Short stories about faith in my lifetime

In my tender years, in my native village of Bellantone, I was involved with almost every activity at Church and at home. Together with my two sisters, I set up a table as an altar. I put a towel over my shoulder, lit up a lantern, using olive oil as candle, and placed a Holy picture in front of it to brighten it up. I would then act as if I was a Priest, and my two sisters were the congregation. I then started a Mass and, for Communion, I used a lupin. Unfortunately, one day, the Holy picture fell on top of the flame and caught fire. The three of us panicked and, from then on, we put the Holy picture on the outside.

On one Holy Day, during a procession in the streets of the town, it was a custom to throw poppy leaves in front of the Priest, but I did not have any. I grabbed a handful from a girl to throw, not knowing that my big brother had seen me do it. As I turned around, he gave me one of the biggest smacks I had ever had during my life, in front of hundreds of people.

The Parish Priest of my native village was a Professor. When I found out that he was sponsoring education for one boy of a big family, and since I was longing for a good education, I did everything under the sun to attract his attention. I was hoping that he would sponsor me as well. He knew that we had lost contact with my father because of the war, and my mother was having financial difficulties, but he did not take any notice of me. However, I still liked him so much that, when I left to emigrate to Australia, I went to his home to say goodbye for life, but he was having his afternoon siesta, and his housekeeper refused to wake him up.

When I arrived in Melbourne, I saw so many Churches, and I asked ‘why’. I was told that they belonged to many different denominations, but I was happy when I was told that all Christians believe there is one God.

When I started my first fruit shop in West Preston, the man who was in charge of the Church Collection was one of my customers. As I entered the Church every Sunday, I tried to dodge him, but there was only one entrance. I had no chance to refuse the collection plate, so every Sunday my heart was beating so fast I was afraid that, one day, I would have a heart attack.

While I was passing the collection plate at St Gregory's, Doncaster, a lady put in one hundred dollars. I thought that she was very kind and must be reading my mind. She quickly took back the one hundred dollars and replaced it with ten dollars.

When I started to merchandise bananas, Coffs Harbour was at that time the best growing area. On my first trip to recruit growers, I was told to go to the Catholic Club, because most of the growers go there to drink. So, on Sunday after Mass, I introduced myself to the Priest and asked him where the Club was, as I thought that it was owned by the Church. His reply was unique. He just stretched out his arm and said “down there”, then walked away. I found out later that the Club has nothing to do with the Church.

However, a few years later, I built a house in Coffs Harbour, and I invited him for dinner one night to bless the house. He accepted the invitation, and we had dinner and wine. Afterwards, I asked him if he would like to have a Scotch Whisky. His reply was “yes, please”, so I opened a full bottle and, by the time he went home, the bottle was almost empty.

When I travelled to Far North Queensland to recruit banana growers, most of the time I stayed at a motel in Mission Beach. I discovered there was no Church in the area, but the Priest would come every Sunday to say Mass in the Mission Beach Hotel. That did not worry me, but the smell of beer was unpleasant!

Fortunately, a few years later, a small Church was built, and all the denominations in the area held their own Service there.

When I was a Wholesaler, the Religious Sisters came weekly to collect fresh produce for their Retirement Home. One morning, I did not see them come into the store. One of my buyers knew that, if he annoyed me enough, I would tell him where to go in a high voice. He did this, and I used unspeakable language to him.

As I turned around, I saw the two Religious Sisters. Quickly and politely, I said “Good morning, Sisters, and welcome. How are you both?”. While the buyer was laughing, naturally they acted as if they had not heard me, but I will never forget my embarrassment.

While at Mass in Cairns on Sunday afternoon, both collections were placed alongside the altar. Just a few minutes before Mass ended, a tall young man, who was very fast, appeared at the door near the altar. I have never seen anyone run so fast. He jumped the high rail and grabbed both bags. The congregation of about four hundred people could not believe their eyes, including the Priest and the man who acted as Altar Boy, as the fellow disappeared in a few seconds.

While Chairman of the Parish Council at St Gregory's, Doncaster, I suggested to the members that, when there was no Altar Boy available, a member of the Parish Council should do the job. They all agreed, but not one did, so I had to serve as Altar Boy. I trembled every time the Priest came to say Mass without an Altar Boy but, after a while, I managed to be calm and happy to serve.

When one of my friends died, the family asked me to be a Special Minister (to distribute Communion). When I introduced myself to the Priest, he said that he did not need me, because two Priests would come to do that. I then offered to help by serving as an Altar Boy, and he accepted my offer. After Communion, he dropped the lid of the Ciborium on the Marble Floor. As I bent down to pick it up, I fell flat on the floor, hitting my head but, since I have a thick skin, it did not hurt. I stood up again and saw the lid under the Altar. Again, I bent down and, as I stood up, I hit my head again under the Altar. My friend in the Coffin must have had a good laugh. It was one minute of trauma for me! I could not believe that the Priest saw all my problems which could have been serious, but he did not even ask me if I was alright. He will be remembered by me as the one and only unfriendly Priest I have met in my life.

