Tuesday 27 November 2012
By Lauren Hill
CANDLES flicker in a dimly lit meeting room. A light reflects onto the rugged wood of a large cross, which is mounted before a backdrop of deep red satin. A silent peace permeates through the space, as 80 young people gather in reflection.
All at once, they are standing. Guitar strings are gently strummed and keyboard notes are played as a familiar refrain emerges. The atmosphere transforms. Kneeling, some bow their heads in reverence. Voices slowly unite, reciting the eminent lyrics. Some shed a tear, their attention never departing from the focus of their devotion.
While the majority of their contemporaries enjoy a wild Saturday night out on the town, gathering in trendy clubs across the country, a cluster of young people aged 16 to 26, has chosen a different gathering—the annual Stronger Retreat hosted by the Sandhurst Diocese. They have travelled to Harrietville, in Victoria’s Alpine country, from country towns and bustling cities, from local dioceses and interstate parishes. They have travelled by air and by road, journeyed with friends and even alone.
Each person has answered a call to be present and the evening is reassurance for that response. It is a culmination of grace. It is a gift for their swimming against the tide of expectation, encountered each day as young Catholics in the world. It is reward for their belief in something more. Every young person kneeling in adoration in the room is hopeful. They desire something greater. They are searching for it. And their search has bought them here.
Melissa Mewburn, 21, is a beautiful young woman from Bendigo. The opportunity to gather with other young Catholics is one reason for her having made the journey to the retreat. “I wanted to find a community who wanted to be involved, to be faith-filled, and live a life that is Christ-like,” she said. “To know that those people going are wanting that as well—that community and relationship. There are not many of us out there who express their faith. So you want to connect with people who do.”
Initiated in 2008 by Maltese-born priests Fr Robert Galea, who was a seminarian at the time, and former Bishop of Sandhurst, Joseph Grech, who died suddenly in 2010, the retreat provides an opportunity for teenagers and young adults from across the Victorian diocese of Sandhurst, and across Australia, to join together for a weekend of dynamic speakers, prayer, sacraments, music and more.
Unlike large Catholic events such as World Youth Day, which is held every few years, Fr Rob highlighted that the retreat, along with other Stronger-related events held throughout the year, offers young Catholics continual direction for their faith journey.
“As the name suggests, Stronger events offer young people the opportunity to grow stronger in their Catholic faith. The purpose is to build disciples in the local parish. To give a decent and fair chance to young people to follow Jesus,” Fr Rob said.
For those unsure of what the Stronger events really have to offer them, Melissa assures hesitant youth that they will certainly “experience something amazing” at the retreat. “It’s not always talking about faith. It’s living life. That’s what’s fun,” she said.
Melissa observes that it is the Stronger Program’s ability to “meet people where they’re at” in discovering more about their faith, that is most unique. “Together we are stronger. We grow and develop together,” she said.
This year’s Stronger retreat will be held from 7-9 December in Harrietville, and will feature Pat Keady, Worship Director of the Catholic band ‘emmanuelworship’ who will travel from Brisbane to join Fr Rob as a motivating guest speaker.
For more information about the Stronger Program and to register for the 2012 Stronger Retreat, visit the website at www.stronger.org.au
. Registrations close at midnight on Friday 30 November 2012.
Photos by Fiona Basile