Australian Catholic Youth Festival - December 2017

Australian Catholic Youth Festival, 7-9 December 2017

“I look forward to welcoming the youth of Australia to Sydney, in December 2017, for the Australian Catholic Youth Festival.

“Who could forget the energy and the buzz when we welcomed tens of thousands of young people to our city for World Youth Day in 2008. Now, nearly a decade later, young people from across the country will join Church leaders to celebrate and pray for the young Church of Australia.”

Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP

Archbishop of Sydney

Australian Catholic Bishops Delegate for Youth

The Australian Catholic Youth Festival will be held in Sydney from 7 to 9 December 2017.

The three-day Festival is a youthful and energetic celebration hosted by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in partnership with the Archdiocese of Sydney. The surrounding dioceses and Catholic agencies are generously supporting this whole of Church celebration.

The assistance of CCD staff across Australia will be greatly appreciated to help our Parish Catechists, whom are among our most active, organised and far reaching parishioners, to spread the word about this youth festival to families beyond our Catholic school networks.

The event will be held at Sydney Olympic Park and at other key locations in the city. It is expected to attract 15,000 young people who will celebrate their faith together whilst also marking the beginning of the Year of Youth in 2018 proclaimed by the Bishops of Australia to celebrate ten years since World Youth Day was hosted in Sydney. The theme of the Festival is: ‘Open New Horizons for Spreading Joy: Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment’. This theme will carry on throughout the Year of Youth in 2018.

The large national festival exists to provide young people with opportunities to deepen their relationship with Jesus, be empowered to be disciples in the world today and encounter and celebrate the vitality of the Church in Australia. The first Festival was held in Melbourne in 2013 and the second in Adelaide in 2015.

For more information:


Homily for Mass at the National CCD Conference 2014

Address of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP
Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent
St Joseph’s Chapel, Baulkham Hills, 31 March 2014

Guardian columnist James Harrington describes himself as an agnostic sceptic whose worldview excludes any spiritual explanation for the world’s existence and operation. His wife, he says, is “a pretty vehement atheist”. As both are “slightly smug, religiously uninterested, bleeding-heart liberals” their fears for their kids included one of them joining the Church or the military.

Sure enough, the perversity of children is such that their eldest daughter recently announced she wants to be baptised Catholic! The family had moved to south-west France and enrolled her in the local Catholic primary school. French Catholic schools are more like our state schools in the sense that Religious Education is only for those children whose parents volunteer them for it. Though not Catholic, the Harrington girl took herself along to “caté” or weekly catechist classes. The instructor, a friend of the Harringtons, found her keen to learn about the Faith and “visibly moved” when the other pupils were taken to church.

Not content to remain an onlooker, the girl started bringing her questions home with her. Harrington recently wrote that “Looking back, we realizsd we had regularly discussed our differing beliefs. Our daughter brought us Genesis – we gave her the Michael Bay-friendly Big Bang. She brought us the Nativity and peace and goodwill at Christmas – we gave her family, friends and good food. She brought us the crucifixion – we gave her the Easter Bunny. She brought us heaven, god and an afterlife – we gave her 21st Century life and a future as worm fodder.

“After all that – and in spite of our gentle antipathy to god and creation – she still had the courage of her convictions to say to both of us, to our faces and again in front of the priest, that our world view isn’t enough for her. She believes. She wants to be baptised and she wants to be Catholic.”

Catechesis opened her young mind to the breadth and richness of truth that our Faith offers. Falling in love with the image of the Nativity she was exposed to its promise of heaven; come to grips with the challenge of the crucifix, she was led to believe in Christ’s saving work. Now her sceptic Dad has to take her to Sunday Mass. Maybe in addition to the senior Catholic secondary students doing SRE in some state primary schools, we should start using six-year-old Catholic school students for evangelising adults!

