Address for the Opening of the Australian Catholic Youth Ministry Convention 2018
Rooty Hill RSL, 23 September 2018
It is with great joy that I welcome all of you to the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta, which I describe as Sydney in 3Ds: diverse; dynamic; and demographic heart of Sydney.
It is fitting that this Australian Catholic Youth Ministry Convention should be held at a place that is both the cradle of Catholicism in Australia and the face of multicultural society.
Parramatta has a distinction of being the site of the first official Catholic Mass and the first Catholic school in Australia. It is now the melting pot of our multicultural nation and we even have the first Asian-born bishop in Australia to prove it.
Of course, it is fitting too that this Convention should take place during the Year of Youth, with the Synod on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment to be held in Rome next month and then the World Youth Day in Panama soon after that.
This emphasis on young people in the Church means that we take young people and their concerns seriously.
At times, you may think that the Church is led by a bunch of old men in dresses and that it is not relevant to your lives and relationships, your hopes and dreams, your challenges and struggles.
Think again, because Pope Francis wants to change that misconception. And so do the Church leaders in Australia, particularly with the Plenary 2020.
The Church wants to engage, listen and accompany young people. The Church as the Body of Christ wants to be a safe, welcoming and nurturing oasis for all no matter what their background is or where they are on the journey of faith.
Here in Parramatta, I made it my goal to foster a Church where there is less an experience of exclusion but more an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity. There can be no future for the living Church without there being space for those who have been hurt or alienated.
Like the early Christian community, the Church is called to accommodate and accompany the strong and the weak, the faithful and the wavering. It is not like a club with strict rules for its members. We are family (remember that song!). It is a family that cuts plenty of slack, makes plenty of room and accommodates those who struggle, question, doubt or stray.
Pope Francis has constantly challenged the Church to be a place where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live according to the Gospel. It is the challenge for us to live more fully, more boldly and more humbly at the periphery.
Remember his words in the Joy of the Gospel: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and soiled because it has been out on the streets rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
It is the Church that dares to do what Jesus did: to accompany the most vulnerable, to minister at the liminal and precarious places of human vulnerability, to empower all to live life more fully.
Christianity is about commitment, courage, risk taking, daring to dream big dreams. That’s what Abraham and Sarah did when they left their home and followed the big dream God had in store for them. Mary and Joseph, the disciples of Jesus did the same.
I am inspired by their examples and this is why I chose my motto to be “go further into deeper waters”. I am and we all are challenged to abandon our comfort zones and to walk unfamiliar and unknown pathways in order to expand our horizons of faith, hope and love.
Christianity has everything to do with maximising our potential, with taking risks and living with enthusiasm and commitment. Pope Francis says he wants to see the young people making a mess. He wants them to make waves and shake things up in their environment. What he means is that we should not be content with status quo, especially when that status quo is less than what God wants for us.
Australia is a wonderful country but it needs young Christian people especially to hold it to account in terms of its treatment of the vulnerable. We cannot be salt and leaven if we allow our Christian conscience to be desensitised by the inequality, injustice and inhumanity in our society and in the world.
We cannot be the disciple of Jesus and stay put. Discipleship is a journey that demands courage because it forces us to abandon security in favour of vulnerability, self-interest in favour of passion for justice and compassion for God’s poor.
We are a very small, battered Church in Australia and one that is under siege. We can easily feel overwhelmed by the challenges and numbed by the negative things around us. Nevertheless, our call is not to go back to the known securities and certitudes of the past. It is to risk new frontiers of engagement and accompaniment.
The Barque of Peter is once again pushed out into deeper and more treacherous waters. Here, in the new exile and inhospitable environment, we must learn to walk with others. We must learn to incarnate the Gospel spirit in our lived experience. We must learn to be the humble servants of the Kingdom and the sacrament of God’s love and presence in the world.
That is the conviction that all of us must have as youth ministers. It is what I call “passion for the Kingdom” that is in our Christian DNA. The greatest service that a youth minister can do is to be a travelling companion to the young, with a heart of love more than a head full of ready-made answers.
The Church must become the traveling companion of young people – and that is what we mean by youth ministry. If, indeed, “it takes an entire village to raise a child,” then it certainly takes an entire Church to journey with young people as they grapple with the Good News and respond in discipleship.
I wish you all an invigorating, challenging and fruitful convention. May the Holy Spirit guide us as we seek to be companions on the journey, builders of the Kingdom and evangelisers of the world.
Most Rev Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv
Bishop of Parramatta