Asia Pacific Youth Ministry Equipping School

-Luke Maher

The last weekend in February saw 160 participants from across the Asia/Oceania region gather in Canberra for the CSYMI Asia Pacific Youth Ministry Equipping School.

The Equipping School is an intensive formation school that inspires and resources youth, young adults, ministry leaders and teachers (preservice and early career) for the mission of the Catholic Church. Following the Equipping School, participants are given the opportunity to be in a formation pathway and participate in cross cultural mission teams.

There are four streams that run at the equipping school, each with keynote speakers, workshops and small group opportunities catered at the needs for that group. The four streams are ‘Youth Academy’ – high school youth ministry leaders, ‘Signum Fidei’ – ACU Pre-Service teachers and early career teachers, ‘Leaders’ – international and local leaders and the ‘YMI’ – Youth Leaders.

It was a pleasure to welcome to the Equipping School a strong contingent of international leaders from both educational and youth ministry contexts. The international group included James Mafi and his team of Youth Ministry Leaders from Tonga, Stephen Borja from the Episcopal Commission for Youth and a team of teachers from the Philippines, Leon Robertson and Laura Smith from New Zealand, Sr Katarina Tinai and a team of educational leaders from Fiji and Fr Jimmy James and Br Thomas Thankickal from the All India Catholic Schools Association. These international guests brought a wealth of experience and rich expressions of their faith and culture to the Equipping School and they enjoyed sharing this experience with other leaders from across Australia. 

The Equipping School has been running in some capacity for over 10 years and with each year it grows and continues to have a significant impact on those who attend. The comments below, from a range of participants, detail the different ways the Equipping School has had a transformational effect on their faith.

“Earlier this month, I attended the Equipping School Program for 2020, and it was an experience I will not forget. I met some truly amazing, inspirational, and motivational young individuals who are willing to make a difference within the younger generations through their connection with the church. Everyone participated in different activities which explored the themes of purpose, perseverance, selflessness, and how we can be better individuals in society. This program allowed me to become more open minded, accepting and, giving to those around me as well as give me the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of my own faith.” – Student, Merici College

“I really enjoyed the night-time experiences. During these nights, everyone was so reverent, and it was a beautiful to have been able to participate in these experiences; I was in awe at the sense of community, belonging and acceptance from everyone who attended”. Student, Trinity Catholic College

“It was one of the best decisions I have made to attend the Equipping School. It was truly a life changing experience and I couldn’t have been happier doing it. I made so many new friends who I can share my faith with and gained so many skills I can use in all aspects of my life”. Student, MacKillop College

“It was a really rewarding experience and there were so many different experiences that I had with friends and within my faith. So many of the skills that I picked up during the equipping school were interchangeable between religious and social aspects. I would definitely do it again”. Student, MacKillop College

“I came to the equipping school after being invited by my youth minister. I didn’t have any past experiences with CSYMA outside of school and the experience blew me away. The community, the courses and the faith experiences made me feel at home in a location I’d never been in before and I am so excited to attend future equipping schools and gatherings. The love and sense of community I experienced is something only found in the church”. Student, Mackillop College.

“As a fourth-year education student I really think the Signum Fidei stream has given me opportunities to grow as a teacher and I’ve been able to meet so many great people and it’s through all of those people that I’ve seen the work of the Holy Spirit”. ACU Pre- Service Teacher, Melbourne

“As an early career teacher, I’ve been really unsure about how to integrate Religious Education in a positive way in my classroom. The Signum Fidei stream at the Equipping School has helped me to create a vision for RE in my classroom and the practical skills to implement it”. Early-Career Teacher, Canberra.

“The Signum Fidei stream at the Equipping School has been such a good experience to engage in the faith community, learn a lot and prepare ourselves to evangelise in future missions”. Early-Career Teacher, Brisbane.

“The warmth and welcome of the Equipping School goes hand in hand with its purpose, which is to lead people to encounter Jesus Christ and to then provide them with the tools to go out and share this love of God with all they meet on the journey”. Leon Robertson, Aquinas College New Zealand

“”The Equipping School is an instrument of change in the life of the church now. It’s a pathway where I myself have met the Holy Spirit,  and started on a real journey together.  A pathway that has cleared up my childish mythical view of the Holy Spirit and I’ve come to realise, appreciate and walk with this All-so-powerful persona of the Triune God we worship. 

