SEVERAL years ago the band Redgum wrote the popular song I was only 19.
It was the tale of a young Vietnam war soldier caught in a trial-by-fire scenario, whereby his decision-making had to be instant and a lifetime was affected thereafter.
This same quicksilver thinking applied in Fr Dan Benedetti’s case, although fortunately his “crucible” moment was more akin to the return of a prodigal son than being scarred in battle.
Fr Benedetti will be in Brisbane in July as a presenter at Pray 2010.
In 1991, he began studying computer science at university in Melbourne and soon got caught up in the fast-paced student lifestyle.
“It was a real case of country boy goes to the city, sees all the lights and starts to lose his faith a little bit,” Fr Dan said.
“This was a big change as I’d grown up being an altar boy, going to Mass every Sunday, mainly to our local Italian Mass in Wangaratta.
“Fortunately it wasn’t long before I met with a group of very energetic young Catholics who brought me back to the practise of the faith.
“I spent the rest of that year, 1991, discerning with the Missionaries of God’s Love (MGL), who had a seminary house there in Melbourne, and I joined the following year. I wasn’t quite 19.”
The MGLs are an Australian order with a charism for evangelisation of and with young people.
Their founder Fr Ken Barker (also a presenter at Pray 2010) describes them as being contemplatives in action.
“As part of the new evangelisation the MGLs are trying to find new ways to present the Gospel message to the young people of today,” Fr Dan said.
“We are also strongly committed to doing that cross-culturally, hence we have our indigenous mission in Darwin, a parish and ministries in Manila in the Philippines, as well as the work we do throughout south-east Asia and PNG through charismatic and youth groups.”
Fr Dan is based in Darwin, which involves him helping out with youth ministry, assisting the Darwin diocesan youth ministry as well as being part of the Catholic Aboriginal community of St Martin de Porres.
“As a result my days can be incredibly diverse, between spending time with our indigenous ministries, visiting the Catholic high schools, post-high school youth ministry or spending time in the youth detention centre or Berrimah prison.”
He does miss his big family, being the youngest of five children, yet the remoteness of the top end is not something that deters him.
“I am a bush boy at heart, and I love the countryside,” he said.
“My parents come from the Dolomites and the Tyrol area of Italy, which are very mountainous sort of places, so it’s in my blood to love the outdoors.
“I’ve lived in the cities a lot, mainly Melbourne and Canberra, but I really do have a love for the Lord’s expression of himself in nature.
“Up here there is a bit of freedom, as well as the mix of contrasting beauty.
“Part of our ministry is to get around the diocese of Darwin, which goes 1500 kilometres south from Darwin to Alice Springs so it covers the beauty of the tropics to the desert places.
“Miriam Rose, the well known Aboriginal leader from Daly River and first Catholic Aboriginal woman to be a principal at a school, speaks about ‘dadirri’ – which is a deep listening.
“Her people are brought up to go out bush and just to be quiet, so as to hear the bush and themselves.
“In a lot of ways it is quite a contemplative expression that I think comes out of her experience not just of her culture and country but also of her Christian faith.”
Fr Dan’s program of keynotes and workshops at Pray 2010 includes talks on prayer and pilgrimage and key prayer messages for young people.
“Earlier this year I was able to help out at a Year 12 retreat for one of our Darwin schools and had a wonderful experience. It’s significant just being with young people at this moment of their lives,” he said.
“Year 12 can be such a huge time of transition, yet to be able to encourage and offer them the riches of our Catholic faith, in terms of opening up to Christ who can guide us into the future with all its excitement, challenge and anxieties; that is very fulfilling.
“I think if the students are willing they can tap into the most incredible power available to humanity, and that’s the love of God.
“If they open themselves and take the risk to develop a relationship with God they will be immersed into the love and power of Christ who comes to heal and set us free.
“They’ll discover a Christ who is totally relevant to us, who knows our hearts and wants to share our lives in such a way that we can experience the healing, forgiveness and freedom that comes with living an authentic Christian life.”
Not that the gathering won’t also be beneficial for Fr Dan, as he admits his own life can begin to fray if he loses the right amount of space for prayer.
“As MGLs we are committed to an hour’s adoration of the Blessed Sacrament every morning, as well as chanting the Prayer of the Church and also times of charismatic praise and worship, so we have quite a diverse but very full spiritual program,” he said.
“I do sense that without prayer my life would be destructive and I certainly feel it when the pressures of ministry tend to eat into my prayer life.
“At times like these I’ve learned to stop when I feel too busy to pray.
“A wise person taught me the acronym HALT – which means that if you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired you have to stop.
“If I don’t do that then I can’t really assess how I am.
“Time management and balance are such important things.
“I have to stop and to listen in order to make the best decisions.”
Information about the Pray2010 youth streams that Fr Dan will be part of is contained in a prayer dimensions and streams PDF easily located within the “program” section of the Pray 2010 website.
People of all ages (but especially young people) are also encouraged to attend the Fr Stan Fortuna concert being held as part of Pray 2010 at the Clairvaux MacKillop College venue on July 9 from 7pm.
To register online for Pray 2010 visit