Faith on Fire: A Focus on the 2023 DR Australasia Conference

2023 DR Conference (Photos by Alejandro Fdez.-Cotta Andrade)

"I was blown away by this one. I have been feeling hopeful and glimmers of light for the Catholic Church. I now feel very hopeful and on fire. I'm 76."

Jacqueline Marie | July 11, 2023

Whether in the midst of prayer, adoration, or praise, the power of the Holy Spirit was a constant theme for participants throughout the 2023 DR Australasia Conference.

In partnership with the Archdiocese of Sydney, the conference was hosted by St. Declan’s Parish in Penshurst, Australia. The event had over 500 participants from across the Australia and New Zealand with priests composing 17% of attendees. The 3-day long conference included keynotes from Father James Mallon, Father Chris Ryan (MGL), and Father Simon Lobo (CC), as well as breakout sessions with topics ranging from “Preaching on Purpose,” to “Practical Evangelization” and “The 3Hs: Hymns, Hospitality and Homilies.”

Cheryl Surrey, DR Relationship Guide (NZ), says there is such a need for in-person events like this on the journey of parish renewal. What stood out to her from the conference “was this overarching joy that everybody had.”

“There are truly sparks flying when we get together in-person.”


Conference attendees connecting before a session in Penshurst

The conference started with a priest-only session led by Father James Mallon. During the hymn Here I am Lord, DR staff member Anushka Peiris recalls standing in the back watching. “I just had such a grateful heart in that moment for all our priests.” Cheryl agrees, “Looking around at these sparkling wet eyes looking back at you… you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife, it was so beautiful.”

“I had an awareness that there is an amazing ground swell of people willing to listen to the Holy Spirit and change the church and people.”  

Father Simon Lobo at Eucharistic Adoration

Kevin Bailey, Executive Director of DR Australasia, said a real highlight the following day was the time of Eucharistic adoration. The whole team recalls it being a holy moment, “beautiful” with “very, very, deep prayerfulness.” Following adoration, confession was available, and people came in the hundreds. Even with nine priests serving at a time, confessions ran right through lunch. Tomasz Juszczak, DR staff member from New South Wales adds, “A lot of people stayed in the hall, not just to go to confession, but to pray.”

Anchoring the whole conference, the Sisters of Mary Morning Star came from Brisbane to pray and be in adoration during the entirety of the three days. They told the DR team that they are used to seeing women come and weep in adoration chapel, but it was moving for them to also see grown men crying at this conference as God worked in their hearts.

“It was quite tangible…you could feel the power of their prayers in that space,” Kevin says. People were hugging them and thanking them, but the sisters were determined to express their own gratitude instead. For the sisters, witnessing the parish renewal they have been praying for, was a gift.

"I learnt a lot for my mission: how to improve on my homily, effective communication, and evangelization. "

In the final session, the Spirit continued to move hearts. One attendee said it “was so moving I was actually shaking and sobbing…I could feel the Holy Spirit.” Bishop Michael Gielen concluded the conference with a homily and commission, after which Cheryl lead a prayer over the priests present. 

Parish leaders praying for priests.

She asked the priests to come to the front and invited the laity to pray over both the priests in the room and their own parish priests at home. It was a scene of priests and laity silently weeping, visibly moved by the manifestation of the Spirit moving in the space.

As one attendee put it: “A highlight from the last day was praying for our priests. I felt that the whole conference really honoured them and struck the right note of co-responsibility – no one was let off the hook! I felt humbled to be able to pray for them, and it deepened my love for our priests.”

The Divine Renovation team with Fr. James Mallon, Fr. Simon Lobo, and Fr. Chris Ryan.

Immediately after the conference, the fruit from what the Spirit was doing was already evident. A parishioner whose priest attended the conference emailed the DR team. She wrote how her priest Fr. Brendan, had led parishioners in praying for one another during Mass: “that’s one of the best Masses I have been to.” Fr Brendan wrote back explaining that he had felt an urging in his heart to lead his parishioners in praying for each other, but two Masses went by before he got the courage: “I felt I need to trust the Holy Spirit and all will be well.” In this moment, the fruit from the conference was already beginning to flow down into individual parishes and parishioners.

God is at work in this region and in the Church – in the aftermath since the conference, more stories are coming out that show that the good thing God has begun, He will see to fruition (Philippians 1:6).