IT was early in the night and Brisbane Catholics Jess O’Donoghue and Megan Donaghy were standing out on Elizabeth Street with a lantern and a handful of unlit candles for Nightfever on November 22.
They encountered a group of French travellers and invited them inside St Stephen’s Cathedral to light a candle before the Blessed Sacrament.
Megan, who spoke a bit of French, started to talk to one of the men and he told her how his friend had died two days ago.
He told her, “I don’t believe in any of this, but my friend died two days ago”.
His friend who died was Christian.
“So he came in and was saying a prayer for him,” Megan said.
Evangelisation Brisbane communications officer Michaela Pang, who had been minding a table, said towards the end of the night something amazing happened to her too.
“This middle-aged fellow kind of wandered up and (was) looking a bit curious, and so I just said, ‘Do you want to come inside? It’s open’.
“And he’d had a drink or two, you could smell it on his breath, he was like, ‘I’ve been drinking, am I allowed to go in?’
“And I just said, ‘Jesus used to drink – you’ll be right’.”
Mrs Pang said some of the volunteers took him inside to the sanctuary and after 15 minutes, he came back out and was looking a little dazed.
After she struck up conversation again, and as some volunteers gathered around, he slowly opened up and said it had been 30 years since he had been into a church.
He said he had been thinking about returning to the Church for a while.
“He happened to be walking past tonight and he saw our smiling faces and felt really welcomed to come inside,” Mrs Pang said.
“Apparently he used to be an altar server when he was a kid.”
It had been only by chance he had been in Brisbane for one day before flying to New Zealand after living in Byron Bay for some time.
“He was … just expressing that he felt so unworthy and like he wasn’t allowed to come in (to St Stephen’s) and reconnect,” Mrs Pang said.
“But (he) encountered God in such a profound way he couldn’t even put words to it.
“He felt like he’d been welcomed back home.”
Vocation Brisbane director Fr Stanley Orji joined the conversation and gave him some advice about reconnecting with his faith.
The man was concerned because he knew he would not know the responses if he were to go back to church in New Zealand.
“Fr Stanley said to him when we say to God: ‘I don’t know how to pray’… well we’ve already started praying’,” Mrs Pang said.
She said it was incredible that just standing outside the cathedral and being welcoming and inviting people in could be “a game-changer” in someone’s life.
“To be part of that story of correcting those lies and speaking truth to people of God’s love – I got teared up; it was really, really special,” she said.
“Honestly, I think Nightfever is the best event the Archdiocese of Brisbane runs throughout the year because it is intentional evangelisation where we’re actually opening up the church to people and making them feel welcome, whether they’re Christian or not.
“I love it so much.”
The Rodriguez family was out in force that night.
Husband and wife Fito and Veronica Rodriguez and their daughter Fatima were standing on Elizabeth Street, below the cathedral steps, handing out candles as a family.
Not too far away was their son and their son’s girlfriend.
Mr Rodriguez said Nightfever was a new way to approach the non-churched.
“I thought, yeah, this looks fun, I’ve done silly things for Jesus, this is just an extra one,” Mr Rodriguez said.
“Never done this, so let’s go ahead and do it.
“I thought, maybe this is like a family Jesus activity which is out of the comfort zone.
“Normally, we are talking to the parishioners in the parish.”
One of the Brisbane Nightfever event organisers Grace Rutty said this year there were a lot of things that came up against the event to cancel it, but it persisted through anyway.
“For me, it’s about the one,” she said.
“It’s about the one person who gets reached, the one person who gets asked, it’s about the one. It was so beautiful.”
Ms Rutty said Nightfever was looking for volunteers and future leaders.
If you are interested in Nightfever or want to volunteer, contact the Nightfever team at firstname.lastname@example.org