- Latest articles
From being a faithful Muslim praying to Allah three times a day, fasting, almsgiving, and doing Namaz, to being baptized in the Pope’s Private Chapel, Munira’s journey has twists and turns that might surprise you!
My image of Allah was of a stern master who would punish my slightest error. If I wanted anything, I had to buy Allah’s favor with fasting and prayer. I always had this fear that if I were to do anything wrong, I would be punished.
The First Seed
A cousin of mine had a near-death experience, and he told me that he experienced a vision of plunging through a dark tunnel, at the end of which he saw a bright light and two people standing there—Jesus and Mary. I was confused; shouldn’t he have seen the prophet Mohammed or Imam Ali? Since he felt so sure that it was Jesus and Mary, we asked our imam for an explanation. He replied that Isa (Jesus) is also a great prophet, so when we die, he comes to escort our souls.
His answer didn’t satisfy me, but it began my search for the truth about Jesus.
Despite having lots of Christian friends, I didn’t know where to start. They invited me to a Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, and I started attending the novenas regularly, listening carefully to the homilies explaining the word of God. Although I didn’t understand much, I believe that it was Mary who understood and eventually led me to the truth.
In a series of dreams through which the Lord would speak to me over the years, I saw a finger pointing out a man dressed as a shepherd while a voice called me by name, saying, “Munira, follow Him.” I knew the shepherd was Jesus, so I asked who was speaking. He replied: “He and I are one.” I wanted to follow Him, but I didn’t know how.
Do You Believe in Angels?
We had a friend whose daughter seemed to be possessed. They were so desperate that they even asked me for a solution. As a Muslim, I told her that we have these Babas they could go to. Two months later, I was astounded when I saw her again. Instead of a thin, puny ghost of a figure I had seen earlier, she had become a healthy, radiant, robust teenager. They told me that a priest, Father Rufus, had delivered her in the name of Jesus.
After several refusals, when we finally accepted their invitation to join them at Mass with Father Rufus, he prayed over me and asked me to read a verse from the Bible; I felt such peace that there was no turning back. He spoke about The Man on the Cross—who died for Muslims, Hindus, and all mankind throughout the world. It awakened a deep desire to know more about Jesus, and I felt that God had sent him in answer to my prayer to know the Truth. When I came home, I opened the Bible for the first time and started reading it with interest.
Father Rufus advised me to seek out a prayer group, but I didn’t know how, so I started praying to Jesus on my own. At one point, I was alternately reading the Bible and the Quran, and I asked Him: “Lord, what is the Truth? If you are the Truth, then give me the desire to only read the Bible.” From then on, I was led to open only the Bible.
When a friend invited me to a prayer group, I initially said no, but she insisted, and the third time, I had to give in. The second time I went, I took my sister along. It turned out to be life-changing for both of us. When the preacher spoke, he said that he’d received a message, “There are two sisters here who have come searching for the Truth. Now their search has ended.”
As we attended the weekly prayer meetings, I slowly started to understand The Word, and I realized that I had to do two things—forgive and repent. My family was intrigued when they noticed a visible change in me, so they started coming too. When my dad learned about the importance of the Rosary, he surprisingly suggested that we start praying it together at home. From then on, we, a Muslim family, would kneel down and pray the Rosary every day.
No End to Wonders
My growing love for Jesus prompted me to join a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Before we went, a voice in a dream told me that although I held fear and anger deep within me, it would soon be released. When I shared this dream with my sister, wondering what it could all mean, she advised me to ask the Holy Spirit. I was puzzled because I didn’t really know who the Holy Spirit was. That would soon change in an amazing way.
When we visited the Church of Saint Peter (where he had that dream showing him all the animals that God now permitted them to eat (Acts 10:11-16)), the Church doors were closed because we were late. Father Rufus rang the bell, but nobody answered. After about 20 minutes, he said, “Let us just pray outside the Church,” but I suddenly felt a voice within me saying: “Munira, you go ring the bell.” With the permission of Father Rufus, I rang the bell. Within seconds, those huge doors opened. The priest had been sitting right beside them, but he only heard the bell when I rang it. Father Rufus exclaimed: “The Gentiles will receive the Holy Spirit.” I was the Gentile!
