CEDoW students gather to reflect on enriching ACYF experience

News | CEDoW students gather to reflect on enriching ACYF experience

Posted 17 February 2020 by Catholic Education in News

Over 100 CEDoW students and staff who attended December’s Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Perth have gathered together at Holy Spirit College, Bellambi to reconnect and reflect on the vibrancy of the special event and the many ways the experience has positively impacted them.

The Australian Catholic Youth Festival (ACYF) is a biennial national gathering of young Catholics established by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC). It exists to provide young people with formative opportunities to encounter Jesus Christ in the context of the Catholic Church in Australia, deepen their relationship with Him and feel empowered to be disciples in today’s world.

The Diocese of Wollongong was represented by 80 students and 20 staff from our eight CEDoW systemic secondary schools, as well as a small number of young adults from our diocese’s broader parish communities.

They joined thousands of young people from across Australia for the three-day festival from 8-10 December, which offered a diverse range of inspirational talks, workshops and dialogues, live music, worship and prayer initiatives, exhibitions, service projects and more for the students to immerse themselves in.

The experience culminated in a four-kilometre pilgrimage from the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre along the Derbarl Yerrigan (Swan River) to Trinity College for an open-air concert and Mass on the final afternoon.

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Diocesan Youth Ministry Coordinator, Seth Harsh, CEDoW Education Officer – Youth Ministry, Joel Duval, and Diocesan Director of Professional Standards and Safeguarding, Asante Viswasam, led the diocesan delegation to Western Australia.

They witnessed our students thrive in an atmosphere of vitality and evangelism, listening to and discussing the issues and challenges in the lives of young Catholics in Australia and engaging with other young people in connections of vocations, social action, liturgy and prayer, catholic music and catechesis.

“ACYF is such a pivotal experience for students on their faith journey. It was simply incredible to witness our diocese’s student pilgrims grow in their faith, their leadership roles and in their relationships with Jesus. The theme of the festival was ‘Listen to what the Spirit is saying (Rev 2:7)’ and the Spirit definitely spoke to each and every one of us who attended!” — Joel Duval, CEDoW Education Officer – Youth Ministry

“It is so encouraging to see our Australian bishops invest in the faith of the young people of this nation through initiatives like ACYF. I was so inspired to see thousands of young people experiencing the Catholic faith in a way that emphasised a relationship with Jesus Christ as central, and love of neighbour as indispensable to an authentic living-out of Christianity,” Mr Harsh added.

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CEDoW student delegates were overwhelmingly positive and grateful for the opportunities the festival experience provided them – both across the three days as a group of faith-filled young people and in an ongoing capacity in their own relationships with God.

Magdalene Catholic College, Narellan pilgrim, Andy, said the sense of community throughout the Wollongong Diocese group across the week made the trip particularly memorable.

“ACYF was an amazing faith-filled experience full of love, reverence and joy with everyone giving 100 per cent and having an incredible time just being themselves. ACYF has changed me spirituality, mentally and physically – an absolutely life-changing experience” — Andy, student, Magdalene Catholic College 

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“I know personally I have grown so much, not only as a Catholic but as a leader. I am truly grateful for this experience and the people I was lucky enough to experience it with,” fellow Magdalene student, Brady, said.

St Benedict's Catholic College, Oran Park Year 11 Youth Ministry Leader, Becca, said ACYF had provided her the chance to grow closer to God, meet new people and strengthen her relationships.

“The festival was such a fun-filled few days – packed with excitement, but also full of meaning. My favourite part of the festival would have to have been seeing the energy that radiated from each person at the morning and evening plenaries. Leaving ACYF, I left with a deeper sense of purpose and direction in my life, and a sense of hope for the future. I thank all the teachers and other volunteers from our diocese for giving me the experience and opportunity of a lifetime” — Becca, student, St Benedict's Catholic College

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Magdalene attendee, Mali, enjoyed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander influences integrated throughout the event. “It was amazing to experience the Aboriginal culture at the festival – from the ‘Welcome to Country’ at the beginning of the festival that spoke to how much all Australians have in common, to meeting the people from the Kimberley and having our faces painted with ochre from the region,” she said.

