By Elizabeth McFarlane, Catholic Outlook, June 2016
If the future of the Church is determined by the commitment and service of its youth, then St Bernadette’s Parish in Castle Hill is a custodian of that future.
The youthful vibrancy of the parish shines through and connects borders.
Assistant Priest Fr Michael Gigau Gathuku is overjoyed by the considerable number of young people making up the parish youth groups as they remind him of his home in Kenya.
“Being in Castle Hill is where I should be. The church is very vibrant and so much so that it feels as if God has planned my service to this parish because the people make me feel like I belong,” Fr Michael said.
“I do not get homesick because I feel myself fitting in here and the number of groups and young people connect me to my home in Kenya.
“It is wonderful to know that I am fully here. I do not feel like I am half in Kenya and half in Australia because Castle Hill is so inclusive and feels like home. I don’t miss out on the vibrancy of young people in Kenya because they are here in Castle Hill.”
Fr Alfons Nahak SVD has been an Assistant Priest in the parish for just three months but he is already a witness to the strength of the youth at St Bernadette’s.
“I was born in Indonesia and when I was there I thought that maybe in Australia the youth would be not as active as in Indonesia. But when I came here, I was really impressed,” Fr Alfons said.
“The youth are not only active but they are multicultural. In Indonesia it isn’t as multicultural or international.”
James Hay has been the parish Youth Minister for just over two years, working with an active youth ministry movement, adapted from Life Teen, a comprehensive youth ministry movement with the central focus on the Eucharist.
There are two different groups: Into Life for those in Years 7 & 8 and Life Nights for those in Years 9-12.
“It’s about building community. I like to know that people can feel a part of somewhere and feel welcomed,” James said.
“They’re a fun and inclusive bunch. There are a lot of youth groups I go to where there are still cliques but that’s not so much the case here. They’re really open to having new people coming.”
Working towards the Fugitive Winter Camp held from 11-13 July, James hopes the camp will equip people to run ministries and welcome new people into the community.
“It’s about showing Church as a family and working on relationships,” he said.
St Bernadette’s Parish Priest, Monsignor John Boyle, believes it is the number of people who gather on a Sunday for Mass that makes Castle Hill Parish unique.
“It’s just an ordinary parish but more than 2000 people attend Mass on a Sunday,” he said.
“People are very involved. We have more than 40 groups that are assisting the needy and running outreach programs.
“We have five choirs and we had about 25 attend our altar servers’ picnic earlier this year.”
The parish is a welcoming community supported by a welcoming Parish Priest and Fr Michael, Fr Alfons and James are all appreciative of the support Fr John provides the parish and its ministries.
“Fr John is my mentor. You can feel that he cares and that you are in his prayers,” Fr Michael said.
“He is incredibly generous in how he supports the youth and he’s always on board to help, despite his busy schedule,” James said.
“Fr John has a lot of experience in how to run the parish and how to serve people. He helps me understand how to run a parish in Australia and I am very grateful to him for receiving me here,” Fr Alfons said. “The love and guidance of Fr John and the parishioners help me to be a better priest.”
To find out more about the welcoming community at St Bernadette’s Parish click here