Catholic youth of Aotearoa New Zealand have made it clear that they are passionate about the Church and want to be “part of forming the things that form them”.

More than 600 young Catholics from throughout the nation converged in St Mary’s College in Ponsonby, Auckland to celebrate a weekend of music, companionship, reflection and faith at the Aotearoa Catholic Youth Festival from December 2-3. The event was capped by a concert of Canadian Catholic singer-songwriter Matt Maher.

The NZCBC National Council for Young People chairman David Mullin said it was an event “to, with, by and for young people”.

“I think the young people have expressed to us in the Voice to the Vatican survey and at the festival that they are passionate about Church and they want to be involved and they want to be part of forming the things that form them. And that is the key component of this festival,” he said. “We had young people presenting. Their gifts and talents were on show to inspire other young people.”

New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference president Bishop Patrick Dunn opened the festival with prayers and lighting of the festival candle along with Fr Alistair Castillo from Christchurch. Mr Maher was welcomed with a powhiri that ended with a hongi.

The theme of the festival was Face to Face – Kanohi Ki Te Kanohi. Keynote speakers stressed the importance of building relationships with people.

“As human persons, we are born for love, for relationships,” Hamilton Bishop Stephen Lowe told the young people in the first keynote address, which he co-presented with youth worker Ciara Lovelock.

He said having relationships might mean “crashing and burning” but he also called on the young people to take the risk anyway.

“It takes a risk to follow Jesus. We may have to lose something. Have the courage to say, ‘I believe’,” he said.

The second keynote was presented by Vinnies’ Delphina Soti and Maria Paula who encouraged the youth and suggested ways to reach out to the poor and the oppressed.

The last one was presented by five young people, Daniel Chow, Dewy Sacayan, Chris McDonald, Wiremu Smith and Nicole Simpson. They challenged the participants to look at their relationships with those marginalised in society.

Each participant also attend three of 19 offered workshops in the two days. The subjects of the workshops included sacraments; love, sex and relationships; the Holy Spirit; human sexuality; and digital disciples.

Bishop Dunn, Bishop Lowe and Wellington Cardinal John Dew each held a one hour workshop called “Bishop’s Banter” where they took all kinds of questions from young people. (see separate story)

Mr Maher led a prayer vigil on Saturday night with worship songs that thumped with a country rock beat. His concert on Sunday night held at Victory Centre in Auckland was attended by 1600 young people.

“Jesus is inviting you every minute,” he told the young Kiwi Catholics. “You don’t have to come as you’re supposed to. Just come as you are.”

Auckland Youth worker Guiann Corcuera, one of the young people involved in organising the festival, said the highlight for him was seeing young people come together.

“[The highlight for me was] not only the whole Catholic community coming together but the whole Christian community, for Auckland at least, coming together, just seeing one people, experiencing the Holy Spirit in one way,” he said.

Viane Makalio, Christchurch diocese events coordinator, echoed this sentiment. He said the feedback from Christchurch participants was they wanted a voice in their parish.

“They really want to participate in parish life. They just aren’t sure how to. And so our conversation ended to like approaching their parish priest and talking to them, communicating with them as a starting point. That was really awesome,” he said.

Wellington Young Church Ministry leader Isabella McCafferty there was a real sense of energy around the young people.

“Everyone was strengthened in our identities as Catholics in New Zealand. [There is] a new realisation of where we’ve come from and those that have gone before us which is really exciting,” she said.

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