Australian Catholic Youth Festival 2015

Katie McSweeney (left) and Tess Corkish (right) with their Tree of Life at the Australian Catholic Youth Festival

Katie McSweeney (left) and Tess Corkish (right) with their Tree of Life at the Australian Catholic Youth Festival

By Tess Corkish, Youth Engagement Officer at Catholic Earthcare Australia

In early December, Katie McSweeney (Catholic Earthcare Australia’s Communications and Marketing Manager) and I were honoured to represent our agency at the 2015 Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Adelaide. Plagued with weather in the high 30s in the first few days of summer, it was the perfect time to be talking to young people about a safe climate future. Full of inspiring speakers and young people thirsty for a rich spiritual life, the Australian Catholic Youth Festival provided a great opportunity to speak to young people who were energised by their faith to take action.

Katie and I spent most of our time on our stall in the Justice Activity Centre and creating a Tree of Life (pictured above and below). We asked young people to finish the sentences “I pray we act to protect…”, “Dear world leaders…” or “Laudato Si’ calls us to…” on a leaf, and add it to our tree. Through this experience, we were able to share the message of Laudato Si’ and our work, as well as learn what young people were passionate about protecting. It was a fantastic space to promote dialogue and engagement, and we would like to thank the ACBC Office for Youth for inviting us to take part in the event.


These are just some of the hundreds of inspiring messages from the young people at the Australian Catholic Youth Festival

We had so many wonderful messages about what young people wanted to protect, from the Great Barrier Reef to the unborn, as well as the people of the Pacific Islands and other species. Young Catholics want world leaders to follow their consciences and do what is needed to protect our common home and feel that Laudato Si’ is calling us to be advocates for change and voices for the voiceless. We spoke to close to 1000 participants and found many young people hadn’t connected social justice with the environment before Pope Francis took up the fight, but who now felt called to engage with the issue.

On the Thursday afternoon, I was joined Bishop Christopher Saunders of Broome and Bishop Gregory O’Kelly of Port Pirie in an Xchange session, where young people were invited to engage with the issue of eco-theology and present their ideas and stories to myself and the Bishops. There was a little bit of contention as both Bishops insisted that their diocese was the most beautiful in the world (so I made sure to ask for an invitation to each!) and Bishop Saunders spoke at length about the majesty of the Kimberlies region. We heard stories from young people from all around the world, from a young woman from country New South Wales whose family had to sell their farm due to drought, to a young man from Vietnam who spoke about how decisions in the western world affect the environment in countries in Asia. It was a great experience to hear the stories of all the young people who drew so much of their strength from the natural world and who wanted to advocate for its protection.

On Saturday I had the opportunity to speak to the lovely women at ArchD Radio, who interviewed me about my passion for social justice, my experience and my faith. They also admired my green dress and we spoke about ethical consumption. At lunch time, I ran the workshop that I usual present in schools and had some great conversations with the attendees about environmental activism, social justice, “bubble popping” and eating in a way that is consistent with a safe climate future. I was excited to see a number of other young vegetarians in the audience who were motivated by their love of animals and their love of the earth.

The Australian Catholic Youth Festival was a fantastic opportunity to invite young people to join Catholic Earthcare Australia’s Youth Network and there was a lot of interest in almost every diocese around Australia. We also had some great conversations about collaboration with other stallholders such as the Dominicans, Lasallians, Marists and Aboriginal Ministry and some conversations with traditional owners, who ribbed us for being late to hop on the ‘caring for creation bandwagon’ and who appreciated that our faith was helping to lead the charge. I came back to Sydney both renewed in my faith and in my commitment to working with Catholic youth to lead the way to a safe and healthy future.

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