“I have made so many amazing memories through the Perth ACYF and built strong connections within our Youth Ministry Leaders group,” Talia from Magdalene added. “I believe I have grown stronger, happier and more inspired and fulfilled. It was pure joy for all of us and I can’t express my appreciation enough for being a part of it.”

At the end of the closing Mass, it was announced the next Australian Catholic Youth Festival was scheduled to take place in December 2021, with the Australian Catholic bishops planning to host the event in a regional centre. Watch this space!

For more information on Youth Ministry in our CEDoW schools, visit our Youth Ministry page.

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Read our Diocesan delegation's Five-Day ACYF Blog

Read our delegation’s five-day blog to follow what happened each day in Perth – with daily contributions from two of our ACYF pilgrims: St John Vianney Co-Cathedral Fairy Meadow parishioner and St Mary Star of the Sea College, Wollongong alumna, Stefanie Kusters, and Live Local youth leader and Mount Carmel Catholic College, Varroville alumnus, Grant Withnall.

Click on a day below to expand and read that day's blog entry.

ACYF Perth 2019 | Day 1

The Australian Catholic Youth Festival (ACYF) is a national gathering of Catholic young people established by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC). It exists to provide young people with opportunities to deepen their relationship with Jesus, be empowered to be disciples in the world today and encounter and celebrate the vitality of the Church in Australia. The Festival will use the scriptural focus of the 2020 Plenary Council by adopting the theme: ‘Listen to what the Spirit is saying’ (Rev 2:7).

Our Wollongong pilgrims have arrived safely in Perth! After check-in and orientation, we embarked on a familiarisation walk to Perth CBD and Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre, where ACYF is held over the next few days. After a brief tour of the venue, we headed back to our accommodation and spent the evening on the rooftop terrace to rest and enjoy the company of our fellow pilgrims.

Tomorrow, the pilgrimage continues as we make the trip to City Beach for a day of activities in preparation for the days to come. Our day will conclude with Saturday Vigil Mass with Bishop Brian Mascord. Anticipation is certainly building as we journey together towards the official opening of ACYF on Sunday 8 December.

Our diocesan coverage of ACYF will be updated daily, including reflections from our pilgrims. Stay tuned!

Please pray for us over the next few days as we embrace the church’s invitation to ‘Listen to what the Spirit is saying’ (Rev 2:7).

ACYF 2019 Prayer

Holy Spirit, Breath of God,
you come to us in the stillness and silence
of this Great South Land.

Give us the courage to open our hearts and ears,
to listen to your voice as we seek to foster
the growth of your Church in Australia.

Grant us the desire to know Jesus
and say our ‘Yes’ to his invitation
to spread the joy of the Gospel.

We ask for the gift of hope
as you guide us in our search for purpose
and meaning in our lives.

We pray together as young people
that we may love and care for all of creation.

We make this prayer through Jesus Christ our Lord,
our brother and our companion,
who lives with You and the Father forever and ever.


ACYF Perth 2019 | Day 2

Welcome to Day 2 of the Diocese of Wollongong ACYF 2019 pilgrimage coverage! Pilgrims from around Australia have well and truly started arriving in Perth for what will be an amazing celebration of our Catholic faith.

Today we venture out to the beach for fun in the sun, followed by Mass with Bishop Brian Mascord at St Joseph’s Catholic Parish Subiaco. We are incredibly blessed to hear from two of our own young adult pilgrims who will be sharing their personal pilgrimage with us over the next few days. Please continue to keep our pilgrims in your prayers!

Here we come!
By Stefanie Kusters

After a very hot arrival into Perth yesterday, the group woke up this morning – somewhat well rested – to a much-needed cool breeze. We ventured off to City Beach, directly west of Perth CBD, to enjoy the sun and a swim. While the weather started off promising, many faces getting burnt in the process, we were surprised by a light shower.

Nevertheless, the day was laid back and allowed friendships to form. That evening we set off for Mass at the Parish of Saint Joseph, Subiaco. Our own Bishop Brian celebrated Mass, and lead the local congregation in blessing us and the other pilgrims. It was such a beautiful and encouraging experience.

