“The dream has always been to give young people a dynamic, relevant and inspiring experience of the Catholic faith and this year, we saw that dream once again become an exciting reality.” These were the words of Seth Harsh, the Director of the Wollongong LIVE festival, who opened the annual event with a talk unpacking the theme ‘Called’. The subject? 'Who are we called to be, and by whom?’.
“It’s truly inspiring to see how LIVE has grown from its humble beginnings four years ago to now,” said Mr Harsh, who is also the Youth Ministry Coordinator for the diocese. “My hope is that it continues to grow to allow more and more young people the opportunity to encounter Jesus Christ in a fresh and engaging way, and live their lives according to His plan for them - a life to the full.”
LIVE - which welcomes systemic and congregational students from Years 9 to 12 - combines worship, wisdom and encounters with Jesus in a festival experience. The popular event includes live music, a DJ, food trucks, merchandise stalls, games and activities (including the famous wipeout obstacle course!).
Held at the WIN Entertainment Centre, this year’s festival line-up included international speaker, author, businessman and executive coach, Jonathan Doyle, and the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) and Evangelisation Coordinator for the Diocese of Wollongong, Peter Gilmore.
The conversation topics were fitting for an event based on the scripture passage from Jeremiah 15:16 - 'For I am called by your name'. What are your passions? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What are some of the biggest struggles facing young people today? These were just some of the questions posed to over 600 young people who gathered on August 30.
However, this isn’t your average day of worship!
“The fact that 600 young people have come together to celebrate, explore and engage in their faith is remarkably unique,” said CEDoW Education Officer for Youth Ministry and Co Event Operations Coordinator for LIVE, Joel Duval. “These young people tend to gather at a school level - where the numbers can still be quite significant - for youth ministry events. But for them to gather in hundreds all for the same person, Jesus Christ, I find that so uplifting and inspiring.”
The program was divided into plenary sessions that involved dialogue spaces, prayer experiences, worship music, guest speakers, interviews and reconciliation. It kicked off with a ‘shout out’ to each school represented - St John’s Nowra; St Joseph’s Albion Park; Corpus Christi Oak Flats; Holy Spirit Bellambi; John Therry Rosemeadow; St Benedict’s Oran Park; Magdalene Narellan; Mount Carmel Varroville; St Francis Edmondson Park and Edmund Rice West Wollongong.
For many students, a highlight was meeting new people. “I felt so comfortable knowing that everyone wanted to be present and listen to the speakers and get something positive out of the day,” said Magdalene Narellan Year 10 student, Mali Bea. “Everyone was inviting and open about the idea of going to reconciliation and feeling cleansed. I never knew there were events out there like this that can be super fun and exhilarating, as well as being inspirational and giving you the right to have a new start.”
In addition, Bishop Brian was in attendance and provided a welcome to the young people, encouraging them to enter into the day, and then officially opened the festival. This was followed by the band launching into the festival theme song - 'Glorious Day' by Passion.
Between the main sessions, workshops were offered by presenters including Sam Brebner who is the New Zealand Coordinator for Real Talk and Br Josh Whicker who is a seminarian and consecrated brother in his fifth year of formation with the Missionaries of God’s Love. The event was also supported by the Wollongong National Evangelisation Team - a Catholic peer-to-peer youth ministry team that puts into action the Church's mission to evangelise and disciple young people.
“This year’s event was on another level in comparison to previous festivals,” said Mount Carmel Varroville student, Rachael. “As soon as you walked into the WIN Entertainment Centre you could feel the difference, it was welcoming and engaging. The change of venue [this year] allowed a brilliant display of lights, performances and set the overall mood of ‘this is our festival, let’s celebrate our love and faith of Jesus Christ’.”
A highpoint of the day was an appearance by internationally-renowned motivational speaker, Jonathan Doyle, who led workshops focused on mental health and a night time plenary, ‘Called Out’. “Over the last decade, I have spoken around the world to over 400,000 people but the Diocese of Wollongong's LIVE festival is a very special memory,” he shared.
“Rarely do you find such commitment to excellence in the service of evangelism. The event was the result of a fantastic team of committed people who genuinely seek to make Jesus known and loved in the lives of young people. It's as good as I have seen anywhere and I am excited to see the path ahead for this great event."
Holy Spirit Bellambi's Religious Education Coordinator, Kate Burnett, said, “Keynote speaker Jonathan Doyle offered sound, Gospel-infused words of contemporary relevance to attendees. Doyle’s honesty and well-researched advice enabled our young people to walk away full of hope for their futures.”
As the day drew to an end, students shared the same sentiments - the overall experience of LIVE was inspirational, enlightening, exciting, entertaining, empowering and spiritual.
The festival was made possible thanks to the many CEDoW and Office of the Bishop staff and volunteers, priests, Youth Ministry Coordinators, teachers and musicians. In addition, the Wollongong Net Ministries Team and staff from the WIN Entertainment Centre were credited for their input.
The grand finale? An uplifting concert featuring worship music, performed by the house band and led by Seth Harsh which was publicly open to young adults, and saw the room full of upbeat music, energy and a strong sense of connectedness. The band and MCs - who did not stop all day - need particular mention: Dom Cabrera (drums); Oscar Cabarse (base); Blessie Pica (acoustic guitar); Peter Gilmore (synthesiser); Seth Harsh (keys), Chantelle Santos (vocals); Michaela Swadling (vocals); Fiesita Mataele and MCs: Megan Biggs and Joel Duval.
As they left, festival-goers were given a preview of next year’s theme - ‘20/20 Vision’, with accompanying scripture passage from Luke 2:30 - 'For my eyes have seen your salvation'.
The day’s impact was summed up by Mount Carmel Varroville student, Gabriel: “It was a valuable opportunity for me to reflect on and renew my faith, and come to terms with purpose and calling as a follower of Christ,” she said. “I came to realise that we as Catholics are called to find God within ourselves, others and the world. This is the quintessence of what we as Catholics are ‘called’ to do: to let Christ dwell within us so that we may bear His love to all people. It is through our faith that we are able to enrich the lives of others and achieve our spiritual calling.”
Photographs by Daniel Hopper and Jeremy Yuen from the Catholic Diocese of Wollongong.