. If anyone had the right to think of themselves before others and be a “couch potato” it was Mary who was carrying the Lord of the universe in her womb. It would have been very easy for her to think of herself as someone special and put her own needs above those of others, to look to remain in the comfort of her own home and use “caring for Christ” as an excuse. However, she immediately went out and journeyed a long distance to be at the service of her cousin Elizabeth.

Last year I was blessed to be chosen to attend WYD16 as a staff pilgrim for Sydney Catholic Schools (SCS). We travelled through the Holy Land before meeting with millions of pilgrims from around the world in Poland to celebrate our faith with Pope Francis. As any WYD pilgrim would know, there are countless highlights and memories to reflect upon from such an experience. However, the highlight which I treasure the most is the relationships I was able to build with my fellow pilgrims.

Despite tracing the footsteps of Jesus in Jerusalem and despite being able to see the Pope, it was through the joy of being with my fellow pilgrims that I most fully experienced Christ. This experience is one that I hope to replicate later this year when young people from across Australia gather together to celebrate their faith at the ACYF.

As a young teacher in SCS and a youth group leader at my parish, my hope is to gain something from this 3-day festival that I can take back and share with my students and my youth group. First and foremost, I hope that the ACYF provides me with the formation I need to continue to grow and mature as a follower of Christ. I also hope that this ‘mini-pilgrimage’ gives young people the chance to share their passion, gifts and perspectives with so many other young people and to assist each participant to discern and pursue their vocation. I also hope that this experience will reflect the overarching theme of a young Church, provide us with opportunities to pray together and inspire us to make a difference together.

As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said: “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.”