Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, has urged young people across Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains to be witnesses of the Kingdom vision of Jesus.
Bishop Vincent’s plea came as he celebrated Mass with around 260 students, youth leaders and young people for the local celebration of World Youth Day at St Mark’s Catholic College, Stanhope Gardens on the Solemnity of Christ the King, Sunday 21 November.
The Mass was the largest gathering of young people from across the Diocese following the lockdown across Greater Sydney over the previous four months.
Before Mass, young people were invited to participate in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the nearby church of St John XXIII Parish, Glenwood-Stanhope Gardens, with parish priest Fr Jolly Chacko MS providing Reconciliation.
Qwayne Guevara, Manager, Catholic Youth Parramatta, explained that this year’s theme for World Youth Day – “Stand up. I appoint you as a witness of what you have seen” (cf. Acts 26:16) – was pertinent considering the past 18 months of living through the pandemic.
“It may seem a bit strange to be asking us to be a witness – to what exactly, and I think that’s where we are called to be really open to what the Spirit might be saying,” she explained.
“If we look at our last 18 months, there could be a lot of things that we might not see as possibly being something that we witness to, but I think the solidarity, the willingness to see each other face-to-face, the creativity we showed, the fact that human beings have this real gift of being able to persevere through the toughest times, is something that we can witness to. That’s the hope we have in the Resurrection.
“I pray that tonight is a real opportunity for you to receive the Spirit and to be encouraged to stand up to be a witness of the hope that God gives us day in and day out.”
During his Homily, Bishop Vincent spoke of how young people can be signs of the truth and have the power to make change, referring to a personal hero in civil rights activist Rosa Parks.
“[Rosa’s] act of courage was the catalyst for a new and more inclusive America, something that we inherit as well, because it didn’t just happen in a local context, but had ramifications in the wider world – the movement of the world into a more not just tolerant but inclusive and egalitarian.
“Today is the Feast of Christ the King, and His Kingdom, as is said in the Gospel, is not of this world – not in a conventional sense, it’s not in a political sense, but rather, His Kingdom is a kingdom where the highest values of life are lived and expressed, values such as love, equality, inclusion, respect for life, care for the marginalised, attention to the least, the last and the forgotten.
“Today, we are called to be witnesses of the Kingdom. The message of Pope Francis on International World Youth Day is that we are chosen, we are appointed to be the witnesses of the Good News of Christ.
“God knows, in the world today, there is so much rancour, there is so much polarisation, there is so much division and as witnesses of the Good News, as people who embody the vision of Jesus, we do have an alternative way of living and sharing the Good News of Jesus.
“This is what we are called to be. We don’t ally ourselves with the forces of power or strength, but we ally ourselves with the power of Christ, the power that is paradoxically grounded in humility, in love, in sacrifice, in self-giving.
“May we have the courage of Rosa Parks to embrace, to embody, the values of the Gospel and to be witnesses in our environment, whatever walks of life that we have chosen.”
Following Mass, Bishop Vincent blessed and commissioned those that are engaged in youth ministry across the diocese.
“May they witness to our young people by sharing their own joys, struggles and stories of encounters with you.
“May they remain faithful servants to you, graciously give of their time and resources to witness and teach our young people.
“We humbly as you, O Lord, to bless these people gathered who respond in love to serve the young people today, with the gifts needed to continue with your important ministry.
“Bless their youth ministry that it may grow and reach the hearts of many young people for Christ,” he prayed.
In 2020, during the handing over of the World Youth Day Cross and Icon from host countries Panama to Portugal, Pope Francis announced that the diocesan World Youth Days were to be moved from Palm Sunday to the Solemnity of Christ the King in November.
Following the announcement, James Camden, Head: Mission Engagement, Diocese of Parramatta, wrote in an article for Catholic Outlook that the movement of World Youth Day to November can become “an occasion to celebrate the leadership of young people.”
“This new date in November re-enforces our celebration remains focused on the mystery of Jesus Christ.
“Further, it now connects with local periods of transition for young people which can be remarkably powerful for super-charging a change in their spiritual lives.
“We should invite parishes to consider how young people with all the gifts, talents and love they possess for their faith could be invited and accompanied into other ministries of the Church through an intergenerational strategy.
“Local World Youth Day could become a chance to encourage young people into a life of leadership and service but also thank and re-position others for what’s next – both within and beyond the margins of the life of the Church,” he said.
The last international World Youth Day was held in Panama in January 2019; while the next one, planned for 2023, will take place in Lisbon, Portugal.
Read Pope Francis’ full message to young people for the 36th World Youth Day here.
View images from the Catholic Youth Parramatta’s Local World Youth Day celebrations here and below.