by. Michael Soh
It was a sunny morning on Wednesday, December 9. The Bindoon Bakehaus played host to a big convoy of youth aged 16 to 30 from across Perth and even Kalgoorlie, who arrived in their droves and stopped for coffee, pies and cake.
This famous cafe has been a traditional pit-stop on the way to the Monastic town of New Norcia for the biggest Catholic youth conference of 2015, and participants also have the opportunity to meet other participants during the stopover.
Whether it is their first time attending the annual Embrace the Grace (ETG) conference or not, they know the fact that new friendships are imminent. And that is what’s developed and gained over five days from the 9 to 13 December.
Organized by Catholic Youth Ministry in partnership with The Respect Life Office, Embrace The Grace 2015 is the 11th edition of the youth conference. It’s theme ‘Masterpiece: Made in His Own Image. Destined to Live Forever’ focused on the value of human life and love for oneself.
Embrace The Grace 2015 co-ordinator Kim Hodgson explained, “The Catholic faith offers us the deep belief that every human is a masterpiece of God and each of us has an inherent dignity.”
“The conference looked at how we can overcome our history, past hurts, lack of confidence or insecurities and see our self-worth and that of everyone human person through talks, drama, prayer and music.”
Conference speakers such as Derek Boylen, Mario Borg, Clare Pike, Anita Parker, Fr Mark Baumgarten and Paul Kelly touched on various topics based on the theme. Bronia Karniewicz and Daryl Pranata also conducted separate workshops for male and female participants for the Thursday afternoon session specific to the Feminine Genius and the Art of Masculinity.
Like every other ETG conference, participants were divided into three Community Groups based on their age groups. Each group was named after a Saint whose story fits well with the conference’s theme. The Saints chosen for ETG 2015 were St Germaine Cousin (under 18 community group), St Elizabeth of Hungary (under 21s) and St Philip Neri (21+).
The Community Groups faced each other in a ‘Mini Olympics’ on the Saturday afternoon. It started with each group singing a ‘chant’ about their Saint, followed by an Amazing Race style obstacle course where various mental and physical tasks were performed in order to receive their next ‘clue’.
The winning community group was St Philip Neri, with the over 21’s experience prevailing over the younger groups. They checked in first at the Mini Olympics, and won the chant challenge, thanks to their parody of Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’.
It would not be a Catholic conference without prayer, and Embrace the Grace 2015 provided those opportunities. The Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation were available on the Friday night as a highlight of the conference and with Mass being held daily.
Praise and worship was led by the ETG band before each session which was headed by Catholic Youth Ministry staff Vincent Haber, and comprised of musicians from various groups and parishes.
Being in prayer with their fellow participants stood out for Mario Garbin and Syona Fernandez, who were both at their first Embrace the Grace. Mr Garbin believes he experienced a lot of joy through the praise and worship.
“I’ve lacked that sense of joy that you can only receive through God for a while now, but going to ETG and worshipping God with all my brothers and sisters help me find that special feeling again,” he said.
“We all participated in the singing and praising as well, which is something that I have always been a bit distant too. By having people of my age there praising and worshiping God, together we emitted a sense of courage which enabled us to express our love for Jesus freely.”
Ms Fernandez explained that the night of adoration made her peaceful and also helped her realise the conference’s theme.
“It was such a serene time of praise in God’s presence. The moment felt untouched by any earthly worries or anxieties, and kneeling in front of the Sacrament I could truly believe that we are all God’s own masterpieces, whom He loves more than we could ever comprehend,” she said.
She also said that Embrace the Grace 2015 will not be her last one.
“ETG 2015 was a beautiful mix of the spiritual, the informative and the fun. The friendships formed felt so instantly comfortable. I was inspired every day by the young women and men who were so faithfully and actively living out the Gospel.”
Ms Hodgson was amazed with the way participants who attended Embrace the Grace for the first time interacted well with those who attended the conference for years. She also said that people are already looking forward to next year’s ETG.
“There was a strong sense of community which came out of Embrace the Grace and the sheer number of new Embrace the Grace participants, many who had attended the inaugural Veritas Youth Festival in July,” she said.
“One only had to step into the dining room at meal times to witness the buzz of over 100 young people in high spirits full of joy and laughter. It was great to see both new attendees and those who have attended Embrace the Grace for many years come together to grow in their faith and build community.”
“A number of young people have already locked in the dates for 2016 (7-11 December) and we look forward to journeying with the attendees throughout the next year.