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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Juventutem Interview: Dr Chris Steward

(Interview by Mr Michael Sternbeck with Dr Chris Steward, President of Juventutem Australia Inc)

Q. What was involved in organising the Juventutem programme for WYD 2008?

Dr Steward: Well, the process was fairly complex and arduous, stretching over nearly three years, and involved working closely with the WYD committee in Sydney, the Days in the Dioceses (DID) committee in Melbourne, as well as the Extraordinary Form (EF) communities around Australia. There were really three key aspects though through which everything else pivoted.

Firstly, it was important to try and assemble a team of young people who were willing to give up a considerable portion of their spare time for a duration of perhaps two years – that’s not easy, as many of the young are in unstable situations themselves with work, home, and study. In the end, the small team that coalesced together worked very well, and were ably supported by a very experienced music subcommittee and the tireless efforts of some clergy in Sydney such as Fr Terence Naughtin OFM and Fr Michael McCaffrey FSSP.

Secondly, we needed to ensure there was an adequate financial base to not only undertake the preparations beforehand, but also to cover all the expenses of the events themselves. This involved widespread promotion (on the web, locally, mailouts, flyers, talks etc) as well as seeking out beneficiaries both within and outside the Catholic community. We organised a number of fundraisers over the last few years, and were fortunate to obtain financial support from groups such as the Ecclesia Dei Society of Australia, the Institute of Christ the King, as well as some very generous private donors. Our other main source of income though had to derive from Juventutem registrations, otherwise the events themselves could never have been held – some people did question the need for a Juventutem registration fee, but I hope they can understand the considerable number of expenses involved in staging an event like this. We certainly made no profit from this.

Finally, semper paratus – we knew we needed to start early – we began only a few months after WYD 2005 finished in Germany and it was literally a day-to-day job from then on. Our website was up over two years before WYD 2008 and through it we could not only promote ourselves, but also gain feedback from pilgrims on what they would like to see in the programme. We approached all our prelates over a year before WYD 2008 to maximize our chances of securing them, and just tried to work at a steady pace and stay on top of things as much as we could – although it definitely wasn’t smooth sailing all the way, often encountering significant resistance, and occasionally feeling we were stumbling along in the dark, but I think all that early preparatory work really did pay off in the end.

Q. Were you pleased with the eventual programme?

Dr Steward: Very much so. The programme went through several different versions stretching back to early 2007. We were mindful of not wanting to overload each day for the pilgrims – after all, Juventutem was only one of 2000+ groups at WYD, many of whom had excellent events themselves, so it was important to allow time for pilgrims to explore these other activities. On one particular day, Wednesday July 16, we did have a very full programme stretching from morning till evening, but this was unavoidable in order to accommodate the busy schedules of the Cardinals involved. Our programme was in fact the only one from any WYD group involving both the Archbishops of Melbourne and Sydney (there were three Bishops, three Cardinals, and one Archbishop in the Juventutem programme). Such support for the EF from our key prelates in Australia was very encouraging to see – we really did feel in medio Ecclesiae at Juventutem 2008 and it was important that everyone saw that.

Q. What do you think of those traditional groups or individuals who chose not to attend or support WYD 2008?

Dr Steward: This was very disappointing to see - WYD is a Papal Mandate and that should really be enough for any Catholic. Juventutem Australia made a very deliberate decision early on not to divert any time and energy debating these issues with those opposed to WYD – it would only serve as a distraction to the organisation of our programme. We conducted a two year survey from late 2005 on our website and obtained very positive responses from hundreds of young people from all over the world – one only has to read their moving comments to see the need and importance of having the EF liturgy at WYD. Australia had never seen anything like this before, with the liturgy receiving so much positive exposure in the wider media and public - in hindsight now, the outstanding success of WYD 2008 makes any such reservations from these groups or individuals look quite misplaced.

Q. Were you happy with the overall numbers attending Juventutem events?

Dr Steward: Yes, we were thrilled with them. The liturgies in Sydney at St Augustine’s were packed out (especially Solemn Vespers with Card Pell), and there were many visitors and clergy from other groups in attendances as well as people from the local area. So, the officially registered Juventutem pilgrims only made up a fraction of the congregation each day – if however, showcasing the EF liturgy to our own pilgrims was all we managed to do, we’d really be missing the mark – our Mission Statement made it clear that we make it a priority to use WYD 2008 to introduce the EF liturgy to others - and so we did. On the flip side, we were very surprised at the low numbers of pilgrims from Europe, and especially the UK - when there are 4 pilgrims from Kenya, and none from the UK, Germany or Spain you realise there is something clearly wrong here. The contribution from the Juventutem groups from Kenya and Hong Kong was really a highlight for all of us. I’d also like to single out the marvelous work of Indira Sweeny, the USA Juventutem contact, in organising the their chapter, including the 4 sisters from the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church who were such a big hit with everyone over the fortnight.

Q. Will Juventutem Australia have any presence at Madrid in 2011 and do you have any suggestions for those organizing that?

Dr Steward: No, not as such. I’m sure there will be Australian pilgrims there attending the programme provided by the Spanish Juventutem group, and if necessary, we’ll be more than happy to offer any advice to them in the interim. We feel that anyone organising the Juventutem chapter at WYD should focus mainly on the liturgical aspects of their programme - a first class schedule of liturgies/music will always form the apex of any Juventutem programme and stand on its own merits. Any other planned events such as catechesis, doctrinal talks or workshops are really very much secondary to this. In our case, we never envisaged Juventutem 2008 as a camp or retreat for traditional Catholics – this would’ve involved further expenses, greater organisation and only detracted from our efforts to offer the best liturgical programme possible. WYD is an unparalleled opportunity for unifying Catholics and really not the place for such approaches anyway. A sensible balance is needed here to give pilgrims plenty of time to attend their own events as well as events from other groups, but whatever balance is struck, Juventutem must always strive to be fully integrated into WYD, and never run as a parallel programme – we are living in a post Motu Proprio world and this is the only future direction possible.

Q. What then is the future of Juventutem Australia?

Dr Steward: Formally, Juventutem Australia as a incorporated entity will be dissolved soon. It is up to the young Catholics in this country if they wish this concept to continue and in what form. I think its important that not only a clear vision and clear goals exist on paper, but that events/projects are planned and take place - rather than just using the guise of a group as an excuse to meet up for discussions and afternoon tea. The events that took place in Melbourne and Sydney in July didn’t happen by magic – they took an incredible amount of hard work over years from a small number of volunteers who are already fully engaged with professional careers, study and family commitments –they rely solely on the loyalty, and long-term sacrifice of such people– it might seem too great a challenge at times, but there are always ample rewards and graces from being involved in something like this. We also feel valuable work in promoting the EF liturgy can be achieved without necessarily acting under the Juventutem banner – for example, we have a number of possible missionary projects next year that will involve some key people involved with Juventutem Australia. So, the work will go on - there’s always plenty to do and even more that needs done.