Monday, April 15, 2024
18.8 C

Meet Sydney’s newest Catholics joining the church this Easter

Most read

Priska Surantono began her five-year journey to Catholicism after hearing a voice while in Mecca. Photo: Supplied/Giovanni Portelli
Priska Surantono began her five-year journey to Catholicism after hearing a voice while in Mecca. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Come to me, you are my child

Priska Surantono’s 5-year journey to Catholicism began in the most unlikely of places—Mecca. In July 2019 she made the Islamic pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, known as Umrah, where adherents come before the Kaaba, a shrine considered the holiest site in Islam, for prayer and worship.

“I hadn’t been entirely connected to God in my time as a Muslim. It had become almost a schedule or routine to do simply because I had to,” she said.

“So, there I kneeled asking him to show me the way. I prayed, ‘‘If this is truly my way, if I do belong here, please strengthen my faith.’

- Advertisement -

“Then I heard a voice saying, ‘Come to me, you are my child.’ And I looked around for who had caught my attention and found no one.

“As I returned home to Indonesia, I kept thinking about these words. In Islam, we never address our relationship with God as one of a father and child, but in Christianity we are all God’s children.

“In that moment I realised I could no longer deny what I was feeling.”

It then took six months for a then 19-year-old Priska to finally have the courage to tell her mother, an Islamic convert at marriage, that she had begun going to Catholic Mass.

Originally raised in a strict Protestant family, her mother questioned why Priska was neither drawn to that denomination of Christianity or the Islamic faith of her childhood.

“I had found a sacred and holy connection with God in the Mass and his presence was like nothing I had ever felt before,” the now 23-year-old Priska remembers.

“I grew fonder of it and knew I wanted to keep this feeling. There was a calling for me to pursue more.”

Knowing that she was moving to Sydney to study at UNSW in Kensington, a quick Google search for catechumen classes led her to the Archdiocese of Sydney’s RCIA—the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.

There she has found the Catholic Indonesian Community in Kensington based out of Our Lady of the Rosary parish.

Priska is one of 267 candidates being baptised and received into the church this Easter season, with the majority being during the Easter Vigils on 30 March at their respective parishes.

Priska said the journey here hasn’t been without its challenges.

Her parents’ divorce at a young age means she has only ever known her mother’s side of the family, whose devotion to Protestant Christianity means they have not entirely approved of Priska’s decisions.

“My uncles and aunties were persistent about a conversion to Protestantism instead. Two of my aunties, priests in their church, tried to tell me it was a much easier process than in Catholicism,” Priska said.

“I said it wasn’t about the easy way. I didn’t want the most comfortable and convenient path—I wanted to go through the process properly until I finally deserve to enter with God.

“I didn’t mind if it meant I was no longer going to be considered part of the family. While they might have had different opinions, the support of my mother and sister was all I needed.

“Though they aren’t entirely supportive of my decision, I think my family and I are ok right now.”

Priska has discovered along the way that that she is more resilient than she thought.

“Even before this conversion, the reason I’m on this journey is because I’ve realised God is there for me and looking out for me, waiting for me to seek him.

“It’s a new start for me. Although I won’t have my weekly catechumen classes anymore, the Catholic community I have now is indispensable.

“I want to keep strengthening my Catholic faith. I still want to make time for and give space in my heart to God.

“I came to church because I needed this, both for my soul and for him. I show up to church for God, not only myself.

“After all this time, I still feel the same way—it hasn’t changed. I still remember how badly I wanted to get to this point at the start, and now I’m here.”

Danny Somers, 45,
Truck driver, Our Lady of Victories Horsley Park

Danny Somers has been brought closer to where he wanted to be. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Danny Somers has been brought closer to where he wanted to be. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

