By Anthony Barich
THE president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has told seminarians, post-graduate students and faculty at the Pontifical North American College in Rome not to “beat youth into submission” but to be “a student of the culture”.
Speaking on January 18, Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide, in Rome with ACBC general secretary Fr Brian Lucas for a series of Vatican meetings, said that World Youth Day Sydney 2008 was successful because it engaged with people in their own lives, and the Church must do the same. While seminary numbers have risen slightly in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne and seven new students have enrolled at St Charles Seminary in Guildford this year, the prelate said that seminary numbers is not a true gauge of WYD’s success.
“The measure is a spike in the experience of faith in the lives of those who go. There is space for the Lord to act. It is an opportunity to come together and experience a common faith – to meet those who believe what I believe,” he said.
The prelate said that the event also acted as a counter-cultural agent, disproving the media-fed lie that young Christians are “on his or her own” and have no chance of living out their faith in a sustainable way. “The media give a message that if you believe you are isolated. WYD counters this by showing that there are people who believe,” he said.
Fr Anthony Percy, Rector of the Seminary of the Good Shepherd in Sydney, does not expect tangible evidence from the success of WYD08 in terms of seminary numbers for at least two years.But he said WYDs tend to trigger decisiveness in young people’s lives – whether to join Religious life or not – primarily because they have experienced Christ in the Church.
“They begin to realise that the Church is actually alive,” he said. “Its primary function is not to be an institution, but to be a prophetic voice. It’s a profound community of believers, and young people are realising they need it if they want to go anywhere in life.”
He said the “tremendous breakdown” in the sense of community, especially within the Church – like parishes – has left youth profoundly influenced by the ‘tremendous experience of the mystery of the Church and they want to be a part of it”. He said that life in the Church is a “very distinctive brand of Christianity” – an ecclesial brand. This means, he said, that people are developing a love for the Church with the knowledge that Christ established it knowing that individuals can’t make it through life on their own.
The North American College has about 200 students from US dioceses and nine Australian students from Perth, Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne and Lismore.