By Emilie Ng
TRAVEL to any country where pontifical missionary society Catholic Mission operates and young Melbourne-born Catholic Lawrence Gigliotti could well be there.
But instead of finding the program specialist in business meetings, chances are he’ll be standing with the poorest of the poor, helping to bring life and love to those struggling the most.
In the past three weeks, the 26-year-old has met with priests, religious sisters and brothers, and lay missionaries in India, Timor, Cambodia, and more locally in Brisbane and Rockhampton, to “build the capacity” of the Church’s work in developing countries.
Mr Gigliotti ended up with Catholic Mission’s programs teams after volunteering in Cambodia for three years, followed by 18 months’ paid work in Timor Leste.
Before working overseas, he found his faith among millions of young Catholics while in Cologne for the 2005 World Youth Day.
“It was just such a powerful experience for me, and I wasn’t overly Catholic beforehand,” he said.
“But Catholicism interested me a lot more after that.”
Mr Gigliotti’s first injection of the “missionary Church” was in 2007 while on an immersion trip to Cambodia with Jesuit young adult group, Magis.
The trip became a “turning point” as he witnessed the Church working with the poor.
“You can see stories, you can see videos, but you don’t really understand until you’re standing in the mud and seeing what these priests are actually doing,” Mr Gigliotti said.
“It’s the missionary Church in action and it’s fantastic when you see it.”
Mr Gigliotti returned to volunteer in Cambodia in 2009, initially leaving his Melbourne home for three months.
“That three months turned into a year, which turned into a second year, then a third year,” he said.
“I fell in love with Cambodia.”
Mr Gigliotti provided pastoral care and student support for a small Catholic village, Ta Hen, situated just outside Battambang, working alongside Cambodia’s then-Bishop Kike Figaredo.
When his position in Cambodia ended, the South-East Asian Jesuits offered him work in Timor where he spent 18 months.
Mr Gigliotti said the Church in both developing countries varied from new Catholics with intense spiritual formation in Cambodia, to almost no formation but still admiration for the Church in East Timor.
“To become a Catholic in Cambodia takes three years; you do the first step, second step, third step; if you don’t pass third, you go back to second,” he said.
“They’re given classes, and they learn the faith.
“They would probably be able to answer a spiritual question a lot better than someone in Australia because they’ve made the educated decision to become a Catholic.”
Mr Gigliotti said many East Timorese chose to associate as Catholics because of the Church’s honourable work in the country’s 25-year “independence struggle”.
“The Catholic Church played a huge role in the struggle, as they were for the people, with the people, suffering with the people, and became something the people looked up to,” he said.
“People ticked off Catholic as their religion because they could see them working with the poor.”
Despite large groups voluntarily choosing to be Catholic, many lacked in spiritual formation, which Mr Gigliotti said was “an issue” for the Church.
Now, with Catholic Mission, he hopes to find ways to make the Church, including Catholic formation, more accessible to the poor.
The Philippines is next on his travel agenda, where he will build relationships with priests and religious sisters so the Church can do more for the country’s poor.
“Working with the poor, or even the healthy, lets you understand who you’re working with,” Mr Gigliotti said.
“If you’re with the people, you understand the issues they’re facing,” he said.
“There’s no use standing on the pulpit and banging on something that has absolutely no relevance to the people you’re trying to work with.
“I think that’s one of the good things about the Catholic Church.
“They don’t work exclusively with Catholics, they work with everyone, no matter what religion they have.”