Over 80 students and staff involved in Youth Ministry at each of our diocese’s Catholic systemic secondary schools have gathered at Stanwell Tops to participate in the Youth Ministry Leaders Overnight Formation Retreat.
The retreat, run by the Catholic Youth Ministry Wollongong (CYMW) team, brought together Youth Ministry Co-ordinators (YMCs) and around 10 nominated student Youth Ministry Leaders (YMLs) per school from St John the Evangelist, Nowra; St Joseph’s, Albion Park; Corpus Christi, Oak Flats; Holy Spirit, Bellambi; John Therry, Rosemeadow; St Benedict’s, Oran Park; Magdalene, Narellan; and Mount Carmel, Varroville.
The experience was a unique opportunity for students to step away from daily life and immerse themselves in understanding and engaging with the principles of Youth Ministry. The retreat has greatly assisted with the formation of this year’s YMLs, furthering their spiritual development, enhancing their capacity as leaders, and strengthening their relationship with God and each other.
This formation was particularly bolstered and refined by sessions with a variety of facilitators and priests who shared their stories, thoughts and a number of rich, faith-filled moments with our students. A special thanks to:
Peter Turner (Director of Schools, CEDoW)
Ken Bryant (Head of Service, CLEM, CEDoW)
Tim Hart (Education Officer, CLEM, CEDoW)
Jude Hennessy (Director, Office of Renewal & Evangelisation, OOB)
Pete Gilmore (CCD & Evangelisation Coordinator,OOB)
Fr Duane Fernandez (St Michael’s Parish, Nowra)
Fr Stephen Varney (All Saints Parish, Shellharbour)
Youth Ministry Leaders play an important role in our schools. They work closely with their school’s Youth Ministry Co-ordinator staff member to assist and lead Youth Ministry in their school - an initiative which is only expanding within our diocese. These two days provided countless quality opportunities for students to engage in Youth Ministry experiences that they can recreate and share with others at their school, and to absorb the kind of knowledge, skills and practices they need to offer the leadership that will help other students connect to their faith.
“Being a YML is a lot more than just presenting yourself as a faithful person to your community. It’s leading by example,” Jordan (Mt Carmel) said. “It’s taking the love that God has for us and trying to spread it around to the people that we know and try to make a difference in the world,” Aidan (Mt Carmel) added.
The event has also linked Youth Ministry Leaders across our schools and allowed them to get to know and open up to each other. For many, it was the perfect follow-up to the Australian Catholic Youth Festival, which they attended as a diocesan group in December 2017. It’s borne many new friendships, and the beginning solid foundations for a Diocese of Wollongong Youth Ministry network, where these students feel supported in their work both within their school and throughout the diocese.
Highlights included the renditions of singing and dancing to CEDoW Education Officer, Tim Hart’s winning ACYF theme song, ‘Joyful Generation’; and the moving evening worship session, which included singing, a band playing, prayer teams and reconciliation on offer. The students overwhelmingly enjoyed the night, describing it as “emotional, intense, powerful” with “such a good atmosphere” that “was really enlightening and opened our eyes and hearts”.
Many expressed gratitude for the affirming, empowering occasions to openly share their faith with others and talk about their relationship with God in a supportive environment. They took away a renewed pride and confidence in being Catholic and what that means to them, and ideas on how to better express what they believe in within their communities and schools.
“I found it very empowering. To see everyone coming together...I felt very supported and loved,” Brianna (Magdalene) said. Shaun (Magdalene) agreed: “We were all one community in there, everyone’s there for each other. We were able to express our feelings and emotions and our connection to God, through each other.”
“The retreat was amazing,” Claudia (Holy Spirit) recounted, “I believe it did much more than teach us to be YMLs, it taught us to not be afraid. It let some of us experience what it felt like to be touched by the Holy Spirit and it enabled us to feel more connected to God. The atmosphere was constantly filled with happiness and joy.”
The Youth Ministry Leaders have now taken everything they’ve learned on the Formation Retreat back to their schools to give and share with others, so they may keep the enthusiasm for Youth Ministry alive and growing in our Catholic communities.
The students are looking forward to Term 2, which will see the Catholic Youth Ministry Wollongong team visit each of our Catholic systemic secondary schools for their next LIVE event (including lunchtime concert and after-school retreat).