When I married my wife Crystal 15 years ago in the Catholic church I guess it brought me closer to where I wanted to be. I’ve been going to Mass with my family most Sundays and I really wanted to feel more involved with the faith that I already believe inside. My father’s not Catholic and growing up I never went to church much but I’m big on history and was briefed about Scripture. I always felt something, it’s hard to explain but I always had it. As I got older, whenever I went to a wedding or another occasion in a church I always felt a feeling of warmth from being there. There’s so much that’s stressful in life, whether it’s bills to pay or just life in general, you just want things to be humble, to be happy, to be accepted and accept that everyone else has something going on, too. For me, my younger son has autism and seeing how he struggles throughout the day has been a big learning curve for me and my wife and has changed me a lot. It has humbled me and made me realise that life’s good and it’s precious. I’ve liked talking to Fr Dominic and Brian and the others attending the classes each week. Going to Mass gives me a sense of humbleness and happiness and it might sound funny, but it’s also a cheap form of therapy! I’m really looking forward to being baptised and receiving the sacraments on Easter Sunday night. I’m really looking forward to not only going to Mass with my family but really sharing in it with them and going up with them to receive Holy Communion. I’ve learnt so much through the classes on Monday nights and I reckon I’ll keep learning for the rest of my life. It’s taken me a few years to come into the church but here I am today. It’s hard to explain but I get a good feeling from doing this, a lot of positive energy inside, and I know that I’m doing something right.

Renee Chen, 43
Business analyst, St Declan’s Penshurst

I’ve been through Alpha three times at the parish and from the first time I went back in 2021 on the invitation of a friend I felt quite comfortable. I had worried it was going to be a bit ‘too much’ but it was a very casual and relaxed introduction to God and Jesus and an important first step in my journey into the church. It came at a time when I was thinking deeply about what life means for me and what kind of direction I wanted to give my kids for their future. That was also a difficult time. My husband and I were working from home during COVID and then his small business had to shut down, financially that was difficult. My parents were even separated from each other by the shutdowns, one overseas and one here in Australia. I’ve made many connections and friends at the parish and we are starting to build a group for Chinese Catholics there. We share about faith but also just about life in general and I had nothing in my life like this before. I feel I belong to this community and never needed to worry about feeling judged or doing the wrong thing. Our children were baptised last year, they’re seven and 11, and now it’s my turn. Having faith is very important to me. I now feel I am listened to, I am loved, and most importantly I have someone who guides me through life.

Yan Hu, 43
Childcare professional, Our Lady of Fatima Kingsgrove

I came to Australia in 2020 and we had a very happy family but then my eldest daughter left home and cut all ties with us and did not call or message any of us. I was so lost, so very sad and miserable. I tried to seek help and I went to the church. I found that praying there kept me peaceful and I had people I could talk to about God in the RCIA classes.
I kept praying for my daughter and around two or three months later she messaged her sister and then us and we were so overjoyed! But at that time my husband suffered critical heart failure and my daughter came and prayed for him with us, and when he recovered after two weeks she promised to come back home. Now my family is back together just like we were before and I really thank God for that.

Leon Jong,
IT engineer, St Declan’s Penshurst

When I was young I lived in East Timor and I went to St Paul’s Catholic school there. I had the desire to become a Catholic, but because my parents weren’t Catholic, I wasn’t able to convert. I came to Australia at 18 and I perhaps lost track of time as life dragged on, or maybe it was a sign that I just wasn’t ready. Once I became a parent, I found that I needed my kids to have some faith as well, so that set me on my journey. I learnt young that Catholicism is a great path for kids even at face value because it teaches them humility and respect for others and each other. That inspired me deeply to make some changes. Though I had a desire to become Catholic a long time ago, this newfound responsibility triggered me to make the move. Now Jolene, almost four, and Ethan, one-and-a-half, will be baptised with me together on the same day, which is so exciting for my family and me. My brother and my uncle and aunties are also Catholic, so they have been a big help. For me to make this decision, especially with good Catholic friends around me as well, was a very easy one. As an adult, going through RCIA can be long process, and you can get a bit agitated almost at times, eager to become Catholic. But it’s good because it prepares you mentally to go on this journey. Sure, once you’ve decided to become Catholic you want it to be a quick process, but you ultimately need to test your patience so you can learn and understand fully the responsibility you are entering into. Meeting a lot of good people of Catholic faith has been inspiring. Going to the church is like coming home.
I’m looking forward to fully participating in the sacraments. Baptism is just the beginning—I have to carry on living my life as I have promised. But bringing up my kids in the Catholic way of life is something I’m most looking forward to.

