The Catholic Schools Youth Ministry International ‘Equipping School’, Canberra, Australia
Mrs Monique Harris (Leader of Learning – Religious Education), Laura Smith (Deputy Head Girl – Special Character) and myself were fortunate to be invited to the Oceania Equipping School, as the New Zealand representatives, run by Catholic Schools Youth Ministry International (CSYMI), in Canberra at the end of February. We also had support to attend the school from Paul Ferris (NZCEO) and Paul Shannon (The Commission for Justice, Peace and Aroha), who both kindly sponsored part of our trip. Including us, there were 150 participants from Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Uganda, Kenya, England and Australia all coming together with the vision of developing a discipleship pathway throughout their school, diocese or country.
The vision of the ‘Equipping School’ is to inspire and equip Catholic Schools to become centres of new evangelisation with new ardour, expressions, connections and experiences to develop a sense of belonging, believing and behaving.
The ‘Equipping School’ took us through the process as we participated in activities, such as Adoration; praise and worship; group prayer; daily Mass; lectures (Fr. Tony Percy was outstanding); Reconciliation; Baptism of the Holy Spirit and listening to testimonies of Youth Ministers.
Pope Francis has recently announced it is a time of a new Pentecost for our youth where many have been “sacramentalised but not evangelised” (Fr. Ken Barker). We are being called to reach out to our youth and to invite them back through reigniting the fire of the Holy Spirit. We must call on the Holy Spirit to move and speak in new ways to our youth and the ‘Equipping School’ was a living example of this. The school operates under the premise of the following three Youth Ministry goals:
(Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Anointed and Sent)
These three goals are also outlined in the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, Tu Kahikatea – Standing Tall (2006) and ask us to reflect on what discipleship pathway we are offering for our students? There is also a call for parish and school to work in unity to develop a community which nurtures and fosters our youth to stay committed to the Church.
In Matthew 28:19, the Great Commissioning, we are called to “Go and make disciples of all nations”. If this is our command, then how are we achieving this goal in our parish and school community? This was the reason why we decided to attend the ‘Equipping School’ to see how we can develop a discipleship pathway for those seeking spiritual fulfilment, to empower students to be witnesses and to share their testimony with others while strengthening our connections to the parish community.
During our time in Canberra we were able to hear from other schools who had implemented a Youth Ministry Programme and their students were able to articulate how being part of the programme had deeply impacted their faith journey in a positive way. The Youth Ministry programme provides a framework for students to be actively engaged in praise and worship; retreats; liturgies; missions; and post-school opportunities. We can see the huge benefits of this programme and are excited about evaluating what it might look like in the New Zealand context. Later this year we have a Catholic Schools Youth Ministry Mission Team, from Australia, visiting Aquinas College. We look forward to the peer-to-peer sharing of faith and will relish any opportunities that such an experience may bring.
Laura Smith’s Perspective:
I was recently lucky enough to attend the Oceania Catholic Schools Youth Ministry Equipping School over in Canberra with Mrs Van Zyl and Mrs Harris. I gained a lot from the ‘Equipping School’ such as learning how to give a testimony, sharing messages through drama, event planning and decoding scripture. The ‘Equipping School’ also gave me an opportunity to enhance my own faith and grow in my relationship with God. I took a lot away from the school and created strong friendships with other young leaders around the world who are in the same position as me. It is cool to be Catholic!
“The gentleness of God’s love for us is like the dewfall.”
Fr. Tony Percy, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Canberra