New archdiocesan Catholic youth leader traces key influences in his journey
Growing up in a Catholic Maronite family in Sydney’s western suburbs, Milad Khalil had a healthy respect for faith but didn’t connect with it deeply until one winter’s night in 2008.
The 37-year-old new team leader for Sydney Catholic Youth in the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation was an accomplished Taekwondo athlete and coach at the time, and running his own Taekwondo club. He had a teaching degree, a girlfriend, and the beginnings of a plan for his life before God stepped in and turned things around.
The International World Youth Day had come to Sydney. A mutual Catholic friend, Jeremy Ambrose, invited Milad and his girlfriend Rimi to attend some of the festival events, insisting that they go to a talk being given by US author Christopher West on Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
“I like to say that if you give God an inch, He takes a mile, so let’s give him that inch.”
“It wasn’t really my thing but I was open to going along,” says Milad. “We went down there and had an incredible experience, what Christopher West said that night I had never heard anything like it before.
“It answered some of the deepest questions that I had within me about what it means to be a man, about marriage, family and the place of faith in all of that. It was also my first exposure to the universal Church and seeing a real sense of joy that radiated from the many young people my age was very encouraging.
“That really planted a seed in us and took us both on a journey, we wanted to know and experience more about our faith and why Catholics believe and do the things we do. Later that year we went to the iWitness conference and Bishop Richard Umbers, then Father Umbers, was there and introduced us to an examination of conscience. I made my first general confession and the rest is history.”
From that time Milad has been devoted to youth and young adult ministry. Initially he returned to teaching, specialising in Religious Education, and gained a Master of Arts in Theological Studies at the University of Notre Dame Australia.
He spent 15 years in Catholic education, including roles as youth ministry and religious education coordinator and the last four years serving in the Sydney Catholic Schools Central office as a leader in Youth Ministry and Church Engagement.
“I felt it was an injustice that young people were not hearing what I had heard that night at WYD and afterwards,” he said. After some prayer and reflection, I made the decision to make it my mission to share this message with as many young people as I can”.
He and Rimi married in 2010 and they have four children, Jerome, 7, Dominic, 5, Gabrielle, 4, and Jacinta, 2.
Now with Youth Officers John Nguyen and Jennifer Healey, Milad is preparing to launch a new strategic vision for Sydney Catholic Youth on 19 March at St Joachim’s Parish in Lidcombe. He hopes to further develop parish-based youth and young adult ministry and foster stronger collaboration between Sydney Catholic Youth and other archdiocesan agencies such as Sydney Catholic Schools, university chaplaincies and the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine which supports catechists in public schools.
He will also work to draw young people into the larger archdiocesan initiatives, such as Walk with Christ, March for Life and preparatory events for World Youth 2023 in Lisbon.
His challenge to young people across the archdiocese is to be open to these opportunities as they arise.
“Step out of your comfort zone and open your hearts and minds to the experience of faith. I like to say that if you give God an inch, He takes a mile, so let’s give him that inch.
“In the same way that I was open to going to that World Youth Day event or the iWitness conference when I really wasn’t into that sort of thing, just accept that invitation and go because you really don’t know what God is going to do with it.”
To educators, pastors, lay ministers and parents and carers of young people, he recommends providing opportunities for simplicity, silence and an openness to God.
“Take them out to explore nature, find ways to help them connect with others on the human level and give them opportunities to grow a sense of purpose and community. I’m also very passionate about offering young people good and beautiful experiences of liturgy. Liturgy that engages the senses and gives us a real sense of the sacred.”
Keep in touch with Sydney Catholic Youth on Facebook and Instagram or call the office on 02 9307 8152.