Andy Wong, 33,
Finance professional, St Kevin’s Eastwood

This is my girlfriend’s parish and it has been very welcoming from my first visit, with all the Chinese aunties and uncles coming up to say hi and introducing themselves to me. Finding a community that is loving and patient with my level of understanding about the faith has been life-changing for me. I’m coming from the Anglican church and my peers have been helpful in unpacking some of my misconceptions about the Catholic Church. There were so many, it felt like cracking the shell of a hard-boiled egg, peeling it and finding all the layers below. One of the most powerful ones for me was finding out it’s false that Catholics don’t believe Christ’s death and resurrection is sufficient to bring us salvation—that we have to do something to supplement it. I had a moment of feeling God’s presence at a retreat over Christmas and it was a surreal and confronting experience. I had some time alone in Eucharistic Adoration and I felt I had to reflect on the implications of what it means if the Eucharist is indeed the body of Christ. I’m looking forward to purchasing a hard copy of the Catholic bible this Easter and continuing developing my relationship with God and learning more about the Catholic faith and it’s traditions.

Justin Sommers, 20,
University student, All Saint’s Liverpool

I’ve had to follow my own path in a household that was non-religious. Even though I wasn’t raised Catholic, my interest in reading history and politics by the time I was 16 showed me the influence of Catholicism in the world. Over time as my exposure to it grew, I let the faith influence my outlook on life. I began to search for more purpose and meaning to my life and the faith was always there for me. I wanted to get closer to it. I began going to church and practicing as best as I possibly could without the official title of Catholic. But I wanted to find the proper processes. Because of my upbringing the existence of God wasn’t entirely concrete in my mind, and while eventually I became confident in believing in him, it was certainly a challenge I had to work on. Maintaining hope and faith when something might go wrong in my life has been one of the biggest challenges. During those times, I’d often be quick to assume I’m being punished for something or that God wishes to forsake me. As I’ve learnt more and more, I’ve come to appreciate that I am being tested in those times and that God is trusting me with taking on the difficult moments in my life.
A lot of family members and friends voiced disproval about me becoming Catholic, but for the most part they have come to accept my decision.

Those moments were certainly a trial I had to push through. I knew I shouldn’t and didn’t back down. People will say all sorts of things, but I have to remain steady and know that I have the truth. I am the youngest person being baptised in my cohort this Easter, but each of us are on the same journey to Christ. I’m looking forward to receiving Jesus in Holy Communion and making my first confession. I imagine it will be like a weight finally off my shoulders. From here it is about moving forward with Jesus. I would love to have a family one day, to bring up children and give them the childhood I always wanted.

Craig, late 30s,
Finance professional, St Declan’s Penshurst

Renee and I have been married for more than 15 years, but I feel that our relationship has grown even stronger through this experience. I could not have done it without her.
We’ve been encouraging each other and receiving encouragement from others in the parish and so as we’ve pursued a deeper spiritual relationship with God our personal relationships have grown as well. It’s been working both ways. What brings me the most joy is the thought of the magnitude and significance of what we are about to enter into, and the love, hope and new faith that it brings. For example, I’ve never really been able to enter into the religious significance of Easter in the past. This year it has been beautiful to experience the build-up all the way through Lent and be able to really enter into these mysteries in a more meaningful way. I was attracted to the church by seeing the outpouring of love from parishioners to us as individuals and the community as a whole, and their desire to share that love in every possible opportunity. Just seeing and feeling this made me want to know more about what was behind it. We have also been blessed to have some really special individuals supporting us through RCIA, who I cannot thank enough.

Renee, late 30s,
Market researcher, St Declan’s Penshurst

This Easter I feel like I’m finally coming home, after I had long given up hope of finding it.
I grew up in a Christian sect and when I left I explored a few Protestant denominations and dabbled with Buddhist meditation. Most recently I spent a number of years as an atheist, but in the rich tradition of the Church all the things I was looking for years ago finally came together! It all started when we enrolled our eldest child into a Catholic school. I took her to the parish toddler program so that she might become familiar with the school before starting Kindergarten. The kindness and joy of the people in the class was so infectious that over time I became curious enough to give Christianity a second look. One challenge for us is our family, whom we love dearly, but who are still involved with the Christian tradition of my childhood. There are moments when I wish they could share our joy of joining the church and also in seeing our children baptised with us at the Easter vigil.
Going through the RCIA journey together with my husband Craig has been really helpful. We’ve been able to bounce our questions back and forward together. But ultimately we have been privileged to be accompanied by wonderful sponsors and an amazing couple who have been there for all our questions on church teachings and have offered so much support and encouragement. We couldn’t have made it this far without them. St Declan’s community is so full of life it naturally continues to call us closer to the source of all life and in turn one another.

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -