One year to go until the Australian Catholic Youth Festival and Sydney students are already on the march

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Catholic school leaders from throughout Sydney gathered for a special day of prayer, discussion and pilgrimage on 7 December to mark ‘One Year Out’ till the city hosts the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in 2017 (photos above by Patrick J Lee).

A little over a hundred students and staff from 29 Catholic schools began the day at Mary MacKillop Place in North Sydney, where they received a briefing about the event from Sydney Catholic Schools Regional Leader of Learning for Youth Ministry, Michael Neylan.

The students were tasked with brainstorming their ideas of what they would like to see in and get out of the 2017 event.

They were then given an opportunity to pray at the tomb of Australia’s first recognised saint, St Mary MacKillop, before setting off on foot to their next destination.

The students and their teachers trekked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to St Patrick’s Church, The Rocks (Church Hill), where they celebrated Mass and also had the option of going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

A further pilgrimage to the mother church of Sydney, St Mary’s Cathedral, concluded with the students being given the option of attending a guided tour of the historic building, or making their own way around it in reverent silence.

Another brainstorming session ensued, led by Sydney Catholic Schools’ Glen Thompson, with the students being asked how they would like to see the festival transform themselves and their local school communities, and the role they might play in making that happen.

The students collated their best ideas and identified what they thought ought to be their main priorities for action at a local level.

They were then blessed and commissioned for the leadership role they will play in their schools – for the remainder of this year and in the next.

Sydney Catholic Schools’ Head of Evangelisation Robert Haddad said he was impressed by the students’ level of engagement.

“The day ran like clockwork, and the participation of the students was enthusiastic and exciting,” Mr Haddad told The Catholic Weekly.

“This day was designed to get their feedback and to ignite them for this great festival, that they would go back to their schools and tell their communities just what they are in for in a year from now.

“Full credit to those who arranged the program (the aforementioned members of his team and their colleague, Louisa Cataldo). There was a lot of variety and I think the students really appreciated that we were willing to respect them enough to get their ideas and input. As young people, this is their festival.”

The ACYF will also mark the 10 year anniversary of World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, and will inaugurate a national ‘Year for Youth‘ as designated by the Catholic bishops of Australia.