An article I wrote earlier this year on ‘Set Free Conference 2011’, hosted by the Diocese of Hamilton. It is currently circulated in NZ and around the Pacific in the ‘Marist Messenger’.
“On Thursday April 14 one of the Catholic Discipleship College’s students, Matt Gibson and I headed south to Totara Springs Matamata NZ to attend “Set Free 2011” Conference as group leaders. It is an annual conference hosted by the Hamilton Diocese for young people Year 10-13 (aged 14-18)
by Joe Moeono-Kolio
They come from around the country to encounter Christ, at a potentially life-changing weekend of prayer, praise & worship, workshops and inspirational guest speakers. In a sense, Matt and I were forever changed also, as we were presented with the opportunity to not only lead these youngsters on their walk with Christ, but in doing so we encountered Christ ourselves, who ministered to us as we ministered to these young people.
It was nothing short of incredible to see the power of God at work while we were there – seeing these young people, bringing all their pains, their brokenness, their fears and failures, and laying them down at the foot of the cross. I have been to conferences before, many on a much larger scale, but never had experienced anything like this. As we ministered to and prayed over these Catholic youth, we felt a strong presence there with us, and I was reminded of Christ’s love for the “little ones”, and how much more his mercies would be on them as they brought their pains to Him.
The event started off with inspirational Praise & Worship led by Emmanuel Worship Band from Brisbane, Australia, and the roof seemingly lifted off the building with praise! Afterwards, we were fortunate to have a renowned speaker, worship leader and Catholic-convert Chris Padgettfrom the USA who, after leading the crowd in his own rendition of action song ‘YMCA’, spoke to the hearts of all who were present, preaching from the Word of God in his own hilarious and very unique way. This quirky character continued to do so over the next few days, his talks getting deeper and more profound, challenging all that were present to remove the things that were keeping them from walking with Christ and from living in grace.
Throughout the conference, we saw many youngsters who had arrived initially hesitant and really only there for fun, genuinely grow in their faith and in their understanding of their faith. It was a powerful experience for us as leaders, and somewhat humbling to think that the Lord had chosen us to be his hands and feet, and his mouthpiece to these his youngest sons and daughters.
On Saturday night however, things shifted to an entirely different level. The deep, challenging message from Chris, reached into the hearts of all who were there, as he talked about brokenness and of Christ’s healing love. Stationed all around the venue were prayer teams, Matt and I were one of them, for those who needed healing and prayers. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life – to see these youngsters coming and asking for prayer, praying with them, feeling the blanket of love that wrapped around us as we prayed for healing.
Feeling the blanket of love that wrapped around us we prayed for healing.
Near each Prayer Station, a priest would sit ready for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and what started as a small trickle led to a flood of people who lined up to go to confession. I was told later that many of them had either never been or hadn’t been in years to the sacrament.
Afterwards, the Blessed Sacrament was brought out and placed on the altar, and through the intense period of prayer, music and adoration, we began to see Christ’s healing at work as streams of teenagers headed to the front and knelt before the altar, committing all that they had been through and brought with them to Christ, re-committing their lives to him and in doing so, were set free. It was a special night, and both Matt and I felt a strong conviction and reassurance that we were exactly where God wanted us to be.
On the final day of Set Free, we were joined by Bishop Denis Browne †who celebrated our Palm Sunday Mass, together with Fr. Mike Geelan. The Mass was absolutely beautiful, and a fitting end to what had been freeing and enlightening for all who were there. It’s hard to adequately describe it – but to see so many young people respond to Christ in the way that they did, one cannot help but be humbled and moved. To see them being led by their peers, the group leaders, gave me a lot of hope in the future of the Church, here in Aotearoa and in the world. I am reminded by Blessed Pope John Paul II that this is our calling as young Christians, to be as Christ said – “light unto the world”. As this article is penned, one cannot help but ponder what is next for the youth of Aotearoa. Do we build on these events, or leave them to be one-off memories? How do we respond to this new era of evangelization?
For all of us who were there, the answer is already clear. It is, in the spirit of our most holy mother Mary, a resounding ‘YES!’ fuelled by the burning desire to see Christ glorified among the young people of this nation and of the world, those of us who were at ‘Set Free 2011’ will continue to build, reaching out to young people who search for truth and fulfilment in their lives, and show them that Christ is the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life.’ What will you do? How will you respond to Christ’s call?