Australian Catholic Youth Festival draws tens of thousands

Concelebrants process into a Mass said for the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Sydney, Dec. 9 2017. Credit: Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.
Concelebrants process into a Mass said for the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Sydney, Dec. 9 2017. Credit: Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

.- The Church in Australia kicked off Advent with a Catholic Youth Festival in Sydney last weekend, drawing some 20,000 attendees and including the country's largest Mass since the World Youth Day in 2008.

The event was also the opening of a “Year of Youth” meant to “open new horizons for spreading joy for the young Church and our communities.”  

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney said that “our culture has messed up about life and love, justice and mercy,” at the festival's Dec. 9 Mass, citing political challenges such as the recent legalization of voluntary euthanasia in Victoria.

“If ever we need new John the Baptists to call to people to repent and to believe, to offer some really good news amidst all the bad and to point people to Christ, it’s right now.”

The festival was held Dec. 7-9, shortly after Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, invited the nation's youth to participate in the 2018 Year of Youth, which will last until Nov. 25, 2018.

The festival mostly took place at the Sydney Olympic Park. There young people attended workshops, Mass, faith-filled discussions, and even interactive games, such as a Saint John Paul II video game.

However, the highlight of the weekend was a pilgrimage through Australia’s largest city followed by the closing event. Depending on the desired length, people could begin the pilgrimage at either the St Mary Mackillop Shrine, Harbour Bridge, or St Mary’s Cathedral, but the pilgrims all converged for a concert and closing Mass at the Domain in the Royal Botanical Gardens.

The nearly three hour praise and worship concert included Matt Maher and tributes to the country’s aboriginal groups. A Saturday anticipated Mass soon followed the event, celebrated by Archbishop Fisher, who cancelled all other anticipated Masses to encourage attendance at the youth Mass.

“Episode Eight is coming,” said the archbishop at the beginning of his homily, referring to the new Star Wars movie which will be released this month.

He explained that he had first seen Star Wars during his last year of school nearly 40 years ago, and how it is now a cultural staple which has earned billions of dollars and spawned cultural phrases such as “I am your father.”

Although the series has a bizarre religious perspective, he said, it is still based on the theme of a struggle between light and darkness, adding that the movies include champions who fought on behalf of goodness.

“One thing is still clear, we still look for heroes,” he said, pointing to John the Baptist, an unlikely hero who ate bugs, honey, and smelled like camels.

“All together, JB (John the Baptist) is not the kind of guy your parents would want you to bring home from ACYF as your new boyfriend or new best mate,” he joked.

However, he said this saint aimed to bring people the good news, namely Christ, and stood up against the evils of the times, even if it meant losing his head to Herod because he denounced the king’s illegitimate marriage.

Archbishop Fisher highlighted the evils of euthanasia, which was recently legalized in the state of Victoria, and warned that people can no longer rely on the Christian presence within the culture, but will have to choose for themselves to believe in the teachings of the Catholic Church.

“Things are sliding in our culture, and going forward Christians may not be as influential or even welcome as they used to be. Christian’s won’t be carried by the culture any more. They will have to decide for themselves.”

The culture needs Catholic youth to be heroes and to proclaim the good amid the darkness of the world, he said, noting the example of Mary, the mother of God.

“There were many challenges for [Mary] and not just at the beginning. Accompanying Christ to the cross tore her Immaculate Heart,” he said.

But instead of despairing over evil, he challenged Catholic youth to respond as Mary did at the resurrection.

“Being held by him after the resurrection must have been the greatest joy a human heart, even an immaculate one, could ever have contained. Indeed she couldn’t contain that joy. The next time we see her in the New Testament she is praying in the cenacle of the Church as she awaits her new children to be over shadowed by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Tags: Australia