I was born here in Newcastle, the fourth of five children. My Tongan mother and Italian father, who lived in Mayfield in the late 60s, used to welcome other families into their home; helping them to get established here in beautiful Newcastle; this land of great oppourtunity.
I grew up in a large extended family with many cousins. Family prayer was a constant ritual, no matter whose home I was in. Usually we prayed a decade of the rosary. We learnt to turn to God in times of need. Sunday Mass was essential.
In my family I came to know that faith is grounded in a personal encounter with Christ. My aunt and my mother used to share the stories of their personal faith journeys and they encouraged us to explore faith in Jesus more deeply.
I recall one poignant moment when my aunt prayed with me, sharing a line from one of my favourite hymns. ‘Call me your father and know I am near; I will be father to you.’
That one simple line changed my life. All of a sudden I believed, with every fibre of my being, that God was real. It was like going from 2D to 3D; from black and white to colour.
I was not an afterthought or a mere number. I believed that God who created the universe, loved me personally as a compassionate father, and that he was calling me into a deeper relationship through Jesus. I felt secure, loved and whole. I felt a deep sense of belonging to not just my family, but the Holy Family.
God became a priority in my life. I committed to a weekly charismatic prayer group where I learnt that discipleship was not just about worship on Sunday but that it was a way of life. I experienced different forms of prayer, praise and worship, meditating on scripture and outreach. In this varied prayer I deepened my relationship with Jesus and learnt that faith and everyday life were integrated.
My personal relationship with Jesus gave me a new lens to experience church. Mass was no longer something to tick off on a Sunday or an obligation, but a profound way of connecting with God, the community and the universal church. I experienced the words we hear and speak, the hymns we sing and the Eucharist we consume, connecting us in the most intimate way. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, I was now meaning the words that we were speaking, and giving God permission to heal and transform me from the inside out; so that I could grow into who God created me to be, a missionary disciple.
I have been blessed to have ministered in four different dioceses in Australia, supporting ministry with young people. Now I find myself at home where it all began and where my heart always wished to be. I truly believe that together we can be more intentional about ensuring that our worship and prayer are meaningful and relevant experiences, that empower and shape us to build the kingdom of God together. We must do this for the sake of future generations, and our world which is so in need of a renewal in peace, hope and love.
Mary-Anne de Luca is a Mission and Outreach Support Officer within the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese.