Hundreds of young Catholics gathered together for Sydney’s tenth iWitness conference at Stanwell Tops for a memorable weekend of faith, formation and fun. The Conference was created following World Youth Day 2008, and seeks to form and grow young Catholics in their faith, discern their vocation, and embrace the iWitness motto – “Live Life to the Full!”
“The four days are a great way to reconnect with your faith, through hearing talks by guest speakers, daily Mass and Perpetual adoration,” says 22-year-old student Danica D’Souza who is currently studying a Master of Nutrition and Dietetics at Sydney University.
“I have found that one of the most unique parts of iWitness is the opportunity to learn and discuss aspects of Catholicism with people my age, and seeing how devout and involved they are in their faith is quite inspiring and encourages me to do the same,” she says.
The theme for this years’ conference was “Sinners to Saints”. It focused on the virtues and vices in the lives of saints, urging all to deepen their understanding of the Christ-centered message of love, forgiveness, redemption and repentance. Just as though some of the worst sinners were transformed into the greatest saints, attendees were encouraged to strive to reach new heights of holiness by overcoming our vices through perseverance, prayer and persistence.
“This experience helped me take the extra step in my faith and strengthened my friendship with Our Lord,” says Xavier O’Brien, a 16 year-old-student from Redfield College.
“I learnt that God’s love for us is so powerful. No matter what the sin is, He forgives us and is always ready to welcome us with open arms,” says O’Brien, “but we must also learn to forgive ourselves.”
Key speakers included Angela Shanahan, a leading national journalist; Fr Christopher Sharah who spoke about confession; Fr James Baxter OP who gave an overview of virtues and vices; Fr Dave Callaghan who spoke about the difficulty of being a saint in an age of chronic anxiety; Sr Mary Helen OP who spoke about the importance of prudence; Bryon and Francine Pirola who have ardently dedicated their lives to defending marriage and upholding Catholic values; and Fr Greg Morgan who delivered an inspirational talk on contemporary martyrdom and the need for young Catholics to be revolutionaries.
“Wherever there is martyrdom there is always a future for the church,” said Fr Greg, “a Catholic revolutionary always pushes out into deep, seeing a harder path, and chooses it for the sake of the future.”
There was also daily Mass and confession, with Fr Thomas McFadden OFM the chaplain throughout the entire conference and other priests attending to celebrate mass, including Bishop Umbers who celebrated mass on the final day.
It was heartwarming to witness many attendees wake up for perpetual adoration in the very early hours of the morning or in the dead of night, with many spending hours in deep prayer and contemplation, completely wrapped up in God. Remarkably, two seminarians from the Seminary of the Good Shepherd, Ben Saliba and Adrian Simmons, stayed in the chapel predominately the entire time for many hours each day and night to ensure that the Blessed Sacrament was never left alone.
“Having perpetual Adoration was magnificent. Going to spend some time with the Lord in Adoration was very fruitful as it allowed me to experience the tinniest fraction of the suffering Christ endured in His Passion,” says Mary-Anne Feghali who will be starting a medicine degree at the University of Notre Dame next year, “that time spent with Him during the night was very special and peaceful.”
In today’s age of disbelief and faithlessness, where it is easy to succumb to loneliness and despondency, this unwavering commitment to faith serves as a profound reminder of Christ’s words, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Mat 18:20)
“It was a real joy to be able to see that the Church in Australia is truly still alive, especially in Sydney, 10 years on from World Youth Day,” says 26-year-old Br Sheldon Burke who belongs to the Somascan Fathers in Perth.
“The faith, zeal and joy in the young people gives me hope for the future of our Holy Mother Church,” he says.