Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ led a group of more than 100 young people from the Adelaide Archdiocese and 18 from Port Pirie Diocese, accompanied by a number of priests and Youth Office representatives.
He said the experience of celebrating their faith with more than 5000 people would have shown the young people that they were not “isolated freaks”.
“I think there were many graces and blessings,” Bishop O’Kelly said. “What is necessary now is to provide some reinforcing follow-up.”
He urged parishes to invite the youth to participate more fully in the Eucharist and also suggested holding deanery gatherings in six months’ time.
One of the largest groups from the Archdiocese comprised students from Tenison Woods College in Mt Gambier. Catholic Identity and Mission coordinator Chloe Shanahan and four staff took 10 young people from Mt Gambier, Millicent and Penola parishes.
She said the festival, held in December, gave them “the sense that we are part of the larger Church”, something which was often difficult to appreciate in the South East.
“Our young people loved connecting with other young Catholics their age and loved every minute of the festival,” she said.
“Engaging with priests, nuns, brothers and bishops was a wonderful opportunity for them to discuss issues they face as another way to provide feedback to the Plenary Council.
“They would spend time at meal times and on the way back each evening discussing panel speakers and presenters that were worth seeing the next day, along with things that resonated with them through the festival.”
Both Bishop O’Kelly and Chloe said a highlight was Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
“This was a beautiful way for our group to kneel in the presence of Jesus with 5000 other young Catholics and for them to deepen their connection with God,” said Chloe.
“This moved many of our group in different ways but an experience, emotion and connection to God that I am sure they will never forget.”
For the Spanish-speaking youth group of the Kilburn parish, the festival was a first for the group which only started two years ago.
Coordinators Martin and Karina Carman said seeing the young people enjoying themselves, “jumping, dancing and running from one activity to the other”, was the best reward for all the work put in to get there.
“I’m sure this festival has touched all of us one way or another and we all feel re-energised to keep working,” Martin said.
Karina said her experience was a “bit different” because she took her 10-month old son Oliver who was by far the youngest participant for most of the festival.
“To see my son even at a very early age praising God and getting something out of it…sometimes we underestimate how even at a very young age, the music and the praising can get to them,” she said.
On their return, the young people created a PowerPoint that was presented at Mass and gave testimonials.