Oblate Youth Australia History
The following year (2001), Fr Christian was ordained and sent to work in Mary Immaculate Parish in Eagle Vale, NSW, where he established another youth group also known as ‘Youth Coming Together’. It was in his time at Eaglevale that Fr Christian gained particular support from Loretta Brinkman, a member of the parish, and Daniel Kelly, who was involved with the initial ‘Youth Coming Together’ group at St. John Vianney’s, Vic. Both Loretta and Daniel have been instrumental in helping Fr Christian develop Oblate Youth Australia, both in its infancy and throughout its growth, from localised and isolated youth communities to a united, national community of faith. In 2001, together they decided to take on the challenge of organising a second ‘Youth Coming Together’ end-of-year camp. After some discussion with St John Vianney’s Parish, the idea of a joint camp in Sydney was suggested and the Victorians made a great leap of faith, courage and financial commitment to attend the ‘Youth Coming Together Camp’ in Gerroa NSW. This 2001 camp hosted 26 young people in total from the two parishes.
It is hard to say exactly how Oblate Youth Australia (OYA) and all its facets have come to be. It seems that from small seeds of inspiration and hope, the elements which comprise OYA have all simply fallen into place and OYA has grown, thanks to God and the courage and faith of many young people throughout Australia.
Fr Christian Fini OMI, has worked since 2000 to establish OYA from its humble beginnings into what it is today– a flourishing community of faith which transcends Australia’s tyrannies of distance. Fr Christian’s devotion to Youth Ministry and his endeavours to establish youth communities and facilitate camps, were inspired by a momentous experience he had while he was in Italy working on a number of missions and youth camps. While on a train traveling from Calabria to Florence, Fr Christian reflected upon the successful Oblate Youth Ministry he had witnessed in Italy, and was inspired to establish a similar Oblate movement in Australia. On returning to Australia, Fr Christian’s ‘dream’ became reality.
In 2000, Fr Christian, then a student at St Mary’s Seminary in Victoria, was asked to work with the youth of St John Vianney’s Parish, Vic. He established a youth group which became known as ‘Youth Coming Together’. Fr Christian took a group of 12 young people from the parish away on a three day camp to Dromana, Vic.
The success of this camp meant that the ‘Youth Coming Together Camp’ in 2002 increased to 40 young attendees, with a further two Oblate parishes joining the experience- Immaculate Conception in Sunshine, Vic, and St David’s in Tea Tree Gully, SA.
From the incredible experience of Camp 2002, two instrumental developments occurred which were to shape our future; the name ‘Oblate Youth Australia’ was adopted and a website www.oblateyouth.com was developed as a place of meeting, sharing and continuing the spirit and community of the camp. The website was officially launched on 1 March 2003.
The site facilitated regular Thursday night online meetings and made it possible for the group to contend with the problem of distance between the Oblate Youth communities in different states and areas.
In 2003, the difficult and risky decision to change the camp’s location to the mountainous area of Fitzroy Falls, NSW, proved to be the right one. With 70 young people and 4 Oblates attending, the advantage of the new site was clear, as more than 20 people would have missed out if the camp had remained at Gerroa. With the move, also came a change in the name of the experience, to the National Oblate Youth Encounter.
During each Encounter, groups of the young attendees write daily summaries of the events, which are posted on the internet. This means that we have an entertaining and accurate account of each day on Encounter, along with numerous photos to help share our experience. Over the years, the summaries have provided a forum through which the participants’ families and others who support OYA through prayer, can journey with us in our Encounter experiences.
In October 2003 OYA developed its own server to host our website and support other youth groups and church groups, and the official OYA logo was adopted.
In 2004 the year began with the development of an Oblate Youth Australia Lenten program and a May Program to celebrate Oblate Week. The success of this program led to the continuation of these special occasions each year and the introduction of regular weekly material provided for local OYA communities called “Scripture and Tradition – Reflecting of the Foundations of our Faith”.
The fifth Encounter, (Fitzroy Falls December 2004), became truly national. There were 97 attendees, including representatives from each of the five states where the Oblates of Mary Immaculate work. As well as participants from Victoria, NSW and SA, attendees included 5 from
Western Australia, 1 from Rosies QLD and 10 from Iona College QLD. The success of the Iona group, mainly comprised of Year 11 students, has lead to the inclusion of Year 11 students from other Oblate Colleges at subsequent camps, and in 2006, for the first time, students from all three Oblate Colleges.
By 2005, OYA communities were established in five states, with the newest additions being Fremantle WA and Iona College QLD.
