On 28 October, the Australian Catholic University (ACU) Melbourne campus will host a conference that is the first of its kind here in Melbourne: the 2023 Benedict Conference. This inaugural event will bring together international and local speakers to explore the life and legacy of Pope Benedict XVI (otherwise known as Joseph Ratzinger), building its conversations around the themes of truth, goodness and beauty.

Drawing from the thought of Benedict, keynote speakers and local panellists will unpack what hope a Church of faith can offer to a world that is restlessly searching—or as Ratzinger put it in a 1969 radio address, how the Church can offer ‘an answer for which they have always been searching in secret’.

Some major international speakers will join the conference by livestream to offer their keynote addresses.

Bishop Robert Barron of the Diocese of Winona–Rochester in the United States, and founder of Word on Fire Ministries, will begin the conference in conversation with Melbourne’s Professor Tracey Rowland, Catholic theologian and winner of the Ratzinger Prize for Theology. Both are passionate about the thought of Pope Benedict XVI and will together explore his significance for people today.

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Bishop Robert Barron. (Photo supplied.)

Among the other international speakers joining via livestream will be American theologian Dr Larry Chapp and Jason Evert. The conference will also feature several panels of local speakers to help participants unpack the key topics.

Fr Dean Mathieson is the event’s main architect, and he says the idea for the conference came around the time of Benedict’s death on 31 December 2022. He wanted something that would tackle major issues we are facing today by drawing on the thought of Benedict, whom he describes as ‘one of the greatest minds the Church has ever known’.

‘Benedict had an extraordinary ability to articulate profound truths in an accessible way,’ Fr Dean says. ‘He had an ability to put into words those things we know but struggle to explain ourselves.’

The Benedict Conference will also have a special significance for Melbourne, Fr Dean believes. ‘Recognising what Melbourne has gone through in the last few years, especially with all the lockdowns, it has been observed that there is still a sense of isolation amongst communities and individuals,’ he explains.

Some of the objectives of the conference and other related initiatives going forward are to provide an opportunity for people to reconnect with each other in person, share the good things that are happening in the Church and listen to experts from various fields discuss some important issues.

‘Through even the planning and organising of the conference, there has been an opportunity to connect people and offer encouragement,’ he says.

‘I would hope that the conference will play a part in reminding us that the Church has answers for a confused world, and hope for the faithful who are striving to navigate the confusion of our times.’

The Benedict Conference will be the first conference in Australia to bring together experts and specialists on Benedict to explore his life and legacy. It will also be an opportunity for people to encounter the rich intellectual tradition of the Church and be nourished by the truth, goodness and beauty of the Catholic faith.

For Pope Benedict XVI, the human search was always a search for these three things. As he said in 2008 to Australian young people:

Dear friends, life is not governed by chance; it is not random … It is a search for the true, the good and the beautiful. It is to this end that we make our choices; it is for this that we exercise our freedom; it in this—in truth, in goodness, and in beauty—that we find happiness and joy.

During the conference, a number of other initiatives will be announced that are designed to carry these themes forward into the life of the Church and our city.

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For tickets, please visit www.benedictconference.com/tickets.