By Anthony Barich
When you give young people the Faith – clear, strong, direct, honest – without trying to water it down…
they love it.
Young people are turning out in droves to talk theology in a pub in Sydney for wildly successful Theology on Tap sessions.
Since August 2007, hundreds of young people have been turning out every month to hear the Catholic faith presented “without compromise” in a “fun, exciting way in a casual, non-confronting” setting of an Irish-themed pub in inner Sydney.
Speakers have included Cardinal George Pell of Sydney and Dominican nuns from America.
Patrick Langrell, a 20-year-old University of Notre Dame Australia (UNDA) third-year student, first heard Archbishop Charles Chaput address a Theology on Tap session in Colorado on the Denver archdiocesan website, and was inspired to start one in Sydney for 18-30 year-olds. It has exploded over the past year, to the point where Patrick had to find another pub that could hold all the people thirsting for the Catholic Truth.
Patrick was drawn to the American prelate ever since Archbishop Chaput gave an inspired address to the largest congress ever held by the Australian Catholic Students Association in Canberra last year. On July 16, the circle will be completed as the archbishop returns to Sydney to address the Theology on Tap forum at P. J. Gallagher’s, an Irish pub in Parramatta, central Sydney.
He will speak on the topic, “Mission possible: this double life will self-destruct”. After first hearing Archbishop Chaput, Patrick contacted event organisers in the US to learn how to set up the event. Patrick, who is completing a double degree of theology and philosophy with law, learned that there were up to 80 venues hosting Theology on Tap events in Chicago alone, co-founded in 1981 by US priests Fathers John Cusick and Jack Wall in Arlington Heights, Illinois.
Now it’s a growing movement spreading across the globe, with events held for college-aged Catholics in Washington, New York, and Ohio, among others, and abroad in the Philippines, Ireland, England and Hong Kong.
Now it’s in Australia. The first talk was in the upstairs function room of P. J. Gallagher’s Irish Pub in Drummoyne, inner-west Sydney, with prominent Australian journalist Mike Willesee, a lapsed Catholic who recently published a book on Eucharistic miracles. Then, Willessee spoke on ‘Evangelisation in the media’.
The first event had about 90 attendees but audience figures rapidly expanded with prominent subsequent speakers including Cardinal George Pell of Sydney and Hayden Ramsay, Dean of Theology and Philosophy at UNDA.
Among speakers have been three Dominican Sisters from Nashville in the US who World Youth Day organiser Bishop Anthony Fisher, also a Dominican, asked to assist with WYD08 preparations.
Patrick’s aim is to create an atmosphere in which Theology on Tap was first founded in Chicago – getting young people back into the life of the Church.
“We don’t hope that people think that it’s a substitute for church, but it gets people in a place where they can meet with other youth that believe in the Catholic faith, and inspires them to take it more seriously,” Patrick said.
“Faith is meant to be ‘24-7’, something that permeates every part of your life, so we hope this will inspire them to live a life worthy of the Gospel.” It’s set to grow further in Australia. The success of Sydney’s Theology on Tap has inspired Justin Lynch, a 32-year-old self-employed web developer, to start a similar program, Faith on Tap, in Brisbane after WYD08.
Justin, who heard about the Sydney event through the rapidly-growing national Catholic student network, wants to “harness the enthusiasm and momentum from World Youth Day”, which wasn’t done that well on a local level, he says, after previous WYDs.
He will be getting tips from the Sydney organisers by attending the July 16 event which Archbishop Chaput will address at WYD08.
“Ideally, it will be an ongoing, self-renewing group that can flow on to other things, to take a lot of people’s faith from school to another level,” Justin said.
Patrick was surprised by the event’s overwhelming popularity but knew that Sydney “had a need for something like this”.
“I wasn’t sure how many people would come, as some events are run by particular groups that mainly attract their own members, but there wasn’t much around that could attract a wider audience,” Patrick said.
“We get such a wide range of people with completely different backgrounds – various religious communities including the Maronites, along with non-Christians and even lapsed Catholics.
“If you present the faith without compromise, but in a fun way in a non-threatening setting where young people are comfortable, they are immediately drawn to to it.