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Fun and formation in faith

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Game, set and splash: plenty of fun activities accompanied talks and meditations, at this year’s iWitness Conference. Photos: Patrick J Lee

Annual gathering draws young to something hard to find these days: a deeper experience of Jesus, faith and Church in a relaxed yet intellectually stimulating atmosphere

Every year Anna Choi, a young Sydney professional, looks for opportunities to recharge her spiritual life and build deeper connections with like-minded people.

“The experience of a community is so foundational for Christians,” she says. “A community I can give to and sacrifice for, and can also take from when I need encouragement and inspiration is what we’re all ultimately looking for if we are serious about following Christ – our life is a common one that flows from the unity we have in sharing his Body and Blood.”

Anna, who belongs to her Coptic Orthodox tradition and is also a member of the young professionals group at St Fiacre’s Parish in Leichhardt, said she finds many more similarities than differences between the two traditions.

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She was one of 180 young people gathered at the picturesque south coast suburb of Stanwell Park for the annual weekend of formation, friendships and faith known as the iWitness Conference.

An impressive line-up of Catholic speakers included Sydney priest and iWitness chaplain Fr Ronnie Maree, Sr Joanna Marie OP, Mother Hilda Scott OSB, Fr Epeli Qimaqima, Fr Greg Morgan and Sarah Juszczak.

The iWitness Conference was established by a group of young people in the spirit of the 2008 World Youth Day in Sydney with the aim of engaging young people with the riches of Catholic faith and living.

Organiser James McCulloch said he was grateful the conference was able to go ahead, despite the state’s pandemic restrictions. “Among two years of mayhem God’s cleared a path each year for iWitness and for reasons unbeknown to us while so much else has fallen over, we keep going,” he said.

“The year the conference was very blessed, we had people come from different stages of a faith journey, different communities and types of vocation and every part of Sydney. People spoke of people doing something profound in their lives, some coming back to the sacraments after a long hiatus, and people of no faith at all having a really great experience.

It was my first time at iWitness and I was really surprised at how amazing it was, so Christ-centred and delving to a level not often found in forums for young adults.” – Anna Choi, iWitness participant

“God really did something special and was very much present there in a big way.”

Under the theme, ‘Launch out in the deep and let your nets down for a catch’ (Luke 5:4), the focus of the weekend was the importance of an interior life of prayer and reflection for Christians.

“It was my first time at iWitness and I was really surprised at how amazing it was, so Christ-centred and delving to a level not often found in forums for young adults,” said Anna. “A highlight for me was the theme of nourishing our interior life, developing a life of prayer and practising living in the presence of God and denying ourselves daily.”

While the venue can accommodate more than 700, James said the annual conference is never a numbers game.

The iWitness volunteer organisers work hard all year to ensure every Mass, talk, meal and game is as good as it can be. Photo: Patrick J Lee

“Our mission is to give people a very unique encounter with Christ in the fullness of his Church,” he said.

“That to me is the goal and if for some reason that we were to suffer in an effort to be as big as we possibly could then I think that wouldn’t be worth it. Our focus is more on quality, making sure everything we do, every talk, every game and every Mass is as beautiful as it possibly could be.” The presence of people from Eastern rites and Orthodox churches, such as Anna, had also been one of the best fruits of the annual event, he said.

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