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Young people have been pushed to their limits – in the best of ways – on the first day of the Australian Catholic Youth Festival.
The Qudos Arena was alive with sound and light tonight as youth, tired out from an extensive day of activities, came back to life as US headliner Steve Angrisano and band took to the stage after it had been warmed up by Emma Fradd and the House Band.
St Hilda also made a welcome return, speaking to three young people about how they found joy amid their struggles and the enjoyments in life before stilling the crowd for a period of Lectio Divina (a meditative way of reading Scripture).
Matt Maher closed out the night with another powerful set of contemporary Catholic music, having earlier in the day been interviewed by the nation’s religious media, together with Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and ACYF youth ambassador Melinda Koutsoukos.
At the media conference, Archbishop Fisher said that young people comprised about a third of the Church in Australia, and very much are the Church of the present, not just the Church of the future.
“I need their energy and zeal and creativity … we need it right now as the Catholic community of Australia,” Archbishop Fisher said.
“Looking to the future, we know that many of these people in our hall today are going to be leaders of our country, of our culture, of our civilisation in different ways – as artists, as scientists, as professionals, as workers, as mums and dads, husbands and wives, as priests and religious, in all sorts of ways they’re going to be the ones deciding where we go as a country and a civilisation and I want Jesus Christ to be at the heart of that, the heart of the world they lead us into and I think they can do it.”
Melinda spoke of the leadership skills attained, and lasting friendships formed, through events like ACYF and World Youth Day.
“I’m so lucky that I have a Church that does support us, that does give us these opportunities to lead, to be here today, and I think, like Bishop said, that we’re not the next generation, we’re the current generation.
“We’re here, we’re doing things and I think this festival really highlights that… I’m not too young to do anything. I can do whatever I want now, not in the future, not in 10 or 20 years. I have the opportunities now to do it and to make a difference.”
Asked about his fame, and his position as role model amongst Catholic youth in particular, Maher said: “If I want to say anything to young people, it’s ‘don’t stop with your role models. I think role models are there to provide, you can be inspired by [them], but ultimately, we’re all facing the direction of Christ, and 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.”
Other highlights from the day included a workshop run by 2016 Young Australians of the Year and founders of Orange Sky Laundry, the free mobile laundry for the homeless, Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett.
Marchesi told the young people, most of them high school students, that his desire to help the homeless was borne out of being taken by his mother to help out at a food van for the homeless when he was just 13 years old.
Both spent much time speaking to the young people not about their successes – growing Orange Sky from a two-person, two-machine, two-morning per week initiative to 13 vans servicing 121 locations with over 800 volunteers Australia-wide in the space of three years – but rather the difficulties involved in their start-up, including breaking the first four washing machines that were donated to them before one load of clothes were washed.
They also spoke about how they came to realise that a big part of the Orange Sky mission was the conversations had while people were waiting for their clothes to be washed, telling the young people that the most important items in the Orange Sky van were the six orange chairs on which they sit and chat with the people they meet.
Husband and wife singing duo, Gary and Natasha Pinto – both voice coaches on the X Factor – shared with young people the source of their success, “relying on God, every step of the way”.
“You can’t go to the next level without him,” Gary told a captivated crowd, after he and Natasha had played several original songs, including Hold the Cross, the song he performed at WYD 08.
Participants swarmed through the Encounter Dome, which was filled with more than 100 stalls, exhibits and activities.
Sydney Catholic Youth attracted possible the greatest number of stall visitors with a strength-measuring punching ball, with scores of people – mostly young men – lining up patiently to try their hand.
But perhaps the ultimate battle took place between Bishop Richard Umbers, auxiliary bishop of Sydney, and Bishop Peter Comensoli of Broken Bay, who fought it out on the xt3-created video game, John Paul the Great – an Australian Catholic first.
The Vocations Centre also proved to be immensely popular. Their free religious transfer tattoos were consistently popular throughout the day, attracting crowds of young people looking for the perfect design and speaking to Vocations Centre priests, religious and lay people.
Archbishop Julian Porteous drew an inquiring crowd to one of the larger function rooms, answering the question, “Can New Age Spiritually Be Catholic?”
He told young people that interest in the New Age sprang from an increase in the perception of fear in the world, as manifest in pop cultural phenomena such as zombie movies.
“We Christians always live with a deep sense of hope,” Archbishop Porteous said.
And instead of trusting tarot cards and séances, “we trust in God’s provident care”.
Earlier in the day, the festival kicked off with a bang
This morning Fr Rob Galea and Canadian headliner Matt Maher had the 20,000 strong crowd jumping and moving around, and singing along to songs of praise and worship.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP came with a jovial but also serious message, telling the youth that the Church was “there for them” and that it had listened to their deepest concerns about identity and the world around them.
“Let Christ expand your horizons and He’ll expand your heart accordingly,” Archbishop Fisher said.
“By God’s grace, and with the support of family, friends and Church, you can do great things …
“The bishops have organised this big festival for you, to open new horizons for you, to listen to you, above all to demonstrate the Church’s closeness, God’s closeness to you.”