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New Catholic Jesse Smith celebrates first communion at Easter Vigil

Parish friends with new Catholic Jesse Smith

Friends in faith: Banyo Nundah parish priest Fr Bernie Gallagher (centre) with new Catholic Jesse Smith (beside him) and supporters on Palm Sunday.

Pope Francis would be pleased with Jesse Smith.

Encouraging pilgrims in St Peter’s Square, Rome, and audiences worldwide to consider the importance placed on messages from the Word of God, our Holy Father would be pleased that Jesse’s Bible is almost falling apart.

“What would happen if we turned around … if you forget your cellphone (mobile phone)?” Pope Francis said in early March.

“(And you’d say) Oh no, I don’t have it, I’ll go back and find it?

“What if we read the message of God contained in the Bible the way we read messages on our cellphones?”

Jesse, a 21-year-old who was baptised and confirmed, and received the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ for the first time on Easter Saturday, has “read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation”.

And Jesse was quick to add “including the Deuterocanonical and Apocrypha books”.

“I’ve read the Bible, not to gloss over it, but really consider it,” the Banyo Nundah parishioner said.

“The spine of my Bible is falling apart from it being opened and closed so much.”

Searching for greater meaning in life and to understand more about religion, Jesse’s first encounter with Christianity was in a northside state primary school.

He remembered catechists explaining the story of King David, from the Old Testament, young Jesse’s ears pricked when learning he shared the same name as the ruler’s father.

Growing up “in a non-religious Anglo-Saxon, Australian family”, the eldest of nine children said he was given the name because his parents wanted him to “grow up to be a rock star”.

Interestingly, the Bible in question derives from Jesse’s high school attendance at St Joseph’s College, Nudgee, on Brisbane’s northside.

“I only started learning about Christianity in high school,” he said.

“I was invited by my best friend to attend his high school’s Christian youth group, mostly Protestant and run by their chaplain.

“I attended the youth group weekly and went to many Scripture Union Camps.”

Asked how he felt about immersion in the Catholic school environment Jesse said he didn’t feel uncomfortable and remembered “saying a Hail Mary at the beginning of classes”.

A Study of Religion class in Year 11 sparked an interest in Judaism, so much so his heart was moved.

“That was when I started to open my heart up to the Lord,” Jesse said.

“Looking at the traditions behind Judaism, I felt that I really wanted to serve the Lord.

“I studied and read up on as much Jewish knowledge and wisdom as I could, before undertaking the task of reading the Bible.”

Jesse said “it took about six months” to read the Bible and uncover “hidden gems”.

Within the New Testament he said he came to appreciate the Gospel of St Matthew because “it helped bridge the understanding of Judaism to Christianity”.

Beyond high school however Jesse said he “struggled with how to best serve the Lord”.

He’d arrived at a crossroads.

“It was through much prayer and an unwillingness to give up on Jesus that I chose Christianity over Judaism,” Jesse said.

“I then attended a few different Baptist churches … (but) it never truly felt right.

“I asked lots of questions and they could never really answer them.”

Google assisted as Jesse sought the Mass times of the nearest Catholic church, Corpus Christi, Nundah.

“The parish was, coincidently or by God’s will, having a Youth Mass that day and I was lucky enough to meet the leaders of the young adults group,” he said.

“It was through this group and its foundation on Jesus, prayer, community and family that I was able to become the strongest I have been in my faith.”

Jesse said he had a “longing to grow even closer to Christ” and the decision to prepare for the sacraments evolved.

Leaders of The Voice Youth Group took him “under their wing”, they said, and the quietly spoken young man was relieved to have questions answered through weekly sessions over the last year.

The group specifically focused on the sacraments of the Church and Jesse’s faith benefitted from one-on-one sessions with his sponsor and godparent in recent months.

“Jesse has shown me how much power God has when He calls His children into His Church,” Jesse’s sponsor said.

“His eagerness to learn about the faith has underscored the importance I should place on getting to know the faith.”

Young adult leader Joans Thetadig said it was powerful for the group to realise that Jesse’s search for meaning in the Bible brought him to the sacraments.

She encouraged their newest member to “never be afraid to open his entire heart to Christ every day”.

Chris Greathead, too, was positively influenced by Jesse’s seeking.

“From witnessing Jesse’s journey to Catholicism I’ve learned the importance of taking faith into your own hands,” Chris said.

“He’s done that and I’m glad, through research, Jesse ended up at the universal Church.

“It shows that despite the obvious failings of our Church, there is a prevailing truth that you can’t ignore.

“It’s great to have another young Catholic onside.”

With prayer at the helm of his preparations for the Easter Vigil in Corpus Christi Church, Jesse said his ongoing journey was one of staying connected to the parish and the peer group he had come to value so deeply.

“I’m happy and excited for the gift God has given me, to be able to join this Catholic family,” he said.

“I’ll continue to be involved in my parish and building relationships with the other young adults.”

The childcare worker is also discerning the ministry of acolyte and looks forward to “maybe one day starting a Catholic family”.

Jesse encouraged other young people to continue searching for meaning in life, particularly among like-minded peers.

“I think it’s important to have fellowship with other Christians because if you’re by yourself, you can’t question as much as you might like to,” he said.

“Among others you can swap ideas and explore faith better.

“I’ve found it invaluable to be among a strong Catholic youth group on my journey of faith.”

And will Jesse receive a new Bible at Easter or beyond?

Unsure, the new Catholic said he was quite content “with the old one”.

By Selina Venier

Written by: The Catholic Leader

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