NAOMI Fong’s mum saw she had an interest in Christianity and bought her a beaded wooden necklace with a cross on it when she was 15 years old.
At the time, living with her family in New Zealand, Naomi was a believer but unbaptised, wandering the online wilderness through “anti-Catholic” websites searching for “something more”.
“My family’s not Catholic,” the Queensland University of Technology law and justice student said, “and I never went to church for the first 16 years of my life.”
“I always believed in God but couldn’t explain it.”
She encountered a Catholic writer online who said to pray and go to church.
“‘Pray?’” she remembered thinking, “I’d never thought of that. Okay, I’ll do that.”
It was Easter of last year, and she was going to church regularly, when the people in the pews around her stood up to renew their baptismal promise and, seeing that, she said she “felt this longing”.
“I want to be baptised,” she said.
Naomi approached the priest after Mass and asked to be baptised – to the priest’s chagrin, “He said, ‘Actually, we baptise people during Easter’.”
Naomi couldn’t wait a whole year.
She went through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults and, after postponing because of the death of her grandmother, she was baptised, confirmed – with the name Mary – and received First Holy Communion in August 2018.
She had moved from New Zealand, leaving her high school friends behind, to study in Brisbane and lived with her brothers who studied at University of Queensland.
Her brothers were atheists and she lacked family support in her faith.
Her family thought she read her Bible too much, her mum was worried she was getting too involved in her faith and her dad said going to church every week was “extremist”.
She struggled with theological roadblocks too.
Online, where she had self-catechised for years, she found many Protestant websites attacking Catholic beliefs about Mary.
“The Protestants would say, ‘They (Catholics) worship Mary – you shouldn’t do that’,” she said.
That sounds right, she said at the time.
But then the Catholic websites would say they didn’t worship her, which would only add confusion.
Naomi struggled, and continues to struggle, with Mary.
At university she joined QUT Freedom ministry, and was soon invited to pray in a Rosary group.
“I don’t know what the Rosary is,” she remembered thinking but she went along anyway.
Someone there asked if she needed some Rosary beads to pray with and offered her a set.
The shape and the beads looked familiar and she said, “I think I have one of those.”
She reached around her neck and pulled off the necklace her mum had given her years ago.
“That was pretty amazing,” Naomi said.
“God gives you things that you don’t even realise you need until years later.
“God’s given you so much already, and I look back on my life, I realise God was always with me; I just didn’t see it.”
Naomi recently started a consecration to Mary.
“Now I’m at the point where I’m like, ‘Okay, time to pray the Rosary, anyone want to pray it with me?’” she said.
“I think it’s nice because I never had a mum I could pray with. And now I have a mum that’s in the Church, not even that, she’s up there.”
It was only a month ago when Naomi had a transformation at Ignite Conference 2019.
“Going to Ignite, that was amazing because (I had) never seen that many Catholics in one place,” she said. “I wasn’t raised or didn’t do anything Catholic before that.
“(It was) this huge family I didn’t know I had.
“I felt really bad because I had to leave my family to come to Australia and they weren’t too thrilled about me becoming Catholic.
“And I thought, ‘Oh, I have family now’.”
Adoration on the Friday night at Ignite was “powerful”.
“I was crying,” she said. “It was really powerful to see – this is His body.”
Naomi said the Eucharist was everything to her.
“If there was no other reason, I’d go (to church) for the Eucharist … because it’s a miracle, why wouldn’t you want a miracle in your life every week,” she said.
She saw issues with how the Church engaged others, young people particularly.
“People think the Church needs to change but it doesn’t,” she said.
“If we wanted the world, we’d just go out into the world and find in the world as much as we want.
“Rather, the Church, it tries to imitate the world sometimes and it just does it badly.
“Well, I don’t want the world – I want something different, I want something meaningful.”
Naomi had a fire for catechesis; she said half of her prayer life was “‘could you explain this to me, why this, why that’”.
Having been un-churched for most of her life meant most of her friends weren’t Catholic either.
“I feel like God puts people in your life who aren’t Catholic for you to bring them in,” she said.
“God’s saying, ‘Hey, I want them to know Me through you’, just like how He wants us to know Him through Mary or Him through the Church.
“It’s being the image of Christ in the world (that) is super important to me.”
Naomi was wary of being stuck in a Catholic bubble.
“When you have only Catholic friends, I feel like you forget what it’s like to live in the world,” she said.
She noticed her non-Catholic friends often felt uncomfortable, especially when she talked about her faith.
“Christianity is so radical, He’s either the Son of God or you say, ‘Crucify Him’,” she said.
“It’s like He’s Son of God and I believe that, it’s not I believe it and therefore it’s fine; it’s I believe it and it’s true and you should believe it because it’s true.
“Then it sort of becomes hard because they’re like, ‘You’re ramming it down my throat’.
“I just approach them with love – it sounds cheesy – it’s what they respond to more than ‘Hey, you’re going to Hell’.”
Naomi has made plenty of Catholic friends since coming to Brisbane and seen changes in the way she talks to people.
“God died for every single person,” she said.
Knowing people had intrinsic value from God changed her outlook, she said.