On a regular basis, my wife Helen and I take an elderly Priest out for a drive, and we have lunch or afternoon tea. One day, we asked two Priests if they would like to see anything that they had not seen before, and both said “the Zoo”. At that time, I was recuperating from the Stroke, so we went to Melbourne Zoo, hoping that there would be good wheelchairs available. However, we discovered that they were ancient ones, so my wife and I had difficulty in pushing them.

After a while, I asked them both if there was anything else they would like to see, and both said “yes, the Butterfly Enclosure”. Unfortunately, the path to the Butterfly Enclosure was a gravel one. Fortunately, we managed it, so we had lunch and I asked if there was anything else they wanted to see. Both said &ldquono, thank you, let us go home”. Because of my state of health at the time, Helen and I looked at each other and, in our minds, said ‘thanks be to God’.

On another occasion, I took four elderly Priests out for lunch in Dromana. I was then seventy-eight years old, and the eldest was ninety-five. While we were eating, I asked if they were willing to declare their ages, so we would know how many years of life we had in total. They all agreed, and our ages together added up to a total of four hundred and thirty-four years.

I know I am a sinner, but I think the biggest sin I have committed was in the Church. My wife's uncle had a cousin who was a Priest. He was away on holiday when he heard that his cousin had died. When he arrived back home, I went to see him after Mass to tell him I was sorry to hear that his cousin had passed away. He responded in a friendly way, saying that he wished he could have been present at his funeral.

This happened about four weeks before Easter, so I asked him if he would allow me to place a poster promoting the Passion Play on the Notice Board. I could not believe his reply. He went crazy, saying “leave me alone, I have more important things to do”. He threw his arms up in the air, turned around, and left me stunned. Silently, in my mind, I called him something that I should never do inside the Church. I hope God will forgive me and him for not allowing me to do something that I am doing for God.

While I have already had an excellent life, full of highlights, one of the best was the privilege of having a private conversation with Mother Teresa (now Saint Teresa). I received a phone call from the Mother Superior in Melbourne, saying that an appointment had been made for Helen and me to meet her. Unfortunately, I could not contact Helen at the time, so I had to go on my own. I was so nervous, as there were just the two of us in the room, that I cannot remember our discussion.

Many years ago, I picked out three people as my heroes for building a better world. The three were Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul and Mikhail Gorbachev, at that time Prime Minister of Russia. Now two out of three are canonized Saints, I feel proud that I made those choices.

Another exciting and memorable moment happened during a Pilgrimage which Helen and I made to the Holy Land. I walked to Mount Sinai, where Moses delivered God's Ten Commandments. It was great to see the little Church made of bluestone on top of the mountain. It took many hours to reach the top on rocky tracks, and it was still dark when we arrived there. The Church was closed, but we did not see the Sunrise because of thick fog.

The trip to the Holy Land was very special, as we visited the place where Jesus came to save the world. It was extremely emotional, knowing that this was the place where He ministered to the people. It was also the place where He was Crucified, Died and three days later raised up to Heaven!

As I have mentioned before in this book, Faith has been and will always be my number one priority, therefore attending Mass on Sundays is a must. However, during a few Cruises we have taken, in some cases, where there was no Priest on board the ship, they had a combined Denominational Service every Sunday. My wife, Helen, and I always attended the combined Service, so that we could still honour God!

As far back as I can remember, during my life, I have missed Sunday Mass only three times, as there was no Church of any denomination where we were at the time. The other reason was because we had a Charity Fundraising Function, and Helen and I were responsible for providing lunch for three hundred and fifty people, and left us no time to attend Mass.

God works in mysterious ways! It is a coincidence that I am writing this book called “Faith, Love and Hope” as, when I was nearing the end of my draft, I found out that, on 11 October this year, 2012, Pope Benedict will launch the year of Faith. I am hoping that the book will be ready to print and on the website by then.

Another coincidence happened when I checked if there was any other website called “Faith, Love and Hope”. There were so many that I was disappointed, but the person who manages my website enquired if the name “” was available, and we were pleased to find out that it was. I believe that God kept the slash ‘-’ between the three words especially for you and me.

Embarrassment can happen at any time or place, including in the Church. Many years ago, a friend died, and Helen and I read in the Death Notice in the newspaper, that the Funeral would be held at St Mary's. At that time, we knew only of St Mary's at West Melbourne, so we went there and sat near the front. I kept looking around to see if I recognised anyone, then suddenly realised we were at the wrong Funeral, so we decided to walk out of the Church. There were hundreds of people there, and I am sure many were wondering why we did this. By that time, it was too late to find out where the other Church by the same name was, so we went home.