On 1 February 2005, Fr Christian took up a new appointment at St Mary’s Seminary as National Co-ordinator of Youth Ministries and Vocations for the province. On 14 May, 46 people from 3 states gathered for a Pentecost Mass and a meal at the Seminary to mark the official launch of Oblate Youth Central and the adoption of the OYA Framework and Structures document.
Oblate Youth Central, at St Mary’s Seminary, is a home for the young people who identify with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. It is a place of refuge, a centre of learning, a place of prayer, a centre of discernment, and a centre of spirituality. The Framework and Structures document contains the Leadership Structure, outlining the specific roles of service in OYA, and OYA’s Policy and Procedures which give the community adequate protection and support to sustain its growth.
2005 was also marked by the World Youth Day (WYD) Pilgrimage to Germany. The OYA group comprised 34 people, who journeyed together for more than 3 weeks on a pilgrimage which took in Italy, France and Germany, where WYD was held in Cologne. A highlight for the group was the international gathering of Oblate Youth in Hünfeld. Upon announcement that Sydney is to host WYD 2008, excitement only grew at the prospect of OYA taking part in the hosting of a similar pre-WYD oblate event on home soil.
Another significant undertaking for OYA in 2005 was the development of a youth group for the Resurectionist Parish at Good Shepherd in Brandon Park, Vic. It’s members are now affectionately known as OYA’s cousins. In 2006, participants numbered 110 at the NOYE which was held in Glenaladale, Vic in mid January. In May, the Pentecost gathering launched the Oblate pre-WYD event for 2008, the International Oblate Youth Encounter (IOYE) to be held at Mazenod College, Vic. The launch Mass showcased the official logo and song for IOYE.
The 2007 Encounter at Glenaladale hosted 120, including 2 international guests– Oblate priests from the US. Over the Pentecost weekend in May, OYA continued its preparations for the IOYE and its Membership document was launched. The Membership document outlines the various opportunities which OYA has made available to its members and supporters, to officially cement their commitment to OYA. At the Pentecost dinner, Loretta Brinkman and Daniel Kelly were inducted as OYA’s founding Life Members, in recognition of their long-standing and ongoing contributions to OYA.
Shortly after the Pentecost gathering, OYA’s new and improved website was launched.
Another of OYA’s activities is its involvement since 2005 in leading the Year 12 retreat for Mazenod College, WA and helping to run the Year 12 retreat for Mazenod College, Vic.
Preparations for the IOYE and WYD certainly dominated the life of OYA from 2006-2008. Throughout this time, a leadership team was formed, comprising a Committee, 9 Heads of Portfolios, Sub-Committee Leaders and Team. The majority of these leaders were recruited from the ranks of OYA.
From July 9-12 2008, 800 pilgrims from Australia and over 30 other countries descended on Mazenod College, Victoria for this pre-World Youth Day event. The Opening Ceremony had a truly electric atmosphere, with pilgrims nearly beating down the doors with excitement to enter the Gym- it really was as frenzied as the Boxing Day sales! Although many were no doubt jet-lagged, the pilgrims summoned all their energy to belt out national chants, sing, dance and cheer as they ultimately helped provide the pre-ceremony entertainment! The Opening Ceremony, held on Wednesday July 9, consisted of presentations, prayers and songs, and included a flag procession, aboriginal welcome to land, and official welcome speeches from Fr Harry Dyer, Provincial, and Fr Wilhelm Steckling, Superior General of the Oblates. With trumpet blast, spectacular lighting and moving music, the Opening Ceremony was a memorable way to start an unforgettable week!
The following morning, pilgrims gathered at Federation Square for Peace by Piece, an inter-faith peace ceremony hosted by the Oblates. Together with De La Salle pilgrims, who were gathered in Melbourne for their own pre-World Youth Day event; young people from many other religions and some of our own Oblate parishioners and friends; the IOYE Team and participants witnessed to their unified desire for a peaceful world.
Following some free time to explore the city, pilgrims returned to Mazenod for the Festival of Culture, a colourful concert in which each pilgrim group performed a song, dance or play which showcased something of their culture. The performances were diverse, from captivating Chinese dancing, to patriotic French pilgrims donning berets and singing ‘Champs Elysees’ to a comedic sketch by Californian pilgrims about Hollywood filmmaking. The Festival was a fantastic display of talent and with so many diverse cultures on show, we got a taste of the world in only a few hours!
Despite a change in venue from St Mary’s Seminary to Mazenod College due to inclement weather, Born For This, a dramatic presentation of the Stations of the Cross, provided an inspirational start to Day Three of the IOYE. With only a small cast and crew of young Australians, the story of Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection came to life, through emotional and entertaining songs and movement. Many in the audience were moved to tears at the realistic portrayal of Mary’s sadness and Jesus’ suffering during His final hours.
