WHEN Anita Beg found out her mum needed surgery for a life-threatening aneurysm, all the 43-year-old wanted to do was run into a church.
Anita had driven past a church in Wooloowin countless times over the six years she lived in the area “without stepping foot inside the church”.
In fact, the Fiji-born first generation Catholic had not been inside a church for more than 20 years despite being raised in a religious home and attending Catholic school in New Zealand.
“I grew up in the generation where, especially at high school, people are not really interested in God … I was over the whole God thing,” she said.
“And then for the next 20 years, I didn’t really think about going to church.
“I still believed in God, I still prayed, I just didn’t come to church.”
The situation suited Anita fine until her mum had a stroke and nearly died.
“What brought me back was about six years ago my mum nearly died,” Anita said.
“The day she had to go have a life-saving operation, my dad and my brother were going to keep vigil in the hospital and I said, ‘Can you just drop me off at the church?’
“I went in there and I was just really emotional and overcome and it was comforting to sit back in the church after all those years.”
For the first time in her life, Anita said a prayer that wasn’t about her own problems.
“I was using God as my own way to ask for things when I needed it on my terms,” Anita said.
“I really felt that I needed to ask God for his help.”
In her emotional moment, she felt “a big presence”.
“I just started crying,” Anita said.
“It was just the comfort of being back in a church again.
“I didn’t realise that maybe I had missed it.”
Anita returned to the church for Mass “on and off for about two months” in the Lutwyche parish but after being away for 20 years was playing catch-up on liturgical changes.
“I really felt like a fish out of water because I didn’t know what to do,” Anita said.
“I was still doing the silent ninja at Mass, I’d be at the pew right at the back and I’d just leave, I didn’t want to talk to anyone, didn’t make eye contact with anyone.
“I just felt I was not really worthy, that I was the biggest sinner on earth.
“I didn’t know what I was doing but I felt I wanted to come because it was comforting.”
That’s when she looked down at the parish newsletter and saw a program designed for Catholics who left the faith, but wanted to come back.
“I thought, this is talking to me, there’s something out there for people like me,” Anita said.
She called the number advertised on the flyer and spoke with Clayfield parishioner Lisa Carter, who invited her to join their first session of Catholics Returning Home.
“It was still an emotional time for me because I hadn’t reconciled myself with God, so in the first session I started having a big cry,” Anita said.
Over six weeks Anita was instructed in the teachings of the church and was encouraged to approach the Sacrament of Penance.
“When I did end up going to confession, when you’ve been away for so many years, the priest said the biggest thing you can do is just serve,” Anita said.
“We really need people at Mass.
“You can do a few Hail Marys but the greatest penance is to give back, just to be there.”
Today, three years later, Anita is still doing her penance joyfully, serving in her local parish as a Eucharistic Minister and assisting with the Catholics Returning Home program as part of their support team.
Anita said she now felt like she was part of a community.
“There has been a lot of controversy for the Catholic Church, for me, living in this country for the past ten years, and I think to bring people back, it’s just got to be on your personal experiences,” Anita said.
“For most people the biggest boom breaker is something happens in their life which makes them question everything that they know, for me it was my mum nearly dying.
“Keep it simple.
“There’s so much noise in the world, there’s so much hate, people have got to search in their hearts and ask ‘what do you want from life’.”