Hearts Aflame 2018 (Fides et Scientia), held in the beautiful and spacious campus of Nga Tawa Diocesan College in Marton, attracted 90 young adults from all over the country as the summer school marked its 26th year.

“Nga Tawa is competitive in terms of financial costs for the facilities we get to use,” said Jemma Brunton from Wellington, leader of the national leadership team. The budget is run on the skin of an oily rag but with generous benefactors, lecturers and leadership members donating time, they financially break even.

Being a boarding school, sleeping accommodation and catering are inbuilt. Lectures are held in classrooms, the old hall is tastefully transformed into a sacred space for Mass, exposition and prayer. The main hall becomes the primary area for social gatherings. Nga Tawa’s locality is central and close to Palmerston North airport, main highways and bus terminals.

The 10-day event, also affectionately named “Hearts”, started on Friday, December 29, 2017, with arrivals and registrations.

“We deliberately hold a retreat day on the first Saturday to help everyone slow down and prepare them to enter into the spirit of the days ahead,” Ms Brunton said.

Open to young adults aged 18 to 35, this annual event — which this year was themed “Faithful to his Promises” — encourages and challenges participants to mature in their faith as well as their relationship with the Lord and the Catholic Church. Each day is shaped by daily Mass, morning and evening prayers of the Church and small group discussion sessions. There is plenty of free time for relaxation or physical activities in the college’s swimming pool and tennis courts.

The leadership team communicates frequently throughout the year (Fr John Adams from Christchurch is the chaplain) and the team discerns the lecture topics which are always relevant. Statements or documents from Pope Francis are also considered.

“This year guest lecturer Paul Minnes from Brisbane spoke on winning the battle for sexual purity — looking at issues relating to pornography and how this effects the brain and relationships,” Ms Brunton said.

“Problems and possibilities for evangelisation in a profoundly secular culture” was another popular topic, led by Fr Neil Vaney, SM. A “Young Catholics and MP David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill” lecture was presented by the Nathaniel Centre and this lecture also pulled in big numbers.

“We’ve included Catholicism 101 for those who haven’t been Catholic school educated, which covers the basics of the faith,” Ms Brunton added.

Rosemary and Alan Blackie from Auckland were the first to introduce Hearts Aflame to New Zealand in 1992 based on an Australian model called “Disciples of Jesus”.

“Many of our young people back then were flying to Australia and not only paying for everything themselves but returning home spiritually ‘on-fire’,” said Mr Blackie.

He ended up going himself to experience the two weeks convinced that the Catholic Church in New Zealand needed and would benefit from such a programme. He immediately set about forming a pastoral team and established what is now known as Hearts Aflame.

Retired from leadership, the Blackies often attend Hearts Aflame offering prayer ministry. Along with Fr Vaney, who has been involved for many years, they continue to be valued living treasures of Hearts Aflame. “We simply couldn’t run Hearts Aflame without them,” Ms Brunton said.

This year’s “camp Mum and Dad” were Bernadette and Steve Joyce from Christchurch.

One first-time participant said that many friends had strongly encouraged her to attend Hearts Aflame down through the years, but other things kept cropping up to stop her. She now regrets not listening to them and coming earlier.