Following the stations, Fr Wilhelm Steckling delivered his keynote address, aptly titled ‘Witness to the World’, following the theme of the IOYE. He encouraged the youth to listen to God and be empowered by the Holy Spirit, the same spirit they received through the Sacrament of Confirmation. He urged them to bravely face the magnitude of the world’s problems head-on, armed with three simple virtues- faith, hope and love, and to build up a community of witnesses around them in order to work together to strive for God’s Kingdom. A full copy of the speech is available for download at www.omiyouth.org, the new global Oblate Youth site launched through the IOYE.
After the Superior General’s inspirational address, the atmosphere at Mazenod was transformed for a ‘fete’-type expo of Australian culture and the Oblate Charism, called the Festival of Charism. Pilgrims enjoyed entertainment by bands including the Police Code 1 Rock Band, had the chance to look at and hold native bush animals, watch snake-handling and boomerang-throwing demonstrations, a footy match and much more. The Festival was also an opportunity for the various pilgrim groups to set up a stall showcasing their cultures and the work the Oblates do in their countries. To wrap up the Festival, the Briagalong Bush Band turned up the heat in the Gym for a Bush Dance, and many pilgrims (and Oblates too!) from all over the world took up the invitation to kick up their heels!
The following day, pilgrims had a late start at Mazenod after spending the morning in their host parishes where they shared Morning Prayer and refreshments with their host families and other parishioners. They assembled in the Gym once more where five young people representing the Oblate regions of the world responded to Fr Steckling’s Address in their native tongue. Then all the youth were encouraged to reflect on these and the General’s talk as they broke off into discussion groups. Some groups experienced such fruitful sharing of ideas and thoughts that they nearly missed the final meal of the IOYE!
The liturgical highlights of the IOYE were the Night Prayer services held on the Thursday and Friday of the event, and of course, the Final Mass. The Night Prayers focused on the themes of brokenness in the world and healing, and through prayer, symbol, scripture and song; helped to draw together these action-packed days and provided reflection on how we can better ‘witness to the world’. The Final Mass had many themes, from thanksgiving for the time spent together and for the many people who generously made the IOYE a reality, to commissioning to go forth and be ‘witnesses to the world’ at World Youth Day and beyond, and also the inevitable hint of sadness as the various pilgrim groups, Oblates, host families and volunteers parted ways. Overall though, this Eucharist really was a celebration of our common Oblate identity, youth and friendship. One of the highlights and indeed, celebratory aspects of the Mass was the Final Vows of June (Ongart) Khaeser. Before the Superior General, Provincial Fr Harry Dyer and a packed Gym of pilgrims, brother Oblates, family and friends, June declared his wish to commit himself fully to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the people they serve. His brave missionary witness warmed the hearts of those gathered, even the many visiting pilgrims who didn’t know him; and his vows were followed by a roar of applause. The music provided by talented Australian Oblate youth musicians and singers was a highlight not only of the Mass, but all the liturgies throughout the IOYE, and it was fantastic to see the pilgrims singing along. The event finished up with some international pilgrim groups kicking on in the Gym joining the Aussie Team for a song and dance after the Mass- not one of them wanting it to end!
Thanks to all involved in the IOYE- pilgrims, Team, Oblates, host families and adult volunteers alike, the Holy Spirit’s presence was felt by many during those four days preceding World Youth Day. The IOYE provided pilgrims with the perfect kick-start for their journey to World Youth Day, and will be the catalyst for many to return home with zeal to be ‘witnesses to the world’ in their home countries and parishes- witnesses of faith, hope and love.
In January 2009, National Oblate Youth Encounter was held a little closer to Melbourne; a campsite in Neerim East in country Victoria called Forest Edge. There were 83 participants this year, with attendees travelling from across the country eager to keep the excitement going from World Youth Day last year.
The exploration of the camp’s theme, Celebr8 Harvest, kicked off with Christian Fini’s introductory workshop where he explained the significance of the Oblate Youth Australia Creed; a document which has been developed over a number of years as a guide for Oblate Youth communities around the country. This first workshop focussed on the first creedal statements of, Welcome and Community.
The next few days explored four other topics in the OYA Creed; Eucharist, Leadership, Scripture and Charism, in the form of short workshops led by members of OYA. The OYA Creed - tells us about who we are and how we come to know ourselves as youth who associate with the Charism of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. In the past year we shared this Charism with the Oblate Youth of the world during the International Oblate Youth Encounter and World Youth Day. We examined who we are as Oblate Youth and what it means to be Oblate Youth Australia.
NOYE 2010 will be held in Adelaide and preparations have already started.