In Jerusalem, we visited the Upper Room where the Last Supper and the Descent of the Holy Spirit had taken place. As we were praising God, we heard a roar of thunder, a wind blew into the room, and I was blessed with the gift of tongues. I couldn’t believe it! He baptized me in the Holy Spirit in the same place where Mother Mary and the apostles received the Holy Spirit. Even our Jewish tour guide was astonished. He fell to his knees and prayed with us.
The Sprout Keeps Growing
When I returned home, I was longing to be baptized, but my mom said: “See Munira, we follow Jesus, we believe in Jesus, we love Jesus, but conversion…I don’t think we should do it. You know there will be many repercussions from our community.” But there was a deep desire within me to receive the Lord, especially after a dream in which He asked me to attend the Eucharist every day. I remember imploring the Lord like the Canaanite woman: “You fed her the crumbs from Your table, treat me like her and make it possible for me to attend the Eucharist.”
Shortly afterward, while I was walking with my dad, we unexpectedly arrived at a church where the Eucharistic celebration was just beginning. After attending the Mass, my dad said: “Let us come here every day.”
I feel that my road to baptism started there.
The Unexpected Gift
My sister and I decided to join the prayer group on a trip to Rome and Medjugorje. Sister Hazel, who was organizing it, casually asked me if I would like to get baptized in Rome. I wanted a quiet baptism, but the Lord had other plans. She spoke to the Bishop, who got us a five-minute appointment with a Cardinal that lasted two and a half hours; the Cardinal said he would take care of all arrangements to be baptized in Rome.
So we were baptized in the Pope’s Private Chapel by the Cardinal. I took on the name Fatima and my sister took on the name Maria. We joyfully celebrated our baptismal lunch with many cardinals, priests, and religious over there. I just felt that right through it all, the Lord was telling us: “O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8).
Soon came the Cross of Calvary. Our family experienced a financial crisis that people in our community blamed on our conversion to Christianity. Astonishingly, the rest of my family went the other way. Instead of turning their backs on us and our faith, they also asked for baptism. Amid adversity and opposition, they found strength and courage, and hope in Jesus. Dad expressed it well, “There is no Christianity without a Cross.”
Today, we continue to encourage each other in our faith and share it with others whenever we have the opportunity. When I was speaking to my aunt about my conversion experience, she asked me why I addressed God as “Father.” God, for her, is Allah. I told her that I call Him Father because He has invited me to be His beloved child. I rejoice to have a loving relationship with Him Who loves me so much that He sent His Son to wash me clean from all my sins and reveal the promise of eternal life. After I shared my remarkable experiences, I asked her if she would still follow Allah if she were in my place.
She had no answer.'
When struggle and pain linger, what keeps us going?
My 11-year-old son patiently sat on the examination table while the doctor tested his muscle strength as she had done so often before. Over the last eight years, I had watched her examine his skin and test his muscle strength, and each time, a panic ripped through me.
After finishing her exam, she stepped back, faced my 11-year-old son, and gently uttered the words I had dreaded: “Your muscles are showing signs of weakness. I believe the disease is active again.”
My son looked at me and then hung his head. My stomach twisted. She put her arm around his shoulders. “Hang in there. I know that, over the years, flare-ups haven’t been easy for you. I know they are very painful, but we’ve managed them before, and we can do it again.”
Breathing out slowly, I leaned against the desk next to me to steady myself. She glanced back at me. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, the baby is in a weird position, that’s all,” I said.
“Are you sure you don’t want to sit down?
With a painted-on smile, I murmured, “No, I’m good, thank you.”
She turned back to my son. “We’re going to try a new medication.”
“Why, he did fine on the old medication,” I said.
“He did, but heavy doses of steroids are hard on the body.”
Why did I ask questions when I really didn’t want to hear the answers, I thought.
“I think it’s time to try a different medication.”
My son looked away and rubbed his knees anxiously.
“Try not to worry. We will get this under control.”
“Okay,” he said.
“The medication has some drawbacks, but we will meet what comes.”
My heart pounded in my chest. Drawbacks?
She turned to me, “Let’s get some blood work. I’ll call you in a week to come up with a plan.”
After an anxious week, the doctor called with the test results. “My suspicions have been confirmed. He’s having a flare-up, so we’ll begin the new medication immediately. He may experience some difficult side effects, though.”
Panic set in as she listed possible side effects.
Were my prayers being answered, or was I losing my son, bit by bit?
“Call me immediately if you notice any of these,” she stated.
Tears rolled down my cheeks.
