In the most moving scenes yet that would melt the soul of the most hardened cynic, more than 10,000 young people dropped to their knees to welcome their risen king at the final plenary for the Catholic Youth Festival.
Not a sound could be heard for 20 minute as those in the packed arena paid homage during a time of Eucharistic Adoration.
The silence could not have been more striking, given the crowd had only an hour early been chanting “Hilda, Hilda, Hilda” in adulation for highly regarded 70-year-old Benedictine Sr Hilda, who was holding court during her Hanging with Hilda sessions.
It was a night of music, dance, catechesis and prayer.
For more than two hours Qudos Bank Arena witnessed the most extraordinary outpouring of the holy spirit perhaps not seen since World Youth Day 08.
Archbishop Christopher Prowse of Canberra and Goulburn challenged participants to take God up on his offer of a genuine and expansive life, just as Mary had done when she gave her whole-hearted yes to God.
“An encounter with Jesus deep within lasts for eternity,” Archbishop Prowse told the jubilant crowd.
“A tsunami of grace for young people; that’s what we want.”
Gary and Natasha Pinto lifted the crowd with a rendition of Justin Timberlake’s hit Can’t Stop the Feeling, before Steve Angrisano prepared the crowd for Adoration.
But it was headline act Matt Maher’s accompaniment as the Blessed Sacrament was processed out of the building that will stay with the audience for lifetime.
He closed the night, eliciting the most lively and passionate crowd singing yet seen at an Australian Catholic Youth Festival, in a commanding display of the musical gifts that God has given him.
Earlier in the day, participants were treated to the witness of one of the festival’s other major headline acts, Emily Wilson.
The one-time aspiring sports broadcaster, who instead opted for a mission of speaking, YouTubing and writing about real life with God, held the 20,000-strong crowd in the palm of her hand as she spoke about vocation.
The Californian said there were two truths she wanted her young audience to know.
“God knows you, and he knows your heart,” Emily told the crowd.
“He has plans for each of our lives and those plans are very good.”
The first thing to do – often the most neglected thing – was to spend time speaking intimately with God.
“Have you prayed about it? We must talk to God to allow him to help us discover what our vocation is.”
There was a roar of mostly female voices around the packed Qudos Bank Arena when Emily showed pictures of her husband, Daniel, from their wedding – a segue into talking about what it means to give yourself over to your vocation.
Emily spoke about Mary as the ultimate model of humanity in her openness, her receiving and surrender, citing the words of Pope Benedict XVI, made famous at World Youth Day 2008.
“Are we all not perhaps afraid in some way?
“Are we not afraid that he might take something away from us …
“Do not be afraid of Christ. He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything.”
Five young people sitting around the arena joined her in leading the crowd in praying a decade of the Rosary, the final ‘Amen’ concluding her talk as she departed the stage.
The youth also roared and clapped in approval earlier in the plenary when Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett, the founders of Orange Sky Laundry for the homeless shared their story of how they came up with their award-winning idea.
Waves of laughter echoed around the arena as the impressive young men told their tale of well-meaning but naïve beginning, blowing up expensive four washing machines after installing them in “sudsy” – their first mobile laundry van.
The inspiration came for having deep conversations with a homeless man in their local area and wondering what they could actually do to make a difference.
“So I jumped on Google and typed ‘serious washing machines’,” Lucas said to the crowd’s amusement.
The men recalled the very first time they had a washing machine-loaded in their van to work and their first “customer” Jordan – someone who was the same age as Lucas and who had studied the same degree at university.
In the one hour it took to wash and dry the clothes they discovered what would turn out to be the most important part of their social enterprise – conversation.
Through challenging the apathy and entropy that surrounded them, “We stumbled across a world first, connected a community and stopped the transmission of some nasty (diseases).”
Three years after they started, they are now helping homeless throughout Australia in 156 locations, operating 22 vans and helping to wash and dry 1.2 tonnes of laundry a week.
“Having clean clothes means I can go on with my life,” one of their “street friends”, John, said in a short video.
“I can go and have job interviews and have conversations on public transport without feeling ashamed.”
Bishop Mark Edwards introduced the young men and spoke about the centrality of the Spirit of God – how God makes a home in all of his believers – in personal conversion and in affecting real change in the world.