And about the Equipping School and New Evangelization, to me,  it is  the newest, and I can say the best approach with the New Evangelization today. So spread the words about the wonders the Lord has done through the equipping school,  like for me,  You come in as you are, broken, sinful, etc,  and you draw water endlessly from the spring of salvation. At the end of the Equipping School, you are commissioned,  and you go out full of joy,  well equipped, and ready for battle,  for the Holy Spirit of God dwells in you. You come in a sinner,  break up your bottle of precious oil of repentance, offer it all up to God, for that’s basically all that He wants, (not your degrees or wealth or achievements), then embark on a journey with him, by going out and Set The World On Fire with His Love. The Equipping School is a great opportunity, so support it,  attend it, and don’t be afraid to be a part of it, for where the Spirit of the Lord is,  there is freedom” James Mafi, Youth Coordinator Tonga

Australian Catholic Youth Festival Perth

By Christopher Gilroy

What is the Spirit Saying?

It was a real blessing to have spent a pilgrimage from Canberra to Perth for the Australian Catholic Youth Festival with an awesome group of young Catholics on fire for the faith! On Dec 7th Archbishop Christopher Prowse and his 12 pilgrims (I think we can call us his disciples?) from the Canberra Goulburn Archdiocese embarked on a spiritual journey to discover what the Holy Spirit is calling us to as a young Catholic Church here in Australia. As a group we wanted to take this question seriously, hence multiple gatherings in the lead up to pray and be formed and prepare ourselves to hear God’s whisper into our hearts. 

I personally experienced moments of deep joy as I witnessed God at work through his children. 

On day three of the festival I was able to take part in praying with a young girl from Melbourne who made her Confirmation! She had a profound experience of the love of God which helped her realise she truly belonged in the Catholic Church which Christ founded. This young girl chose Joan of Ark as her confirmation saint who I feel is a fitting and appropriate role model of fortitude that we need as a Church today. 

I was able to have conversations with fellow pilgrims as they shared their personal struggles, hopes, fears and joys. My heart was moved to hear of the discernment of a young teenage woman in our group who expressed her deep love for Jesus and desire and to enter the religious life. I too had opportunities to share the gift of my vocation as a young married man and allowed the Holy Spirit to use me to express the Father’s love and hopes for us to strive for good holy marriages. 

I attended a talk by Katie McGrady, a young married woman and mother of one from the States who spoke of the motherhood of Mary. I laughed, I learned and I cried (manly tears). Katie allowed us to experience and be part of her relationship with Mary, which in my own heart increased the closeness and devotion I already have to her Immaculate Heart. 

I was able to collect my thoughts on the pilgrimage walk on the final day, to pray the rosary and reflect on what the Holy Spirit was saying to me in my life and to our Church. I put aside my own personal thoughts and perceptions and honestly asked God what he was saying and I stopped and listened. “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

I was one of the five young people chosen to share these thoughts at the final plenary before the concluding Mass in front of the 6000 young people in attendance. I am convicted in my heart that the Holy Spirit is asking us to enter into deep dialogue with our brothers and sisters in Christ and to truly listen to their pains, hopes, fears and joys. We must listen with the ear of Christ and not be absent from the presence of God when we listen, but rather be united to the will, truth and love of God. We need to lean back into God and realise we’re created in His image, and not create God in our own image. I shared with the youth of Australia on stage my intention to take these real experiences of the presence of God in my life home with me back to Canberra and invited them to do the same, before directing them towards my key message and that is that the Father is calling us to have a Marian faith. God desires for us to love our Blessed Mother, the mediatrix of all graces. He wants us to love her and have a relationship with her and allow her to teach us who her son really is. Mary knows Jesus intimately and fully and she knows she is created in the image and likeness of God.

Mary teach us to be humble, kind, compassionate, merciful and courageous like you.

Mary help of Christians; pray for us. 

