One of David Brown’s earliest memories of Catholicism is of attending a Christmas Midnight Mass with his mother when he was just a child.

Although she was Catholic, the rest of the family wasn’t—his father was ‘nondescript’ when it came to religion, he says. As David grew up, got married and had kids of his own, he says he was comfortable with ‘Christian values’ but had no institutional affiliation or sacramental initiation.

This Easter, however, at St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Lilydale, David became a Catholic, receiving the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and his first Holy Communion. It was ‘truly magnificent,’ he says of the occasion, where he was surrounded by family and friends who supported him on the journey to this point.

‘If someone were to ask me how I feel,’ he says, ‘I’d say at peace. The moment I made that choice, I had this inner peace come across me and it stayed.’

There were many things that led David to the Easter vigil. Over the last few years, he experienced something of an immersion in Catholicism, in its story and history. David has worked in banking and finance for many years, and several years ago he did some consultancy work for the Catholic Development Fund (CDF), something that would be just the start of his relationship with people committed to supporting the Church’s vision and mission. This consultancy role turned into his current job as an executive for CDF, where he has grown in his understanding of what the Church does at a societal level.

The moment I made that choice, I had this inner peace come across me and it stayed.

‘The Church clearly has some reputational issues,’ he admits, citing these as having contributed to his initial reservations . ‘But you know, the Catholic Church is not very good at promoting itself. It does so much good, but it doesn’t talk about it enough, and what tends to get talked about is the other stuff.’

One day, in the early months of 2023, David received an unexpected phone call. A CDF member who had been selected to participate in the Emerging Leaders pilgrimage through Rome, enroute to World Youth Day in Lisbon, had pulled out. David was offered the position.

‘The good news,’ he was told, ‘is if you want to go, you can. The bad news is you have to make the decision straight away.’

For David, the decision wasn’t hard. ‘It’s pretty easy saying yes to going to Rome and Portugal.’

As it turned out, that pilgrimage to World Youth Day via Rome would change David’s life forever. David recalls something Archbishop Comensoli said to them in preparation for departure.

‘He said all of us would have some sort of sign overseas, but it’ll be different for everyone, and when it happens, we should just embrace it. Well, I got several.’

One of his first eye-opening experiences was listening to the lecture given by Rev Dr Stephen Wang, who spoke to them about the ‘living history’ of Rome, saying, ‘This isn’t just a theory or a story … You don’t have to just learn it in a book. Here, you see your Catholic history all around you.’

David says this presentation was a signal occasion for him. ‘I’ve normally got the attention span of a gnat,’ he admits. ‘Very easily distracted. But he spoke for what must have been over two hours and I was completely captivated by every single word that he said.’

The whole Catholic story came alive for him, and when Fr Wang shared his own story of how the ancient and rich history of Catholicism had influenced his conversion, ‘Things started to resonate for me,’ David says.

Having the unexpected opportunity to be in the same room as Pope Francis for 90 minutes was also nothing short of ‘humbling,’ and the Holy Father’s presence and ‘approachability’ were striking.

I was being given a message, and I needed to do something about it.

The most significant sign for David, however, came during his visit to Assisi. In one of the basilicas in Assisi, there is a painting of the Last Supper that caught his attention. While examining the painting, something strange, and quite incredible, happened:

‘It was a colour painting, but the painting kept changing from colour to black and white. It’s the only way I can describe it. But when it changed from colour to black and white, Jesus stayed colour, and everyone else was sort of greyed out. And it kept happening. I turned around and looked away, and I asked somebody sitting next to me, “Can you see that?” But no. It didn’t happen to anybody else. But I know what I saw.’

‘It made me realise I was being given a message, and I needed to do something about it,’ he says.

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Painting of the Last Supper in Assisi. (Photo supplied.)

David laughs when he recalls that before going to Rome he would joke with his colleagues, ‘At some point the Illuminati’s going to come out of the walls, drag me into a room and I’ll come out baptised.’ But the experience as a whole, the very clear signs from God and the friendships he formed with priests—including Fr Cameron Forbes and Fr Francis Denton—all led him to the point of wanting to embrace the Catholic faith.

I have never seen anything like that. The best way to describe it was that it was pure joy.

On top of this, the experience of World Youth Day itself—the atmosphere generated by having 1.5 million Catholics together in one city—was indescribable and infectious. Watching Pope Francis’ arrival and seeing the expressions on everyone’s faces were so moving, he says.

‘I’ve been to see enormous rock bands and movie stars, but I have never seen anything like that. The best way to describe it was that it was pure joy.’

David shares another experience that was especially moving for him, this time after World Youth Day. Thankfully his mother lived to see him go overseas and begin attending Mass once again, though she didn’t make it to see him at the Easter Vigil. During his time on pilgrimage, she was overjoyed, he says. ‘She was telling everybody about his trip, and by that stage I had started going to church again. She was more amazed by that than anyone.’

Following Lisbon, when his mother reached her final hours, David called his parish priest, Fr Francis Denton, and asked him to come and give her the last rites.

‘He dropped everything and came,’ he says. ‘And Mum was pretty non-responsive at that stage, but I could genuinely see she knew who was there and knew what he represented. It was almost like a peace came over her as it happened.’

The Easter Vigil was an unreal experience, he says as he looks back on the night. His wife of 23 years and his two sons have all been supportive of his journey to the Catholic faith.

David chose St Francis as his Confirmation saint—fitting not only because of his experience in Assisi but because he’s always loved animals. One of the gifts he received for his conversion was a leather-bound book of daily prayers drawn from St Francis, and lately he has been ‘immersing’ himself in those.

While the RCIA process was an educational and intellectually stimulating experience, he knows he has so much still to dive into.

‘It’s a bit of an ongoing joke that I’ve got to stop buying books and start reading the books I’ve got … But you know, you could spend your entire lifetime studying and you wouldn’t even scratch the surface. There is that much.’