“I finally get this God stuff!”

As the Australian Catholic Youth Festival 2017 approaches, launching the Year of Youth, Aurora invited ACYF/WYD veteran and Religious Education Co-ordinator at St Patrick’s Primary, Lochinvar, Maryanne Hacker, to share something of her story.

I am the fourth of six children. Growing up in East Maitland, our Catholic faith was a very central part of our lives. We attended church weekly and would often pray as a family. Our family hosted a weekly rosary prayer group which we always participated in, though sometimes reluctantly!

I became quite involved in various ministries (potentially as a way of keeping myself occupied more than from any great calling!) and was always looking for something more to do. My parish priest at the time, Fr Geoff Mulhearn, was very supportive and encouraged me to become involved in a number of initiatives. This support, from Fr Geoff and others, was vital in keeping me involved. I felt isolated in many ways at school as practising your faith was definitely not the norm.

When I was in Year 10 Fr Geoff approached me about attending World Youth Day (WYD) which was being held in Paris. While I had never heard of WYD, as a 15 year-old the idea of travelling to Italy and France was very appealing. Little did I know that WYD would be such a transformative experience! Before WYD my faith was my family’s faith. After WYD, I had a faith that was mine. It was certainly built on the wonderful example I had from my parents and grandparents, but now I had experienced the joy of celebrating my faith and developing a real relationship and connection with Jesus.

My grandmother was a talented and committed primary teacher and her love of teaching, combined with the opportunities I had to lead girls through my involvement in Guides Australia, was what inspired me to want to teach.

When I finished my degree I was lucky enough to gain a position in a Christian school. It was here I began to realise how important it was to me to have the opportunity to share my Catholic faith. In a Christian school there were plenty of opportunities for me to share my faith, but I always felt that there was something missing and that I could share more. So I pursued roles in Catholic education.

There are far more opportunities available for young people today − it’s almost a case of being spoilt for choice. I think that’s why our ways of connecting with young people need to change. Once, a pizza and movie night fulfilled people’s need to be connected. Now there are so many more ways to be connected, we need to be more creative about how we present our point of difference as church.

I also think you can’t discount the impact of the sexual abuse crisis and the Royal Commission on young people − although there is an opportunity to learn from our mistakes and to be proactive in safeguarding those who are vulnerable.

My involvement in diocesan youth ministry began when I returned from WYD with a passion for my faith and a need to share it with others. I became a representative on the diocesan Youth Commission and I’ve been involved, one way or another, ever since!

I worked part time as the Diocesan Youth Ministry Co-ordinator in my final years of university.

Not long after having my first child I was appointed to the Australian Catholic Youth Council, on which I served for six years.

After spending 12 months in Brisbane I returned to the diocese at the beginning of 2012 and was invited to join a group who had returned from WYD Madrid with a passion for diocesan youth ministry. We worked together to reignite a diocesan approach, leading to the establishment of the Diocesan Council for Ministry with Young People (DCMYP).

Being privileged to share people’s moments of transformation is a huge highlight. At the ACYF in Adelaide a student from my school turned to me and said with such a joyous look on her face, “I finally get this God stuff!” Moments like those make the time and effort worth it.

At the same time, it’s almost impossible to explain the ‘mountain top’ experiences that are WYD and ACYF. They give young people a chance to live their faith in a vibrant, energetic way that makes it real. There is something for everyone and you would be hard pressed to come home not having connected in some way.

Young people considering going to ACYF in Sydney this year can expect to step outside their comfort zones and explore new horizons! ACYF is a chance to explore, ask questions and experience what being a part of our Church can be.

I’ve taken away so many things from WYDs and ACYF − friendships, a sense of community, challenging teaching and engaging worship. One of the most significant would be the sense that you are part of something bigger that you can imagine − and that has challenged me to be something more than I think I can be.

The best ways for parishes and families to support young people is firstly to encourage them to go! Plant the seed and encourage it to grow. Secondly, financial support is always needed.

People ask if I would like my husband Andrew and my boys, Dominic and Liam, to come to WYD with me sometime. Maybe, when the boys are old enough − but maybe they wouldn’t want their Mum hanging around! I’m involved to ensure that my children and others have the opportunity to connect with their faith the same way other people gave me the opportunity to connect with mine.

I’m looking forward to the Year of Youth next year because it’s a chance for everyone in our community to revisit the impact we can have on each other.

Young people are the future of the Church but also a vital part of the Church of the present. In some ways there is an ‘us and them’ mentality in the Church.  In Pope Francis’ message for WYD 2017 he talked about how “extraordinarily enriching the encounter between the young and the elderly can be”. He said that young people’s hearts are full of great dreams and that they want to ‘soar’ but to do so effectively, they need the wisdom and the vision of those who are older. “…to build a meaningful future, you need to know and appreciate the past. Young people have strength, while the elderly have memory and wisdom.”

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Maryanne Hacker Image
Maryanne Hacker

Maryanne Hacker is the secretary of the Diocesan Council for Ministry with Young People, and the Maitland-Newcastle representative member of the Australian Network of Diocesan Youth Ministry Co-ordinators.

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