Following Mass the community hosted a bbq dinner, and their welcome and generosity was deeply felt by us all. Finally feeling a sense of belonging and familiarity with Perth, we returned to the accommodation with a renewed sense of anticipation and excitement for the following festival days. ACYF here we come!

By Grant Withnall

To start off the day, we all walked to the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre to collect our passes for the festival. There was a real sense of camaraderie between us that has happened instantaneously, as if we have been together for a long time.

Next, we headed west to City Beach for a bit of vitamin D and fresh air. With the students and staff in tow, the feeling of community between schools, staff and young adults was around us all. Every person was smiling, laughing and being present to an opportunity that many people don’t get to experience. The experience of faith.

During the evening we were welcomed into St Joseph’s Subiaco Parish for a mass that was beyond special. From the Bishops powerful homily about traversing the wilderness of life to find purpose in God and ourselves, to a community that blessed each pilgrim for their journey of faith and discovery.

These little moments are what makes this festival and people alive. Alive physically, alive mentally and alive spiritually. That is the goal we hope to attain.

ACYF Perth 2019 | Day 3

ACYF 2019 has officially started! Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB welcomed pilgrims and encouraged them to bring every part of themselves to the gathering.

“You are welcome here with your questions, with your hopes, with your dreams. You are welcome here with your doubts and with your fears. You are welcome here with your hesitations and you’re welcome here with all your enthusiasms,” Archbishop Costelloe said. “God is real. Christ is alive. The Church of which you are a part is yearning to help you and to hear you, to teach you and to learn from you, to challenge you and to be challenged by you.”

We continue our daily diocesan pilgrimage coverage on Day 3 with personal reflections from Grant Withnall and Stefanie Kusters.

All for God
By Grant Withnall

Today marked the formal beginning of our pilgrimage to ACYF, the festival has begun! To kick us off we engaged in an opening plenary to set the tone of what is expected of us as participants from across Australia. We were encouraged to be present, respectful and be open to the Holy Spirit and the opportunities of spiritual growth that are offered to us.

Following the plenary, we were spoilt for choice as there were many different workshops to choose from. Personally, I attended the sessions which were most applicable to my life, this included ‘Creating Sustainable Youth Ministry’, which involved planning and maintaining a healthy and fruitful youth group community and ‘Experiencing God in Music’, which opened my eyes to the many ways music can powerfully impact how we respond to God’s call. These sessions were engaging and incredibly insightful and has inspired me with many ideas on how to cultivate and share my faith.

To close the day, we ended with a spectacular evening plenary session which focused on the Holy Spirit. We experienced a range of music styles, each inviting us to grow deeper in our relationship with God.

My highlight occurred during the Taizé chants (led my Archbishop Peter A Comensoli) where I paused to observe around me. I witnessed thousands of joy-filled young people in prayerful contemplation, pouring their hearts out in a chant that seem to fill every corner of the building. This was all for God.

Rebuild my Church
By Stefanie Kusters

What a day! Honestly the only word to explain today is ‘wow’. In every way – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually – we were all invited to enter into a day of openness and deep encounter with God. We began the day at our accommodation with a pre-festival debrief in which everyone was buzzing with excitement and expectation.

Upon entering the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre, we were bombarded with a sea of people who were all beyond hyped for the day ahead. The morning plenary began with an address and welcome from Archbishop Timothy Costello who invited us as young people to answer God’s call to rebuild the Church. In order to do so he referred to the Holy Spirit as our Head Coach, alongside whom we require other mentors, trainers and people who can journey with us.

Throughout the day there were performances by different musicians and artists, including the incredible Gus and Iggy from Wollongong! The rest of the day was filled with different workshops, talks and activities. One that stood out to me in particular was the ‘She Influences’ women’s panel. They dove into womanhood and how our identity as unique women bring diversity to the Church. They celebrated how being a woman is such a gift.

By the time it came to dinner, many of us were exhausted, but received a second wind on entering the evening plenary. We were able to dance and sing with each other, but also enter into a quiet time of prayer, and it was beautiful to see everyone taking the opportunity to be still after such an amazing and eventful day. Today went far beyond my expectations and I feel like I need a day to rest and recover! Regardless, I am looking forward to another day full of learning and surprises.

