Rita Di Napoli has a passion for sharing her Catholic faith with others by helping to give them an experience of prayer or to reflect on the virtues of the saints.
For years the parishioner and parish secretary at St Patrick’s Church Hill in Sydney’s CBD has been using that approach in her guided tours of the historic site with its heritage buildings and other treasures.
Prior to the pandemic lockdown last year and subsequent restrictions, Rita would regularly take dozens of school students or tourists to view the foundations of William Davis’ 1809 cottage, who donated the land for the church, the old convent chapel, below St Patrick’s to view sandstone rooms built by Archdeacon John McEncroe in 1861, and above into the church itself.
There, she would invite visitors into the stories of the saints whose statues grace the quiet refuge close to the bustle of George Street.
“St Patrick’s is so close to my heart, it is such a special place,” Rita said. “There is so much to tell about the history behind it and why it is here. But instead of focusing on a lot of dry facts and dates I prefer to tell stories of the saints depicted by statues or in the stained glass windows that they may relate to, for example, St Therese of Lisieux and her struggle with temptations against faith and thoughts of suicide towards the end of her life.
“Rather than hope people will remember the name of builders, architects and benefactors, I spend more time explaining for example that archways and vaulted ceilings are there to draw our eyes upwards with the aim of elevating our minds and hearts to God, and I give them some moments to do that themselves if they wish.”
Last year, using photos Rita took with permission in St Patrick’s, St Mary’s Cathedral and St Francis of Assisi’s church in Paddington as well as Orthodox and Anglican churches, the former jewellery designer and manager created an ecumenical range of contemporary saints’ prayer cards to give away to people or leave in churches and St Patrick’s coffee shop. Each card features information about the saint’s life and his or her feast day on one side and a short prayer composed by Rita on the other.
“I thought they would appeal to some of the younger generation who struggle to relate to the older style prayer cards written long ago using such different language to what they use today,” she explained.
She’s not the only person to have found inspiration for a craft in faith. Jenny Spinks, a Catechist Coordinator at St Mel’s Campsie, found inspiration for her own lacemaking workshop through the visit of the relics of St Zelie Martin, mother of St Therese of Lisieux.
Last month Rita launched another initiative, creating and selling soy and beeswax candles online with a range specially devoted to angels and saints. “Despite being an afterthought to go with the prayer cards, it is the candles which are really taking off,” she said. “People are delighted with a complete package that engages the mind, heart, senses and spirit.
“Life is far more busy and stressful than ever, and this is something simple but profound that our Catholic tradition has to offer to everyone – that ritual of lighting a candle and offering a prayer or spending time in quiet reflection.
“If I can encourage anyone to try that who hasn’t done it for a while or at all before, and at the same time pass on some of the richness of our faith than I am very happy.”
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