I shared the news with my husband, and said, “I’m not okay right now. I’m hanging on by a thread. The kids can’t see me like this. I need to cry it out and get myself together.”
He put his hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eye, and said, “You’re trembling, I should go with you. I don’t want you to go into labor early.”
“No, I won’t; I’ll be all right. I just need to get myself together.”
“Okay. I’ve got everything under control here. It’s going to be all right.”
Driving to the chapel, I sobbed, “I can’t do this anymore. I’ve had enough. Help me, God. Help me.”
Alone in the chapel, I stared sorrowfully up at Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
“Jesus, please, please…stop all of this. Why does he still have this illness? Why does he have to be on such a dangerous medication? Why does he have to suffer? This is too hard. Please, Jesus, please protect him.”
I closed my eyes and pictured Jesus’ face. I drew in a deep breath and begged Him to fill my mind and heart. As the torrent of my tears waned, I recalled Jesus’ words in Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s book, Life of Christ. “I created the universe, I set the planets in motion, and the stars and the moon and the sun obey Me.” In my mind, I heard Him say:, “I am in charge! The effects of his medication are no match for Me. Let Me have your cares. Trust in Me.”
Were these my thoughts, or was God talking to me? I wasn’t sure, but I knew the words were true; I had to let go of my fears and trust in God to care for my son. I breathed in deeply and breathed out slowly, intent on releasing my fears. “Jesus, I know You are always with me. Please wrap your arms around me and comfort me. I’m so tired of being scared.”
Suddenly, arms wrapped around me from behind. It was my brother!
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“I called the house looking for you. I figured you might be here. When I saw your car in the parking lot, I thought I’d come in and check on you.”
“I was asking God to wrap His arms around me when you came up and hugged me.”
His eyes opened wide. “Really?”
As we walked out to the parking lot, I thanked him for coming to check on me. “Your hug reminded me that God reveals His presence in loving actions. Even as I suffer, He sees, hears, and understands. His presence makes it all bearable and enables me to trust and hold onto Him, So, thank you for being a vessel of His love to me today.”
We hugged, and tears welled up in my eyes. I felt touched to the core by an overwhelming sense of God’s loving presence.'
He struggled with his son’s addiction and eventual death due to an overdose. How did he survive?
Even though I was baptized, I was un-churched growing up. My mother and father had some serious unresolved issues with the Catholic Church, so we never went to Mass, and I was never catechized. However, I had a yearning for some kind of spiritual connection, and I gravitated towards popular biblical films such as The Robe, The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, A Man Called Peter, and The Greatest Story Ever Told. They presented God in a very intriguing way, and I gradually developed a hunger to know Him on a personal level. During the ‘60s, folk singer Jim Croce sang Time in a Bottle, intoning, “I’ve looked around enough to know that you are the one I want to journey through time with.” I really wanted to ‘journey through time’ with Him, but I didn’t know how to connect with Him.
The Winding Path
As a junior at Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco, I came to know an Irish Catholic family who were really into their faith. They said an evening rosary (in Latin, no less!), attended daily Mass, and strove to live a life of discipleship. Their religiously observant life was mysterious and beguiling. Through their example, I eventually decided to become fully initiated into the Catholic faith.
My parents, however, were not pleased with my choice. When the big day arrived for my Confirmation and First Holy Communion, we had a donnybrook of a family fight. Tears, angry words, and recriminations reverberated throughout the house. I remember saying, “Mom and Dad, I love you, but I adore Jesus, and I want to be confirmed. The Catholic Church feels like my spiritual home.” So, I left the house and walked alone to Saint Thomas More Church near Lake Merced, where I received the Sacraments without my parents’ blessings. Soon after, I came across a reference from Matthew’s Gospel in which Jesus said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of Me…” (10:37). I knew exactly what He meant.
The Highway Off-ramps
I wish I could say that I continued to make such a deep commitment to Jesus as I entered adulthood. My initial conversion cloaked a rather superficial attempt at dedicating my life to Him. I started on the ‘Jesus Super Highway’ but kept taking these off-ramps as I chased the usual suspects of the goods of the world: the acquisitive pursuit of wealth and security, professional success and accomplishments, hedonistic pleasure, and, above all, control. Like the Tom Wolfe character in Bonfire of the Vanities, I really wanted to be the master of my universe. How did Jesus factor into the calculation? I basically expected Him to come along for the ride. I wanted to relate to Him on my terms. I wanted Him to validate the self-referential lifestyle I was forging.
This illusory tower built to accommodate my imperial ego came crashing down 30 years ago when our family was struggling with our son’s drug addiction. The hard fact is his addiction, and eventual fatal overdose precipitated my free-fall into a very dark, empty place. I felt that I had fallen into a very deep pit where nothing worked: my son was not coming back, and the sense of loss was overwhelming. I became totally disillusioned and realized how worthless the goods of the world are in addressing our deepest hunger for intimacy, communion, and fellowship.
I pleaded with Jesus to rescue me from the deep hole of darkness, anguish, and abandonment. I begged Him to take away my suffering and put my life back together again. While He didn’t “fix” my life, He did do something better: Jesus came into the pit with me, He embraced my Cross, and let me know that He would never abandon me, my family, or our departed son. I experienced the loving mercy of Jesus, the Suffering Servant who continues to suffer with His People, the Church. That is a God whom I can fall in love with.
Jesus reveals the face of God to us. As Saint Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians, Jesus is “…the image of the invisible God” (1:15). Therefore, we have all that we need to be happy and joyful right here, right now. In Jesus, Who is the sole mediator between Heaven and Earth, everything fits; nothing is outside His circle of love—our Lord Jesus Christ calls us into a deeper relationship with God, with our brothers and sisters, and with all of Creation.'
When everything around you turn to chaos, have you ever asked, “What does God want?”
My life, like each of ours, is unique and irreplaceable. God is good, and I am thankful for my life, even with all the ups and downs. I was born to Catholic parents and baptized Catholic on the Feast of Christ the King. I attended a Catholic grammar school and one year of Catholic High School. I couldn’t wait to be confirmed and become a soldier for Christ. I remember telling Jesus I would never miss Mass. I married a Catholic man and raised our children Catholic. My faith, though, was in my head and hadn’t yet moved to my heart.
Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of Jesus as my friend. As a young, newly married woman, I remember missing Mass a few times because I thought I would enjoy doing whatever I wanted. I was so wrong. I thank my mother-in-law’s unwitting intervention: on one of those Sundays, she asked me how Mass was. I managed to ignore her question and change the subject, but God reached me through her question. The next Sunday, I went to Mass and resolved never to miss again.
Like many moms, I was busy with family life, volunteering at school, teaching religious education, working part-time, etc. Frankly, I did not know how to say “no” to anyone. I was exhausted. Yes, I was a good woman and tried to do good things, but I did not know Jesus very well. I knew He was my friend and received Him at Mass every week, but I realize now I was simply going through the motions.
When my kids were in junior high, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and experienced constant pain. I would come home from work and rest. The pain caused me to stop doing many things. One day a friend called to ask how I was. All I did was complain about myself and my pain. Then my friend asked me, “What does God want?” I became uncomfortable and began to cry. Then I got angry and quickly hung up. “What does God have to do with my pain,” I thought. My friend’s question haunted me. It was all I could think about.
Though to this day, I can’t remember who invited me to the women’s weekend, the minute I heard about a retreat at my parish called Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP), I immediately said, “Yes!” All I could think about was a weekend away from home, catching up on sleep, and having someone waiting on me. Again, I was so wrong. Practically every minute of the weekend was planned. Rest? I got some, but nothing like I had expected.
Notice the focus on “me, myself, and I.” Where was the Lord? Little did I know that my “yes” to this Spirit-filled weekend would open the door to my heart.
During one of the talks, I was moved to tears. I felt compelled to pause, and in my heart, say directly to God words that would change my life, words that I meant with all my heart, words that opened the door for Jesus to enter and began to move my knowledge of God from my head to my heart!
“Lord, I love you,” I said, “I am all yours. I will do whatever you ask of me, and I will go wherever you send me.”
My heart needed to expand so I could learn to love like God loves me. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).
That conversation sparked a conversion, a metanoia, a turning of my heart toward God. I had experienced the unconditional love of God, and suddenly God became first and foremost in my life. It’s just so hard to describe, except that I will never forget it. I felt like God took my hand in the darkness and ran with me. I was on fire and happy and surprised at what the Lord was doing and continues to do in my life.