ACYF Perth 2019 | Day 4

American speaker, evangelist and author Katie Prejean McGrady has told 5,500 young Australian Catholics that they are made “not only for something great” in this world, but that they are ultimately made “to worship God for eternity”. “You are truly made for not only something great, you’re not only made to make an impact in this world, but ultimately you are made to have a seat in the heavenly kingdom, you are made to worship God for eternity,” she said.

Our very own Bishop Brian Mascord led Eucharistic Adoration in the presence of 5,500 members of the Young Church of Australia in Perth. It truly was a Diocese of Wollongong affair with Bishop Brian being ably assisted by members of the diocese’s young people and accompanied by the sublime musical talents of local diocesan artists Guss and Iggy. Continue the ACYF journey with us on Day 4 as we hear again from Stefanie and Grant.

by Stefanie Kusters

Today was incredible! Not only do I feel so blessed to be here in Perth attending ACYF, but this group of Wollongong pilgrims are so on fire for the Lord and it’s so inspiring! I felt that clear messages were being conveyed to us young people today – to say ‘yes’, to share our testimony as a means of expressing our faith, and to allow the Lord to use the mess in our lives and turn it into a message of hope and of life. We come alive in Him and my beautiful friends were pure examples of this. Their faith inspires and spurs my own and I feel compelled by their witness to walk this path of faith with greater perseverance and confidence.

So far the festival has allowed me to grow ever greater in my joy in Christ, and it is in each encounter and each workshop and experience that I feel this growth and His light shining brighter. The day began and ended with profoundly moving talks and musical performances during the plenaries. I felt such a deep sense of being seen, known, understood and loved. While tears did come, so did laughter, and it was this contrast that really stood out to me. It was in the stillness and silence of Adoration, where all 5,500 of us pilgrims knelt down before the Blessed Sacrament, that I felt an overwhelming sense of unity with all gathered.

To say that ACYF has been an incredible bonding experience does not even scratch the surface and so I’m really looking forward to the closing Mass where we will celebrate Communion, together with the wider Perth community.

A Good Day
By Grant Withnall

“Today is a good day!”. That’s the motto our small group have adopted on this pilgrimage. We would wake up and say “today is going to be a good day” even before the day has started, and when we return to our accommodation at night we would confirm which each other that “today was a good day”. Why wouldn’t we have a good day at a festival full of likeminded young people who have listened to and received the Holy Spirit?

Like the previous day, we began with a morning with a plenary session with music and inspiring speakers that helped the atmosphere come alive again once more. From there, I chose to attend a leadership workshop entitled “Why you’re a better leader than the Pope…” The speaker, Sebastian Duhau, explored in detail about what actually makes someone a leader and also how to actively grow as one by following the example of a pope. The presentation was confronting, as it challenged and invited us to embrace our identity in God to find our true leadership potential.

This was then followed by a presentation by Archbishop Timothy Costelloe about “Listening to God: how do we know what God is saying?” His inspiring words left many like myself excited about God’s plan for our lives, but also challenged us to respond with a generous “yes!”.

To round of a good day, we gathered together for the evening plenary. During this time, we were again treated to inspiring talks and testimonies, followed by Eucharistic adoration led by our very own Bishop Brian Mascord. Adoration was a beautiful and emotional experience where many found themselves in tears of joy and hope, or on the floor in praise.

This part of our journey is what defines and strengthens our experience, to look to Christ and answer his call, for a future full of hope.

ACYF Perth 2019 | Day 5

The open-air Mass at Trinity College Perth was the culmination of the Australian Catholic Youth Festival, which attracted 5,500 young people from across the country.

In his homily at the Mass, Archbishop Costelloe reflected on the number of questions Jesus asks – and is asked – in the Gospels. In particular, he reflected on the question from someone introduced in the Bible as a rich young man. In the Gospels, the man asks Jesus: “Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Archbishop Costelloe reminded pilgrims that the young man could respond affirmatively to the requirement of having obeyed the commandments, but was more challenged by Jesus’ invitation to “sell all you own and give the money to the poor and then come and follow me”.

