Being a Christian disciple is both a lifetime journey and a daily endeavour. It involves the patient, daily and sacramental walk of faith, a faith that is lived both profoundly and simply. As we see in the scriptures, it requires a willingness to walk with Christ like the sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes did. Because of this, it is a walk that needs accompaniment: the Church, like Mary, is a mother that accompanies her children along the way, protecting and embracing them.
Across the city, university students are preparing to return to campuses. It is here, in the lecture theatres, quadrangles, and libraries, that the Church is called to enter and accompany the young on their journey of Christian discipleship. This accompaniment of disciples demands of the Church, through her ministers and ministries, an outward-looking posture. This is particularly true in the space of university ministry, where the Church is called to step out into the world to be with students as they navigate the challenges of daily life, helping them keep the faith and empowering them to give it away through the gift of evangelisation - equipping them to become missionary disciples and bring the Good News of God's healing and forgiveness to the world.
In a world more connected than ever, the growing expanses of university campuses across the country can be places of increasing isolation. It is intimacy and friendship that our young students desire more than anything else. The Church plays a crucial role in developing campus ministries and programs in which students can feel invested in, cared for, and responded to in such a way that their basic pastoral and human needs are met. The years at university are a pivotal period in a young person's life. Central to successful ministry to university students is the fostering of deep and abiding relationships in an intentional way. People who are honestly searching, whether for answers or just for friends, should feel like they are part of something meaningful. They should feel like someone is investing in them, caring about them, and trying to enrich and empower them. Large events and groups, while valuable, are not enough: what is needed is the creation of environments where students befriend each other, open themselves more deeply to continual inquiry and prayer, and can share life together as a community outside of the celebration of the Sacraments.
Here in Melbourne in the past twelve months we have been blessed with the opening of JPII House. More than a mere event space, JPII House is a home away from home for students. A place where they can return to time and time again, be called into deeper communion with the Lord and each other, receive formation as Christian disciples, and, in turn, go back onto campus and into the world on mission. Our work at JPII House, and on all campuses, strives to awaken within them the call to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind and your neighbour as yourself" (Luke 10:27-28). In the heart of a secular campus, students experience a rich sacramental life, encounter a faith that is relational and personal, and together wrestle with the questions they face and overcome the barriers that exist internally. JPII House is a centre of communion, formation and mission, from which our students are sent forth to share in the evangelising and salvific mission of the Church. As Pope Paul VI said, it should be unthinkable that a person is transformed by Christ and not want to go out and share this Good News with others.
Fr Nicholas Pearce is the Senior Chaplain of Youth, Young Adults and Campus Ministry and Deputy Director of Proclaim: The Office for Mission Renewal in the Archdiocese of Melbourne.