Since school is a 20-minute car trip away and their friends don’t live close by, the children tend to spend time at home unless they have soccer or netball training to get to.
“Every day is like today,” Monica said, referring to the way the children occupy themselves at home.
“They have good friends at school but they’re doing very well. The kids are at home a lot but the day is full. There is no sadness or lack of anything. We do the most we can to make them happy,” she said.
Once a year Monica’s mother, Marinella Lai, comes out to visit the family and once every two years the family goes back to Italy because, as part of the mission, they share their experiences with their brothers and sisters in the community at the parish of St Charles Borromeo in Cagliari in Sardinia.
This community in Sardinia pays for their airfares. It also supports the family by taking up collections whenever they are in need and, in this way, their brothers and sisters share in the mission.
It’s not easy to leave Italy every time they go back, Pino said, but they know that the will of God is for them to be here.
But Pino said there’s always a question mark as to whether he will see his mother and father again who are 86 and 89 respectively.
“It’s a sign that we’re not on holidays here but on mission for God,” he said.
From Sardinia ... to Canberra ... to Baldivis
Archbishop Barry Hickey called the Spissu family to Baldivis to work with those people who wouldn’t usually come to the Church and those who are not Catholic.
They brought all their furniture from Canberra and their van too.
They were to join Fr Daniel Chama - who was appointed to the mission in Baldivis in February last year.
This time around it was not as easy to uproot the family because by this stage, Monica and Pino had seven children; some were teenagers with established networks of friends.
The call to move from Canberra to Perth for the mission came as a shock but, through accepting the call, they have experienced God at work.
Giovanni said he didn’t want to move to Perth but as soon as they moved, “he found peace within himself and within the family”.
Francesca wasn’t ready to move either.
“It was one of the hardest things to do; I’ve lived most of my life there,” she said.
“I thought I’d cry 24/7 but I cried the first day then God put me at peace and helped me with friends,” she said.
“I see God is still helping me, I’m doing netball and having fun with that. We have created a team,” she said.
The hardest part about leaving Canberra was having to make new friends in Baldivis and Rockingham and leaving behind her best friend who was the same age and also part of a mission family in Canberra.
Francesca said she hesitates to mention that that she’s part of a mission family, wondering whether the new people she meets will accept her.
But then she finds the strength to say “this is my life”, she said, because if she’s not saying that she’s part of a mission family then she’s not “saying her whole story”.
Pino has also faced some difficulty in finding work; the West Australian government does not recognise his qualifications so he is currently looking for a part time job.
His degrees were recognised in Canberra and he was able to work as a PE teacher for seven years at a bilingual Italian school, but he has not been so fortunate here.
But the struggles do not seem to deter the family from smiling and laughing.
“The main thing accompanying us is the joy. Among the problems - between us, the children, the solitude, the humiliation that comes with aspects of the mission, the loneliness - what we see is the joy to be on mission is still as present as before. This is what keeps us here, the joy,” Monica said.
Even though the family has been ‘sent’ to Australia, they’re not bound to stay here all their lives, but God willing, Pino says, they are available to do this.
“God is keeping us happy. We are a normal couple with normal problems as a couple and in the family but God is helping us,” Monica said.
Pino and Monica are a united couple and their joy and love permeates the family and shines on the bright, happy faces of their children.
But Monica said that like in any marriage, there have been several moments of “crisis” where they cannot bear one another anymore and if they were to rely solely on their human strength their marriage would have failed by now.
When they encounter difficulties, she said, the only thing they can do is “defend Jesus Christ within us, separately, each of us in his own way,” and then they discover a different love for the other.
“Christ is the one who has brought us together again and again,” she said, and this power to forgive comes from the grace of their baptism. Now the desire to live their Catholic faith as part of the Neocatechumenal Way and be on mission is now starting to come from their children as well.
In 2009, as teenagers, Giovanni and Stefano became members of the Way when they attended the Catechesis - the first step in the community.
Stefano said he couldn’t imagine what life would be like without the Necatechumenal Way.
He said he started the Catechesis because he saw his parents were happy. He also has many friends in Italy who are part of the Community whom he catches up with when they return to Italy on their biennial visits.
And now that Francesca is old enough, she too will join the community when she begins the Catechesis - the first step in the Way - this month.
Pino said the children are starting to see with their own eyes the ways God works in their lives.
“A few years ago it was just mum and dad on mission - now it’s the family,” he said.
Much of their role here is to simply witness to their experiences of Christ in the family and as a family.
While much of this is done just by the way they live their life, they also are active witnesses - knocking on their neighbours’ doors on a Saturday morning in an effort to ‘announce the Gospel’ to those who don’t go to Mass, who practise other religions or who don’t believe in God.
To Announce the Gospel
The door knocking drill begins with Mass celebrated by Fr Daniel Chama on Saturday at 9am for members of the Neocatechumenal Way who are part of the mission in Baldivis including Monica, Pino, Giovanni and Stefano Spissu.
After mass - just as Christ sent out his 70 disciples two by two - these modern missionaries hit the suburban streets to announce the Gospel in Baldivis.