Shortly after my conversion and following a Life in the Spirit seminar, I was healed of my fibromyalgia. I looked at my life and asked the Lord to help me become more like Him. I realized that I needed to learn forgiveness, so I asked God to show me who I needed to forgive or to ask forgiveness from. He did, and little by little, I learned how to forgive and accept forgiveness. I experienced healing in one of my most important relationships – my relationship with my mom. I finally learned how to love her as God did. My family experienced healing, as well. I began to pray more. Prayer was exciting to me. Silence was where I met the Lord. In 2003 I felt God calling me to Kenya, and in 2004, I volunteered at a hospice orphanage for three months. Since CRHP, I had felt called to become a spiritual director and went on to be a certified spiritual director. There is so much more. There is always so much more when you come to know Jesus Christ.
Looking back at my life, I wouldn’t change a thing because it has made me who I am today. However, I do wonder what may have happened to me had I not said those life-changing words.
God loves you. God knows you completely —good and bad— but still loves you. God wants you to live in the light of His love. God wants you to be happy and bring all your burdens to him. “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).
I encourage you to say this prayer from the depths of your heart: “Lord, I love you. I am all yours. I will do whatever you ask of me, and I will go wherever you send me.” I pray your life will never be the same and that no matter what is going on around you, you will find rest and peace because you walk with the Lord.'
This family’s story seems like a bad movie, but the ending is sure to startle you
Our story starts at home, where I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, with my two younger brothers, Oscar and Louis. Dad was the music minister at our church, while Mom played the piano. Our childhood was happy– all about church and family, with my grandparents living nearby. We thought everything was fine, but when I was in sixth grade, Mom and Dad told us they were getting divorced. We didn’t know what that meant at first because nobody in my family had been divorced, but we soon found out. We were bounced from house to house as they fought for custody.
About a year later, Dad went out of town for the weekend. My brothers and I were supposed to be with Mom but ended up staying with some friends at the last minute. We were surprised when Dad flew home early and came to collect us but devastated when he told us why. Mom had been found dead in her car in a deserted parking lot. Apparently, two men had robbed her at gunpoint and stolen her purse and jewelry. Then, both of them raped her in the back seat before shooting her in the face three times and leaving her to die on the floorboard of her car. When Dad told us, we couldn’t believe it. Why would anybody want to kill Mom? We wondered if they were going to come after us. Fear became part of our young lives.
After the funeral, we tried to return to normal life with Dad, but I’ve learned that normal never returns for victims of serious crime. Dad had a construction business. A year after Mom’s murder, Dad was arrested with two of his employees and charged with capital murder and criminal solicitation for hiring these two men to kill Mom. The three of them were all blaming each other. One of the employees claimed he overheard Dad hiring the other guy to commit the murder. Dad proclaimed his innocence, and we believed him, but his bail was denied, and everything changed for us. When Mom was killed, we were the victim’s kids. People, especially at church, wanted to help us through the process. They were giving and kind. However, after Dad was arrested, we suddenly got treated differently. There’s a stigma about being an offender’s kid. People described us as damaged goods who wouldn’t amount to anything.
We moved in with my aunt and uncle, and I started high school in Austin, but kept visiting Dad in the county jail because we loved him and believed in his innocence. Two and a half years later, Dad was finally put on trial. It was really hard for us seeing all the details splashed all over the news, especially for me because I shared the same name. When he was found guilty, we were devastated, especially when he was sentenced to death and transferred to Huntsville to await execution. If you’re the family member of an inmate, it’s like your life is on hold.
During my senior year in college, there was a new development in the case. The secretary to the District Attorney disclosed that the prosecutor had altered evidence to prove Dad was guilty. We had always believed in Dad’s innocence, so we were overjoyed. Dad was taken off death row and sent back to the county jail to await a new trial which took place four years later. My brothers and I testified for him, and the jury found him not guilty of capital murder, which meant he would never be executed. I can’t express the relief I felt to know that I wasn’t going to lose Dad like that. However, they found him guilty of the lesser charge of murder, which came with a life sentence. Despite this, everyone knew that he would be released on parole soon. We had done all we could over all these years to get Dad home, so we were so excited that it was about to happen and that he would come and live with our family.
While I was visiting him before his release, I asked him to clarify some of the issues that had come out during the trial. He said I could ask him anything, but when I got to this one particular question, he looked me right in the face and said, “Jim, I did it, and she deserved it.” I was shocked. He was confessing, and he wasn’t even sorry about what he had done. He was blaming it on Mom. He thought he was the victim because he was in prison. I was furious. I wanted him to know that he wasn’t the victim. My mom, who was buried, was the victim. I can’t describe how betrayed we all felt that he had been lying to us for all this time. It felt like we were all grieving for Mom for the very first time because when Dad got arrested, it all became about him. My family protested his parole, so the parole board denied it. I went back to see him in jail to tell him that he would go back to prison, not to Death Row, where he was safe from other prisoners, but to a maximum security prison for the rest of his life. I told him that he would never see any of us again. We had been visiting him all these years, writing to him, and putting money in his prison account. He had been a big part of our lives, but now we were turning our backs on him.
