This year’s Hearts Aflame (Fides et Scientia) had one of the biggest attendances in the annual summer school’s history.
The setting was Nga Tawa Diocesan School in Marton from January 1-10.
Into its twenty-ninth year, 2021 was the first-time registrations closed 3 months out from the event, after reaching the 120 capacity. If the number of those who miss out increases over the next couple of years, then the leadership team will consider another, bigger venue, so no one is excluded.
“Nga Tawa suits our needs, and we would be hard pressed to find any other boarding facility that works as well for us. We would have to really think and pray hard about going bigger, a bigger school can change the culture we like to keep Hearts Aflame small and friendly.” said Jemma Brunton, director of Hearts Aflame.
The summer school is run on the smell of an oily rag and, with no permanent funding from the Catholic Church, it relies on individual people who believe in this deepening of faith experience, to financially contribute to make up the shortfall.
Geared for 18-35-year-olds, “Hearts” – as it is affectionally called – is about entering into a time of formation in Catholic theology, philosophy and spirituality, within a rhythm of daily Mass and prayers of the Church. Led by a gifted pastoral team, there is also space for leisure and fun activities.
A special highlight was Auckland Auxiliary Bishop Michael Gielen celebrating Masses on January 6 and 7, and leading an evening session titled “Living Fully Alive in Christ”.
“In the night session, he asked participants to ask God for a courageous vision for their lives, to identify the dream God has given them and to boldly choose to take steps to bring that dream to life,” Miss Brunton said.
The leadership team, made up of 11 from throughout New Zealand with Fr John Adams of Christchurch as chaplain, continually communicate throughout the year to pray and to especially discern the subject topics that need to be introduced. This year, they chose as the theme Rejoicing in the Cross. Salvifici Doloris isan apostolic letter on the Christian meaning of human suffering by St John Paul II, and was the document that underpinned the theme.
The Covid-19 pandemic did pose a challenge for the planning team and meant that a decision had to be taken whether to cancel this year or not. The pros and cons of doing Hearts Aflame virtually was considered, should there be a lockdown at the time.
“In our prayer, we got a strong sense that everything was going to be okay. Interestingly the name of the parish church where the team had their final planning weekend is called St Roch,” said Miss Brunton.
St Roch, who was born in 1295 in France with a sign of the cross on his chest, performed miracles of healing during the black death plague by making the sign of the cross over them.
In the nine-day countdown to Hearts Aflame, the leaders and other hearts aflame supporters each fronted a novena prayer to St Roch through their facebook page.
Lecture topics at the 2021 Hearts Aflame were broad, offering the richness of Catholic faith by experts in their fields. Among the topics were Maria Pais’s lecture on the Theology of the Body, “You are what you watch” by Brendan Malone, “The Gospel of suffering” by Sr Maria Singer LSP, “The Saints who toiled from place to place” by Fr Pat Breeze, SM, “Catholicism 101” by Fr Benedict D’Souza, SM, “Made for love” by Jennifer and Tim Goulding, and “Introduction to Canon Law” by Fr Marcus Francis, to name a few.
Feedback from participants was positive.
“Being surrounded by holy and devout young people and religious who strive to truly live the Gospel of Christ was special,” said first-timer Catharina Lee, from Wellington.
“I’ve never been to a place with people who are more alive in the Catholic faith, and more on fire and to see God touch more and more people’s lives in New Zealand. We learn so much and the friendships are life long,” said second-timer Anna Rayner, also from Wellington.
Gino Tapia, another Wellingtonian, said: “Hearts has been a great opportunity to escape from our busy everyday lives, and to get closer to God and experience his great love in many forms”.
Seth Sison, also from the capital, said, “Hearts is a wonderful place to meet faithful Catholics from all over New Zealand. The priests are extremely knowledgeable regarding the faith, and there is a strong sense of community”.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed Hearts Aflame 2021 as it has allowed me to connect with other faithful youth,” said Azhure Durston from Napier
Asked if they plan to return next year, the answer was quick “Yes”.