I am Helen Melarekere. I was born in Port Moresby into a Catholic family and am the second of my four siblings. We were raised by my dearest mum and her immediate family. I lived most of my childhood and completed my primary education in Port Moresby. In 2005, my mum, siblings and I moved to Townsville. Townsville is home for us.
My mum and grandmother played a major role in my faith journey, as they lived and breathed the Catholic faith. I remember both of them taking us to Mass, organising daily family prayer and getting us involved in our parish. They also lived the faith through their everyday life and this, for me, had the biggest impact on the person I am today.
As a child growing in the faith and being active in the Church, I never questioned my faith or God’s existence; partly because of my culture we are raised not to question our elders and because I saw the fruits of people who had faith. People who had faith seemed happier, they were always willing to share with others and somehow even though everyone in our neighborhood had financial difficulties, including my family, God always provided for all of us. This for me was enough to believe in God and continue practising my faith.
With the big move to Australia and entering my high school years, faith and church became a chore. I remember as a teenager going to Mass and feeling disconnected, different and without a sense of community. At that time, we were not involved in our parish and we did not have Catholic friends.
During my secondary education, I discovered my passion for making the law accessible to all, especially those who are marginalised and minorities in society. After completing high school, I studied law at James Cook University.
In my first year of studying, I explored my identity in worldly things; it made me feel empty, unhappy and purposeless. This resulted in me failing first year.
I remember feeling so lost and out of touch with myself that I started to reflect on a time in my life where I was happy and filled with purpose. What came to mind was my childhood memories of going to church, spending time with my family and friends and feeling like I could do anything I set my mind to if God was the center of my life, if I worked hard and if I was a good person to others, especially my family.
So I made the decision to intentionally attend Mass and actively practise my faith. Going to Mass I remember the music was not the best, homilies were not relatable and feeling like an outsider. However, I believe God knew my heart and so he gave me the grace to continue practising my faith.
At that time, my parish started a youth group and I decided to attend their first gathering. That one decision to attend was life-changing. It was through my parish youth group that I experienced God’s love, community and a sense of belonging. The next year I become the youth group’s leader, evoking in me my greatest passion – youth ministry. Through my experience of leading my parish youth group, I have witnessed other young people have life-changing experiences.
This is why I am passionate about youth ministry – because I know there are so many young people who are looking for what I have found and are on similar journeys to myself. I know if we (the Church and youth ministry) could reach them, they could experience what I have found and they, too, will have a life-changing experience.
While leading my parish youth group, I joined our diocesan youth ministry team, completed my law degree, got admitted to the Supreme Court of Queensland and landed my dream lawyer job.
However, within a few months of working as a lawyer, I realised while I enjoyed studying law and making the law accessible to my clients, I knew I wasn’t living my purpose. So, I left my dream job and the law profession and took three months off to discern my purpose.
What I discovered was my greatest passion is my purpose: youth ministry.
Today I work as the diocesan youth ministry worker and I love it! What I love most about my job is: supporting youth leaders and parishes in engaging young people; having the freedom to create and develop frameworks, resources and approaches in engaging young people; and working with a team to organise and run diocesan events because we get to connect with young people, share with them our faith journey and God’s love for them.
By working for the Church, I am provided with many opportunities, including furthering my studies. This year I will be starting my post-graduate studies with the Leadership for Mission program. I chose this program because it is for faith-filled professional women and focuses on women’s roles in the Church, which is an area that I am interested in. I believe this program will provide opportunities for me to be more appreciative of the Catholic faith, network with faith-filled professional women and grow in my own faith, while becoming more aware of the challenges women face in the Church and working towards solutions.
When I started to intentionally grow in faith and discern my purpose, it was all about me. However, through my journey and experiences, I have become aware it is much greater than me. It is about God’s people, especially young women and girls who hunger for something greater than the world provides, who are searching for meaning and purpose for their life and want to be heard. I am here to connect with them, to be an example and to pave the way for them so they won’t have to think twice if they are capable and worthy of God’s love, so they won’t have to think twice about their purpose and so they know they have a place and a role to play in the Church, even at the highest levels.
Words: Helen Melarekere is the diocesan youth ministry worker for Townsville Diocese and is a participant in the Leadership for Mission program for 2021/2022