Historic first meeting of Catholic Schools Youth Ministry International

On Tuesday, 13 April 2021 representatives from Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, the Solomon Islands, Uganda and the United Kingdom met by Zoom for the first meeting of Catholic Schools Youth Ministry International (CSYMI).

Catholic Schools Youth Ministry Australia (CSYMA) began in 2003 as a response to a growing conviction of Peter Woods, then Religious Education Coordinator at St. Edmund’s College Canberra. As a teacher extensively involved in running student retreats and voluntary co-curricular discipleship groups for many years, Peter wanted to offer something more for students wishing to engage further in Catholic formation and ministry. 

Peter decided to tackle this issue by developing a voluntary follow-up unit of study in Religious Education after the Year 11 retreat program. At the conclusion of the retreat, an academic unit of study in youth ministry, with a robust catechetical approach, was offered to students. Two classes of boys volunteered for the program. After the boys had been through this unit of study and moved into Year 12, they had the opportunity for further formation and commitment by becoming senior youth ministry team members.

As Peter and colleagues reflected upon what was happening, they discerned a model of evangelisation developing and called this “The Four-Phase Model”. Eventually, they moved this model down to Years 9 and 10 as they realised this opportunity needed to be presented to students at an earlier age. Since 2007, CSYMA developed three main focus areas: student ministry (Youth Ministry and Junior Ministry), post-school youth ministers (Youth Ministers International), and teacher and Church leader formation (Catholic Leaders Formation Network).

The original program developed by Peter and colleagues such as Nathan Galea at St. Edmund’s College Canberra, has now been adopted by over 60 secondary schools across Australia. Nathan now works as a Project Officer with Catholic Education, leading the implementation of CSYMA in the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn. Huw Warmenhoven, one of the first students to benefit from this formation and ministry pathway at St. Edmund’s, has been instrumental in developing an international network of youth ministers. CSYMA has been adapted for use in the formation of students, staff and youth ministers in the Lismore Diocese under the leadership of Matt de Dassel. The Lismore implementation has been a model in other parts of Australia. CSYMA Youth Ministers are formed and trained in Youth Ministry Equipping Schools to work with teachers in forming school students. Annual Shine and LEAD gatherings are also a highlight of CSYMA.

A wonderful partnership with the Australian Catholic University La Salle Academy (ACULSA) and generous sponsors such as the Australian Catholic Superannuation and Retirement Fund has proved critical to the success of CSYMA. 

CSYMA continues to respond creatively to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as it now extends new formation opportunities and resources into Primary schools and launches a new Catholic Leaders Formation Network online platform providing supportive small group-based FLAME Communities and Programs offering formation opportunities. The CLFN is a partnership work between CSYMA and the ACU la salle Academy.

Over recent years, the vision of CSYMA has become international with interest and initiatives in Fiji, New Zealand, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Uganda and the United Kingdom. International cross-cultural missions to Uganda, for example, resulted in the establishment of Catholic Schools Youth Ministry Uganda (CSYMU). In 2017, the first East African Teacher Formation Conference was held in Masaka, Uganda bringing together hundreds of teachers and leaders for formation and to provide the opportunity to receive training in Youth Ministry and the Four-Phase Model. March this year saw training offered to over 150 school and ministry leaders throughout Oceania. 2021 will also see over 140 Catholic school and ministry leaders from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland completing the 12-week Spiritus (ACULSA) and Called (CLFN) Programs.

As representatives from Africa, Europe and Oceania gathered with Peter Woods, Founding Director, and other CSYMA Board members, for this historic first meeting of the CYMI Executive it was a conviction of all gathered that this represented yet a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a new response to the Great Commission of Christ. Looking back to its humble origins at St Edmunds, these words from Acts clearly resonated, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth.’ (c.f. Acts 1-4)