Letting the Hook Off
After four years of no contact, I went back to see Dad in prison. I had my own son now, and I couldn’t comprehend ever hurting him, especially since I’d learned that Dad had also hired the men to kill my brothers and me as well. I wanted some answers, but the first thing he did was apologize to me for what he had done to Mom, my brothers, and me. He was a man who had never said sorry for anything. I didn’t believe it, but I learned that when you hear somebody say they are sorry, you start healing. The next thing he said was, “Jim, I finally gave my life to God and became a Christian after I hit rock bottom in prison.”
For the next year, I visited Dad once a month. During that time, I went through a forgiveness process. On the face of it, it seems impossible to be able to forgive your dad for killing your mom. I work with a lot of crime victims. What I have learned is that if you don’t forgive an offender or someone who has hurt you, you become bitter, angry, and depressed. I didn’t want Dad to control me any longer, so I forgave Dad, not to let him off the hook, but to let myself off the hook. I didn’t want to be that bitter, angry, depressed man. In this process of reconciliation, I spoke up for Mom, who had had her voice taken from her. Over that year, as we talked through the issues, I saw a life change in Dad.
About a year after I resumed contact, I got a call from the prison chaplain telling me that Dad had suffered a brain aneurysm. He was brain-dead, so we had to make the decision to take him off life support, which sounds easy, but it wasn’t. Despite everything, I still loved him. We claimed his body so we wouldn’t have the legacy of having our father buried on prison grounds. We were surprised to see the warden and prison chaplain at the funeral, and they told us that, for the first time, approval had been given to have a memorial service for our dad at the prison chapel. When we attended, we sat in the front row with 300 prison inmates seated behind us, surrounded by guards. For the next three hours, the men came up to the microphone, one by one, looked us straight in the face, and told us their stories of how they had turned to Christ because Dad had shared his faith with them and changed their lives. By admitting and repenting his bad choices, taking responsibility for his actions, and asking God for forgiveness, he had taken his life in a new direction and led others with him. When you hear one person say that, it is powerful–300 is overwhelming.
I started speaking in churches, in prisons, and in restorative justice programs – to victims and to offenders wanting to rehabilitate, sharing our story of restoration after a forgiveness process. I have witnessed over and over how people can change. When I tell our story, I get to honor both our parents–Mom for the positive impact she had on our lives and Dad for his decision to truly repent of his sins. The ending of our story is that we have been able to see how God can take horrible situations and turn them into good. What we have learned about repentance and forgiveness has made us much better husbands and fathers because we were intentional in giving our families something better. We have learned through bitter experience that to truly repent, you have to keep repenting, and to truly forgive, you have to keep forgiving, not once, but constantly.'
Father Joseph Gill, Shalom Tidings’ regular columnist, opens his heart to share the story of his life and how he fell in love
I suppose my vocation is less of a calling and more of a love affair with the One Who created me and drew my heart to His. From the time I was very young, I loved the Lord. I remember reading my Bible in my room when I was eight or nine. I was so inspired by the Word of God that I even tried to write my own book of the Bible (needless to say, it didn’t make the cut!). I dreamed of being a missionary or a martyr, of generously giving my life to Christ.
But then my teen years hit, and my passion for Christ got buried under worldly cares. My life began to revolve around baseball, girls, and music. My new ambition was to be a rich and famous rock musician or sports announcer.
Struck to the Soul
Thankfully, the Lord didn’t give up on me. When I was fourteen, I had the privilege of traveling to Rome on a pilgrimage with my youth group. Standing in the Colosseum, I thought, “Over ten thousand men, women, and children shed their blood for Christ right here on this spot. Why don’t I care more about my faith?” The Sistine Chapel impressed me—not because of the ceiling, but because of the art on the far wall: Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment.” There, the consequence of life-long decisions is powerfully depicted: Heaven and Hell. It struck me to the soul to think that I will spend eternity in one of those two places, I thought…“So where am I headed?”
