For youth leaders across Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains, 2020 has been time to reset, with a positive outlook to the future.
“Catholic Youth Parramatta can be seen as the face of the Diocese of Parramatta – it is youthful, dynamic and diverse,” said Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, at the October Catholic Youth Parramatta (CYP) forum of youth leaders.
CYP plays the vital role of connecting the youth of our Diocese to Jesus through events, formation programs and local youth groups. With many gatherings cancelled due to the pandemic, CYP needed to find ways of reaching out to youth, keeping them connected to the Church, and nurturing their spirituality.
Reflecting on his journey through youth ministry, Fr Chris del Rosario, assistant priest at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, credited the CYP LIFTED Retreat in 2015 as what kept him in the seminary.
“I was in my fourth year in the seminary, and I had spoken to a lot of priests. They all said, ‘Fourth year is the worst in the seminary, because you’ve done so much, but you’ve got so much left to go.’
“I recall that year, I had one foot out the door. I remember signing up for the LIFTED Retreat, thinking that I had nothing to lose.
“But I actually found I did a lot of healing in that retreat, I faced a lot of my demons, per se. The weeks leading up to it provided real grace, because I found a renewal in the vocation, and I knew this was where God wants me. Now I’m very happy to be here and to be a priest of this Diocese.”
With results like this, there is a determination among the youth of Parramatta to keep CYP going and remaining agile.
“A huge turn has happened, and it will change the way we do things moving forward,” said James Camden Director, CYP at the forum. “That includes ensuring the voices of young people are heard. Work has begun on models of how young people can be successfully represented in leadership structures of the Diocese such as deaneries and pastoral councils.
The pandemic has reduced the barriers of time poverty and distance. “Now if you know of an awesome guest speaker, you can just Zoom them into your meeting,” said youth leader Sebastian Duhau, from St Andrew the Apostle Parish, Marayong.
“The borders don’t exist. There are fewer barriers to communicate, contact and collaborate, because we’ve got online tools available and that’s where the opportunity lies,” he said.
Worship Wednesdays and The Well are other initiatives arising from the pandemic with the aim of keeping youth connected spiritually.
The good news, explained Br Bernard Mary Fonkalsrud OFM Conv from Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, Kellyville, was that young people were willing to cooperate with guidelines around the pandemic, “because they love youth group” he said.
This article was originally featured in the Summer 2020/2021 Edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine.