by KEN JOBLIN

Scrub fires are an unwelcome, but all too common summer event in Canterbury. However, just before the new year, fire of a spiritual kind engulfed part of Christchurch.
Around 80 Hearts Aflame participants converged on Rochester and Rutherford Halls across from the University of Canterbury’s Ilam Campus. While many around Aotearoa saw in the new year in town squares and on beaches, Hearts Aflame National Summer School was found in the Rochester Chapel, singing carols, gazing upon our Lord in silent adoration before receiving him in the Holy Eucharist. Participants joined in lighting crackers too, but only after beginning the year by inviting the Lord to be at the centre of their lives. With the full support of Christchurch diocese and the assistance of the Rochester Board, a ten day time of retreat, formation and encounter with Our Lord through sacramental grace and personal prayer was under way.

Hearts Aflame has run a National Catholic Summer School every year since 1992 and where possible, has alternated the school location between the North and South Islands. In more recent years with the Canterbury earthquakes, this has not been possible. 2017 is the first time the school has been back in Christchurch since 2011.

Participants between the ages of 18 and 35 came from around New Zealand and offshore. This year, the highest numbers were from Auckland and Christchurch dioceses. Some participants were supported by parishes. Many took time off work or away from families to deepen their faith and discover the beauty of the Church through her liturgy. Each day saw Morning, Evening and Night Prayer chanted in English. All senses were engaged by the richness of the Mass. Priests were kept busy in the confessional every day with young people keen to gain a love for and confidence in this great gift of the Church.

Not all prayer was centred in the chapel. With the assistance of the team and especially of the Beatitudes Sisters, the Ilam School hall was turned into an oasis of peace and beauty. It gave space for Praise and Worship and allowed participants to more easily move to receive personal prayer from those who were gifted to pray freely with them. Testimonies were offered from those answering God’s call to marriage, priestly and religious life. Q&A sessions were a feature with all questions welcomed. The dining
room gave space for informal chat, much of which focussed on faith. Priests and
religious were present in good numbers and again this year, participants really appreciated time to speak one-to-one with them.

Hearts Aflame is a very good blend of intellectual and spiritual formation, head and heart are not set up in opposition to each other. While individual lecture topics cannot be listed here, they included aspects of theology, Scripture, history, liturgy, moral theology, spirituality, prayer and discernment, science and religion, apologetics and current
issues in the Church. Many of this year’s contributing lecturers were drawn from
the Christchurch diocese. The work of the school’s organising team and lecturers
is all done voluntarily.

I witnessed a lot of enthusiasm and happiness about being Catholic. I was certainly  reminded that we are happiest when we are answering the call to holiness. Here are some highlights shared by a small sample of those present: one young lady said “For me, getting to know people and getting to know that the Holy Spirit is working within me was great”. David from Australia observed “My favourite thing was the liturgical music,
I’ve really enjoyed the solemnity and sacredness that it’s brought to hearts.” Shanté said that “I’ve gained a lot of clarity on what makes us Catholic and why we believe some of the things we do believe. It was absolutely beautiful.” A fourth participant noted “I learnt how God wants me to bring my weaknesses and struggles to the Cross. In doing so
this week, I’ve found a lot of peace.” My own highlight: a eucharistic procession
from the chapel to the school hall and back, requiring many motorists and others to pause and wonder at what was happening.

Throughout its 25 years of ministry, Hearts Aflame has brought forth great fruit.

Many over the years have formed strong Catholic marriages, have answered
the call to priestly and religious life and have heard the call to holiness in the single life. Hearts Aflame chaplain Fr John Adams observed that “It was a time of deep conversion for many”, and that “while fun activities such as dance parties were also on offer, many chose to spend time in the chapel”.

Participants left after joining in Mass for the Epiphany with an excitement about their faith and a sadness about leaving.

Perhaps these words from a hymn for the Transfiguration might best sum up their mood: “’Tis good Lord to be here, yet we may not remain, but since you bid us leave the mount, come with us to the plain.”

Ken Joblin is sacred music co-ordinator for Christchurch diocese.

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