Finding faith against the tide
It’s a difficult time for the Catholic Church.
A time of confronting its own errors and flaws, a time of rebuilding and a time of healing.
But at a time when some Catholics are questioning their faith, questioning their religion, many non-Catholics are still drawn to the Church.
Eighteen year old Georgia Whitaker from Harrison is one of around 50 people in the Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese involved in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program who wish to be baptised Catholic this year.
For Georgia, that represents a significant life change. She comes to Catholicism with a clean slate… no previous religious experience or affiliation.
“No-one in my family is religious,” Georgia explained.
“My dad was a Catholic and practiced when he was growing up but stopped when he was about 18.”
Journeys to faith and religious conversion can come from a range of unsuspecting and intersecting paths. For Georgia, those paths involved being a student at one Catholic School, and the closure of another one.
“When I was in Year 10 at St Francis Xavier College, Mount Carmel in Yass closed down, and so a lot of those kids came to my school,” Georgia said.
“I became friends with them. I wasn’t religious at all, and they were Catholic and I thought they were a little bit weird. But we were friends for a while, and they didn’t really bring up the whole Catholic/not Catholic thing.
“In Year 11, people started inviting me to things like Explosion and stuff and I’d say, `no, not really my thing.’ Then one of my friends ended up dragging me to Mass in Narrabundah. I’d never been to Mass before, except for school Masses which were kind of bland and very long, and this was very different. It was Charismatic and it was really cool.”
Soon after that, Georgia’s friends began inviting her to Church and church-related activities, like youth groups and youth events. As most of her friends lived in Yass and Murrumbateman she mostly attended youth group there and felt that she fitted in nicely, so much so that Yass is where she has chosen to be baptised at Easter this year.
Having become familiar and comfortable attending Mass, her friends then asked her to attend Summer Camp in Bathurst, another significant step for a young women who was still uncertain about her faith.
“Looking back, I think God gave me the courage to go,” Georgia said.
“I didn’t feel very Christian at that point. I still thought it was all a little bit stupid and had my doubts about going to this seven day evangelist camp. But I went, and it was really fun but really amazing.
“At the end of the week, to be honest, I was a bit overwhelmed. It was pretty full-on. But in the weeks to come it settled into me more and really seemed to make a difference. I started going to Mass every week with my friends and it became clearer and clearer that I wanted this. I wanted to be baptised, I wanted to be a Catholic.”
While the Summer School and other evangelical services offered Georgia a heightened, more energised example of Catholic worship, Georgia says her faith is not reliant on large scale, exuberant events.
“In fact, from going to different places and experiencing different things, I’ve realised that I prefer more of a traditional Mass and a traditional environment,” she said.
“And I’m not at all critical of more energetic forms of worship. I find it really great to go to them every now and then and you get this real boost and experience, but for me it’s good to come back and be solid where you’re at.”
For someone to begin to explore their faith from within a family that isn’t religious can be a difficult and confronting process but Georgia said she has had none of that. While her family are adjusting to “new” Georgia, they have been nothing but supportive.
“My parents are both really happy for me. Like, genuinely happy and excited about it,” Georgia said.
“I’ve tried to get them to go to things like Alpha and so on, but they’re not ready for that. Not yet, anyway. My mum’s a bit New Age so she loves the idea of people having their own thing, their own belief system, so she’s excited that I’ve found something.
“With my dad, I think he has this idea, from his own experience, of what Catholicism is. It was enforced and drilled into him as a kid in a conservative Irish-Catholic family in England, which I imagine would have been a lot stricter and not a personal relationship with the faith. But he is very supportive of me in this.”
And what exactly is “this?” For Georgia, it’s a path she hadn’t realised she was looking for… a framework she hadn’t realised she needed… a relationship with God which she realises she had always had but hadn’t been able to see.
“This is the answer for me,” she said confidently.
“It’s not a phase. It’s right inside me and I couldn’t be more confident than I am about becoming Catholic.”