Christopher Gilroy,

YMI Coordinator


New Zealand Mission – Monica Culas

A trip to Aotearoa, “land of the long white cloud”- Taking that leap of faith through the long white cloud 

Imagine having to travel to a land you have never been to, yes that sounds exciting; for some. Now imagine having to travel to various primary and secondary schools in that land to engage them in a concept that may not sit well with everyone- God and His love for all of us. Couple this with the fact that I did not really know the people with whom I was journeying with, and I was a complete nervous ball of wreck inside. Well, this was my experience. When I first got asked to do the Catholic Schools Youth Ministry Australia (CSYMA) mission trip to New Zealand, I honestly thought it was going to be a total waste of my time and that I should not even bother in the first place. I still signed up for it as I felt bad that not many people were going. The entire journey from Australia to New Zealand I was thinking to myself that this was just going to be a nerve wrecking experience and that nobody would understand me with my Singaporean accent; I am from Singapore. 

But alas, our God has funny plans sometimes. Our first host family was the Vice Principal of Aquinas College and I am grateful for her driving us around to all our destinations especially the faraway ones which took us more than an hour, sometimes 3 hours! As the days went by, I found that the students were very much interested in talking to me despite me thinking they would not because of my different accent. It was funny how many of them have been to only the Singapore airport for a layover. I grew more comfortable in meeting with the students and sharing in front of them. I definitely grew more confident. I got to hear real stories from them, and my perceptions were widened from these engagements. I learnt about others’ personal experiences relating to God, even those who did not believe in Him. I cherish those conversations I had as I got to see how each person viewed this same world with a different pair of lenses. 

The defining moment of this mission trip was bonding with my colleagues as that was the major factor that gave me the added push to be confident. Since I am relatively new to Canberra, this proved to be especially significant for me. All our van prayers, good ol’ banter, and meals shared are things I keep close to my heart. Add to this the fact that one of them, Christopher Gilroy, made it his own personal ‘mission’ (no pun intended) to source for me a middle name as I don’t actually have one and he seemed to find it absurd and unheard of. In our final days, he arranged a Kiwi- Maori family to gift me with a middle name. Mikaere, or Mike as we called him, gave me the name Koha. Koha meant gift, but not just any gift. It was something you would present and place at the foot of royalty with your body bowed, following which you stepped back while maintaining the bowed posture, following which the royalty receives it. This was a very poignant moment for me because of the fact that I am quite literally a royal gift to my parents as they were unable to bear a child for some years. This trip definitely had its personal touch for me, something which I will hold dear. It is to the point that I have adopted Koha into my actual name. Monica Koha Culas, and what are the odds that it even has a nice ring and rhyme to it. 

In the words of Disney’s Moana’s “You’re Welcome”, “You’re face to face with greatness, and it’s strange you don’t even know how you feel.” I quite literally have got no words to describe this strange, rather monumental trip in my life. Here is to more missions and anything else I am called to do, minus my old fear of meeting new people.  

Monica Koha Culas

Canberra Goulburn Illuminate Gathering 2019

On Friday November 8, for the very first time, over 300 excited year 5/6 students from 8 Catholic primary schools involved in the second phase of the Youth Ministry CSYMA Jnr Pilot gathered at St Vincent’s Primary School for “Illuminate” student Conference . 

Illuminate is part of the growing and evolving faith formation pathway in youth ministry within our Catholic schools and Parishes that is focused on working with year 5 and 6 students.

The day was lead by Archdiocesan Youth Minsters who alongside of Priests and other diocesan leaders and Catholic Agencies coordinated a number of interactive workshops. These numerous activities became a real highlight for the students as it provided them with a hands on and practical experience of faith, a particular way of learning and expressing faith that is characteristic of Youth ministry.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse affirmed the joy of the youth there and introduced the theme of the gathering and reminded the young ones that they have a special job as the Church of Now and are called to illuminate the world around them with the light of Christ.

Sarah Larkin, a youth minister at St Vincent’s Primary School and South Belconnen Parish said,

“I really loved seeing all of the students at my school mingling with the other students and seeing how excited they were at the event. I couldn’t wait to see them afterwards and at school next week to touch base and reflect on the experience with them and see how encouraged they felt about their faith.”

Nathan Galea Project Officer for the New Evangelisation within Catholic Education office and  Coordinator of the event said “

In an age where our young ones aren’t in our parishes and many families are disengaged from the Church, Illuminate, reflected the power of what can be achieved when we work together to live out the joy of the gospel. The CSYMA jnr model provides a great framework for students to deepen in their faith and encounter Jesus through the very best of our Catholic Faith.