This recent example is just one of millions of stories of the great work of catechists and the impact they can have in the lives of young people. The mission of bringing the Gospel to all was Christ’s and He passed this mandate to His Church (Mk 16:15-6; Mt 9:37-38; 10:7-14; 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; 2:38; Rom 10:10-17; 1 Pet 3:15; etc.). The Second Vatican Council said this is what the Church is for (LG 5,12-3,17,2-5,35; AG 5). Unless we bring people to faith through a personal encounter with Christ and then enrich their minds, hearts, imaginations and wills with His Good News, there will be none of the rest of what the Church does: no worship or service, no action for justice and compassion. “How are people to call upon Christ if they don’t believe in Him?” St Paul once asked, “And how are they to believe in Him if they’ve never heard of Him? And how are they to hear of Him without a preacher?” (Rom 10:14)

In the 16th Century there arose a movement, hailing from Milan and popularised in Rome, by some lay-people pledged to instruct both children and adults in Christian doctrine. Pope Pius IV gave over the church of Sant’ Apollinare to their project but these first lay catechists and some clergy also gave instructions in homes, schools, even on the streets. As the association grew, it divided into “The Fathers of Christian Doctrine” and the lay “Confraternity of Christian Doctrine”. Then the Council of Trent, concerned that many of the faithful were so ignorant about their faith that they were easy prey to false beliefs, ordered the production of a Catechism and the institution of catechism classes for the young. The post-Tridentine Dominican pope, St Pius V, produced that Catechism and promoted the CCD beyond Rome and Milan. So Dominican bishops occasionally get it right! We are truly blessed that five centuries later we have such a strong CCD here in Australia, as well as other sources of catechetical instruction for our young.

Such catechetical work is not necessarily welcome or easy, especially in modernity. The secular scepticism of the Harringtons has infected many of their generation and so parents and state schools are not always supportive of our efforts to share our Faith with the young; that problem is not unknown in our Catholic schools as well. Here in New South Wales ethics is being promoted in some places instead of SRE. Earlier this month Susie O’Brien launched a full-frontal attack on SRE in Melbourne’s Herald Sun. She claimed that students in such classes were exposed to “an extreme form of evangelical preaching” including Satan puppets and other “dross”. While a bit of comparative religion is OK, she asserted, the three threads underpinning the national curriculum – Asia, Indigenous culture and sustainability – are more than enough and the last thing we need is consciousness of our Judeo-Christian heritage. Children like the young Harrington girl must be protected from the Nativity scene and the Crucifix!

Laïcité or separation of church and state is a different accommodation in different countries. In some, SRE in state schools is out of the question; in France, as I said, even RE in Catholic schools is optional. Australia’s church-state divide is relatively benign: we are fairly clear about the province of each, about where the two overlap, and about where the two can usefully collaborate. Healthcare, welfare and education have always been fields of collaboration between the ‘secular’ state and the churches in Australia. The arrangement is different in different states, towns or schools. But mostly there has been a healthy openness, so that the majority of Catholics, who send their children to state schools, can be assured of an ethos that is tolerant, even appreciative, of the Judeo-Christian heritage and open to some specifically Catholic input for those who want it. We must always be ready to explain and defend this compact against those who would impose a grey, dogmatic secularism on all, or at least on every family with a child in a state school. 

Catechesis is vital for the Church’s health, but in the end matters because children matter. Their all-round education includes attending to their spiritual nature, feeding their religious imagination, intellect and will. Some will respond when least expected, like the girl I mentioned. Others seem unaffected but are later grateful for what they received. I will make no jokes about Isaiah’s suggestion in our first reading that in the Kingdom to come – or is it the CCD? – reaching the age of 100 will not be considered elderly (Isa 65:17-21)! But after centuries of CCD we are undiminished in our determination to enable the young to encounter Christ and the richness of our Catholic tradition. As in the Gospel, our Galileans may or may not welcome Christ; parents and officials may or may not entrust their children to our healing; but some will and it is worth trying (cf. Jn 4:43-54)!

Thanks be to God that you and your collaborators back in your home dioceses give yourselves so generously to this task. May you and they and the children you serve experience Isaiah’s dream of the day of endless gladness.