I remember during high school being very open to anything that would come my way. I had friends that were into Wicca and Buddhism, and I remember trying out their methods of prayer and not experiencing anything. I guess you could say that for part of my high school years, I was Agnostic, not 100% sure on any religion, but still open to the idea of a God. When I entered grade 10, I joined an atheist band and was very vocal about my disbelief, especially in the Catholic God because I went to a Catholic school. I remember having to sit through weekly masses, where I refused to kneel or get up to receive Communion, even though I had received the sacrament (probably a good thing for me at the time).
My brother Matthew experienced a powerful conversion while attending World Youth Day in Rome in the year 2000. I remember him coming back and being so joyful. He changed from a brother who used to pick on me, to a brother who I could talk to about anything. In May of 2008 after my 18th Birthday, when he invited me to live with him and his wife Cameron in Ireland for 3 months, I quickly accepted his offer.
I got my visa, which allowed me to get an interesting job, and spent more time with my nephew Liam, who was incredibly cute! But of course, being the radical Catholics that Matt and Cameron were, they prayed nightly, attended Mass as often as they could, and would invite me to attend. I would always refuse, “No Matt, I don’t believe in it, you go ahead, I’ll stay home.” One night when we were chatting about the existence of God, Matt was kindly arguing a good point, but I just kept pointing out “How do I know Matt? How do I know that there is a God and that what you’re saying is true?” I remember him saying, “Emma, you’ll never know for sure if God is real or not unless you pray to Him and be open to Him.” This was hard to hear, seeing as I was flat out refusing to pray every time he had invited me during my stay in Ireland.
Matt and Cameron were youth ministers at a parish in County Donegal, and that summer they planned on taking their youth to a town called Medugorje, in Bosnia, where the Virgin Mary actually appeared and gave messages to people. These messages haven’t been approved by the Church, but it’s because they are still going on today, but either way, I found it a place of peace and Mary encountered me here. A local priest offered to pay for my flight, and I reluctantly accepted, not looking forward to hanging out with a bunch of Catholics for a week.
A few days after, an amazing man named Tony Foy called the home. I answered the phone and he asked me how I felt about Medugorje. I ungratefully told him that I wasn’t really looking forward to it, and he said, “Well be open, you never know what might happen.” It was his quick phrase said in passing that really struck me. I remember going into Matt and Cameron’s bedroom the night before and simply crying, not really knowing why, for the most part because I was unhappy. I remember telling them that I was willing to be open during Medugorje and that I would pray and go to Mass with them. Awesome.
After a few days into Medugorje, I realized things weren’t so unbearable: I prayed the rosary, went to Mass and even went to confession one evening, although it wasn’t so much confession as it was me telling the priest all of my confusion about the Catholic faith.
“If God is real, and I don’t believe in him, how would he ever accept my ‘Our Father who art in Heaven’ prayer, if I don’t even believe the words I say when I speak it?”
He replied, “Prayer isn’t just about you talking to God, it’s about God talking to you.”
Obviously, this had been my obstacle all along, why can’t I hear God? Why can’t I see God? Nevertheless, I took this advice and tried to apply it to my prayer. I decided that I needed to pray to Mary and my prayer every day from that day on was, “Mary, if God’s real, prove it.”
My brother took me to at least half of the Catholic stores that lined the streets of Medugorje, offering to buy me anything and everything I wanted. I was like, “Matt, I just want one of those decade rosary bracelets; you know the ones that you can’t really tell are rosaries?” So he bought me one. He even gave me a Bible, saying that the priest who paid for me to come to Medugorje had purchased it for me. I found out a couple of years later that Matt actually brought it and didn’t want to come across too strong!
I continued praying my daily decade for about a week, before the time came for our second trip to Canada. Matt, Cameron, Liam and I were taking this trip because my brother worked for a ministry called NET Ministries of Canada (National Evangelization Teams) at that time. Every year NET trains over 60 volunteers who spend 10 months traveling to different schools and parishes - spreading the word of God to young people, while also building up parish ministries, reaching out to French communities and evangelizing through music. Matt was a part of the team who was facilitating the training, so we packed our bags and headed to a camp just outside of Ottawa where the “Netters” were being trained before they began their year of ministry. I tagged along as the babysitter. We arrived in the evening, and I stepped into a prayer session. There was a band leading the 60 volunteers in praise and worship, and it was unlike anything I had ever seen before. They were very charismatic in their praying, most of them with their hands in the air, a lot of them spontaneously praising, singing very loudly to God, I thought they looked absolutely ridiculous! After about ten minutes I got over feeling uncomfortable and I noticed that they all looked very happy, each of them had an authentic sense of joy about them, and I started to cry. I went into the small chapel and sat in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I remember praying, “God, I don’t want to be lonely anymore, I don’t want to be looking for you in the wrong places, I want what these people here have, if what they have is you, then I pray that you would reveal yourself to me and give me the gift of faith.”
The next day, one of the staff members, Joe, was giving a talk. It was all about the love of God who became man and died for us. I had heard it all before, but this time when he gave it, I received it in a more impacting way. There was a part in the talk where Joe said, “God killed a part of himself to save you, how can you conceive that?” And then Mary answered my prayer. I didn’t hear the voice of God, I didn’t see a vision, but in that moment, I remember realizing that God is so, so, so big and all along I have been trying to fit him into my head, but he is infinite, there is no way I am ever going to 100% understand him. I cried and cried, I ran to my brother and told him the good news, that God had given me the gift of faith and for the first time in my life I knew without doubt that God was real, and that He loved me and everyone and wanted to have a relationship with me on earth and in heaven.
During the week I spent at NET Training, I got to experience Adoration, my first Confession in 5 years and the Eucharist. I learned a lot about my faith and heard from a lot of great people about their faith experience as well! As I left Canada, to head back to Australia, I knew I wanted to come back the next year and volunteer a year of my life to NET Ministries. So that’s what I did for 2 years! My first year of volunteer work was during 2009/2010 where I served on the Parish Infuse Team, which spent the year in Wetaskiwin, Alberta. My second year team during 2010/2011 was called the Massive Worship Team, which was the team that travelled the country evangelizing through music, youth rallies, and parish missions, working closely with Church bands and choirs teaching them how to use contemporary music effectively in their parishes. NET was an amazing experience for me; I fell in love with God even more, developed a daily prayer life and learned how to love those on my team. During my year with the Massive Worship team, I was able to join my two passions together, music and Jesus. In August of 2011, I moved to Ottawa and joined NET staff. In February of 2012, I released my first (non-atheist) CD! I titled it Search Party, based on a conversation with my friend Carla from Australia, after I told her of my conversion, she said “Emma, it’s just like God sends a big search party out for his children who are lost.” I LOVE writing music, I am so grateful to God for this passion, and it’s my hope that people can get something out of listening. Since then I’ve recorded my second album ‘how the other half live’ and this summer I will be starting a band with my friend Joanna from England, we’ll be recording and playing shows across the continent.
Edited by Rachel Waugh
To learn more about Emma or to listen to her music please visit her website www.emmafradd.com