Pino will head out with another brother in the community, Monica with a sister in the community; Giovanni will head out with the Croatian-born seminarian, Mate, while Stefano will head out with Fr Daniel.
Those living in streets between Clyde Ave and Safety Bay Rd in Baldivis have been visited already so these urban missionaries are gradually working their way south of Clyde Ave.
Pino said they have visited the neighbourhood of River Gums and now they’re starting to visit Settler’s Hills.
Pino is not phased by the quantity of houses to visit or the distance they need to cover; he says he has plenty of time and when they finish, they’ll start again because people move in and out.
But this door knocking isn’t an easy task; people slam the doors in their faces and many just aren’t interested.
“Some listen to us and share with us; very few let us in. It’s probably not in the Australian culture like it is in the Italian culture to invite someone in; most of the times we’re outside and they’re inside, behind the wire screen and we can’t see them,” he said.
But in comparison to the people of Canberra, Monica and Pino say that they have found those in Baldivis to be more welcoming.
“In Australia, people aren’t interested in religion. This is the reality,” Pino said.
If a pair of these modern day disciples knock on a door and find therein a Catholic family, they simply let them know when Mass is on: Sundays at nearby Tranby College.
But if they knock on the door and mention the word ‘Church’ to a ‘far-away’ - a pagan or someone who has left the Faith - or invite this person to come and pray with them, according to Pino, “it can be difficult”.
That’s when grace comes into play: there is a particular grace they receive to do this missionary work, he said.
In the Gospel of Luke Chapter 10, Jesus sends out the 70, advising them: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you”.
Humanly speaking, Pino said, it’s not possible.
“I go trembling and I come back always happy,” he said.
Giovanni has a similar experience of the work: “It clears my mind; it helps me, even when we get rejected. But I feel at peace. It surprises me every time. I can’t explain why that is,” he said.
When they first visit a house, they say they are “missionaries of the Catholic Church”.
They find that some people will speak to them for the simple fact that they are not Jehovah’s Witnesses who are door-knocking twice a week, Pino said. With the ‘far-aways’ who seem interested, they invite them to visit their house for community prayer.
Once a week on Thursdays, the Spissus family host a prayer evening at their house; another Neocatechumenal mission family in Baldivis will host one on Tuesday night.
Giovanni said that when he’s out door knocking the adult he’s with speaks first but if he is inspired, he will contribute freely - “I don’t have anything holding me back”.
“The first house is always scary but after that’s over, I’m calm again and ready to move onto the next house,” he said.
But Pino stressed that they’re not out to convert people; and in any case, it’s not his particular words that inspire people.
With Christianity, God touches your heart, he said.
If he says, ‘God loves you,’ and God touches that person’s heart,’ that’s all he has to say.
“God is always there, looking for people to give them what they’re looking for: joy and happiness.
“And we can find this just in God,” he said.
The most important thing is to live here as a Christian family, he said.
“We are not here to convert people; just to live here as a witness to Jesus Christ, that a couple can stay together.
“Without Jesus Christ we’d be divorced,” Pino said.
The experience of God working in his life, in his marriage and in his family is something concrete, Pino said.
“God is helping us very clearly - we can see God acting. What we’ve experienced is not that God is above in Heaven and watching. He is present in our daily problems, joys and lives,” he said.
“To be with God is a beautiful experience. When I was young, I thought I had to sacrifice.
God is giving me everything in abundance,” he said.
Even though neither Pino nor Monica are working at the moment, they are managing.
“It’s not money that makes you happy. God is helping us,” he said.
A new approach to evangelisation in the Australian Burbs
Baldivis is evangelisation territory on the edge of the Perth Archdiocese: brand new homes, housing estates and shopping complexes, schools and churches are springing up to cater for the growing population projected to reach 42,000 by 2030.
A Catholic Archdiocesan presence was officially established in Baldivis on 8 December last year with experienced hand Fr Geoffrey Aldous as the parish priest.
However, without a Catholic presence in the area up to that point, Archbishop Hickey asked if the Neocatechumenal Way could bring the Gospel message to Baldivis and evangelise the area as a missio ad gentes (mission to the people). Fr Daniel Chama - a diocesan priest of the Perth Archdiocese who was trained at the Redemptoris Mater seminary in Morley - was appointed to the Baldivis mission in February 2010, to coincide with the arrival of the first mission family who moved to Baldivis in January.
Monica and Pino Spissu, originally from the Italian island of Sardinia, were living in Canberra on mission when Archbishop Hickey called them and their family of seven to Baldivis.
Their mission was to ‘announce the Gospel’ in the charism of the Neocatechumenal Way, give witness to their faith, live a Christian marriage and support the budding parish community. Several members of the Way are also part of this mission including Croation-born Redemptoris Mater seminarian Mate (pronounced Mah-tay), who arrived with Fr Daniel Chama in February last year.
Two families from Spain arrived in August last year for the mission and two ladies from Italy, Clara and Lydia, arrived in October.
A fourth family has recently arrived from Wollongong, after being among the 230 families commissioned - sent all over the world to tell the uncatechised of the love and mercy of Jesus Christ - in January this year by Pope Benedict XVI.
- By Bridget Spinks