”What a challenge this young man is presented with. What an opportunity for generosity and for heroism,” Archbishop Costelloe said. “But then comes what I think is one of the saddest sentences in the Gospels: ‘When the young man heard these words, he turned away and went away sad because he was a person of great wealth’.”

While the rest of the man’s story is not told in the Gospels, Archbishop Costelloe said the question is one all Christians are called to consider and pray about. “The key line in the story, of course, in the answer Jesus gives to the rich young man is this – and it will be the key line in whatever answer Jesus gives to you: ‘Come and follow me’. So don’t walk away sad from the opportunity Jesus holds out to you for an heroic life.

We hear from Stefanie and Grant one final time as we conclude the last day of the pilgrimage. Thank you for praying and journeying with us!

Simply life-changing
by Stefanie Kusters

Today and really the whole festival experience has far exceeded my expectations! I think I can safely say that every pilgrim has experienced so much growth and have felt the stirrings of the Holy Spirit. Our final festival day had a slow and relaxing start as we did not have a morning plenary session to attend. Once we arrived at the convention centre I attended a talk by the famous MGL Sisters: Therese and Judy, about living with amazing Grace when life feels like the Amazing Race. Having watched the show, I had some understanding of what the sisters were like and it was beautiful to hear them share their experience. Each day has felt very “go-go-go”, in a good way, and so I wanted to take the opportunity for some quiet time in prayer. I made my way up to the Adoration chapel – a humble prayer space and it was good to finally be still and truly listen.

Later in the day I attended a talk entitled ‘Christ is Alive’ by a brilliant American speaker, Katie Prejean McGrady. She began by stating, ‘The only way we can know who we are, is to know whose we are’, and that we are called to know that Christ is present in every moment of our lives. Katie encouraged us to enter into a radical and loving trust in the Lord. I noticed these themes of trust and presence continually highlighted, throughout the festival.

It then came time to embark on our pilgrimage walk, at a scorching 36°C, the only saving grace was the breeze. Arriving at Trinity College, the venue for our closing Mass, we found a spot out on the grass, lined up for what felt like forever for food and watched the sun slowly set. The Mass itself was really beautiful. Every now and then a flock of birds would fly past and there was something so special about celebrating Mass outside. Following Mass we partied together one last time, dancing alongside Bishop Brian and somehow finding Joel in the splits, proving once again that Wollongong knows how to party and how to pray.

Farewells were sad because it meant that our pilgrimage was over but we are all looking forward to catching up and reconnecting once we are back home. This surreal experience of ACYF flew by and I am so incredibly grateful for every opportunity, encounter and interaction. A simply life-changing and unforgettable trip!

The Summit
by Grant Withnall

Something about ACYF hits you on the last day. You’re exhausted, but full of energy, you’re in pain, but you push through, you’re ready to go home, but you never want to leave.

Although this day didn’t start with a morning plenary session, there were many other workshops that pilgrims could attend. The workshops I attended focused around themes of self-growth through embracing Catholic teaching on morality. In summary, our true purpose and happiness is fully realised when we align our will with God’s will.

Alongside the workshops, most of the Wollongong group attended the second performance set by local musicians and leaders Seth Harsh and Fiesita Mataele. Sounds of Wollongong voices and praise could be heard echoing throughout the entire building!

After lunch, we embarked on the final leg of our ACYF pilgrimage towards Trinity College where the final Mass would be held. We walked from the convention centre, through the city of Perth, passing magnificent sculptures and scenic views of the water. This 3.3km pilgrimage was long (and hot) but completely worth it.

It was surreal to be a part of a group of thousands of young people, alongside bishops and priests from all over Australia, in celebration of the source and summit of our faith, the Mass.

I experienced a lot of profound moments at ACYF, which I hope will stay with me long after I leave. It is my prayer that I will be able to share these experiences with others and they will continue to form my identity as a child of God. I am Catholic and this is my faith!


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Click below to view our delegation's photo gallery from ACYF. Photos by Jeremy Yuen.

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