When I returned, I knew I needed to make some changes…but that can be hard to do. I was trapped in plenty of teenage sin and angst, and drama. I tried half-heartedly to develop a prayer life, but it didn’t take root. I can’t say I really strove for holiness. It took more encounters for the Lord to win over my heart.
First, my parish started Perpetual Adoration, providing a 24/7 opportunity for people to pray before the Eucharist. My parents signed up for a weekly hour of Adoration and invited me to come. At first, I refused; I didn’t want to miss my favorite TV programs! But then I reasoned, “If I really believe what I say I believe about the Eucharist—that it is truly Jesus Christ’s Body and Blood—why wouldn’t I want to spend an hour with Him?” So, reluctantly, I began going to Adoration…and I fell in love with Him. That weekly hour of silence, Scripture, and prayer led to a realization of God’s personal, passionate love for me…and I began to desire to return that love with my whole life.
Only True Happiness
Around that same time, God led me on a few retreats that were very transformative. One was a Catholic family summer camp called Catholic Family Land in Ohio. There, for the first time, I found kids my own age who had a deep love for Jesus, and I realized it was possible (and even cool!) to strive for holiness as a young person. Then I began attending weekend retreats for high school boys with the Legionaries of Christ, and I made even more friends whose love for Christ greatly supported my spiritual journey.
Finally, as a high school senior, I began taking classes at a local community college. Until then, I was homeschooled, so I was rather sheltered. But in these college classes, I encountered atheistic professors and hedonistic fellow students whose lives revolved around the next party, the next paycheck, and the next hookup. But I noticed that they seemed so unhappy! They were constantly striving for the next pleasurable thing, not living for anything greater than themselves. It made me realize that the only true happiness is to lay down your life for others and for Christ.
From that point on, I knew my life had to be about the Lord Jesus. I began my formation at Franciscan University and attended seminary at Mount St. Mary’s in Maryland. But even as a priest, the journey continues. Every day the Lord shows more evidence of His love and leads me ever deeper into His heart. It is my prayer that all of you, my dear Shalom Tidings readers, may see your faith as a radical, beautiful love affair with the great “Lover of our souls”!'
As an actor and director, Patrick Reynolds thought God was only for holy people. He failed to understand God’s plan until the day when he had a supernatural experience while reciting the Rosary. Here is his incredible journey.
I was born and raised in a Catholic family. We went to Mass every week, said our daily prayers, attended Catholic school, and had lots of holy items in the house, but somehow the faith didn’t penetrate. Whenever we crossed the threshold, Mom would splash us with holy water, but unfortunately, we did not have a personal relationship with Jesus. I didn’t even know that was possible. I understood that God lived up in the clouds somewhere. He looked down upon us all, but in my own mind and heart, He was very distant and unobtainable. Although I learned about God, I didn’t learn who He was. When I was about ten, my mum started going to a charismatic prayer group, and I saw her faith become very real and personal. She was healed of depression, so I knew that God’s power was real, but I thought God was only for holy people like my mum. I longed for something deeper than what was being offered. When it came to the Saints, I didn’t understand their role and didn’t think they had anything to offer me because I didn’t think that I could be holy.
Unfulfilled & Empty
When I left school, I wanted to be rich and famous so that I could be loved by everybody. I thought that would make me happy. I decided that becoming an actor would be the easiest way to achieve my goals. So, I studied acting and eventually became a successful actor and director. It opened doors into a life I had never experienced and more money than I knew what to do with, so I spent it trying to impress important people in the industry. My whole life was a cycle of buying things to impress people so I could make more money to buy things to impress people. Instead of feeling fulfilled, I felt empty. I felt like a fraud. My whole life was pretending to be what other people wanted me to be. I was searching for something more but never understood that God had a plan for me. My life was all about parties, drinking, and relationships, but filled with discontent.
One day, my mom invited me to a big Charismatic Catholic conference in Scotland. To be honest, I didn’t want to go because I thought I had put all that God stuff behind me, but moms are good at emotional blackmail; they can make you do things that no one else can. She said, “Pat, I’m going away to do mission work in Africa for two years. If you don’t come to this retreat, I won’t get to spend any time with you before I leave.” So, I went. I’m glad now, but at the time, I felt uncomfortable. It felt strange to see so many people singing and praising God. As I looked around the room judgmentally, God suddenly reached into my life. The priest spoke about the faith, Jesus in the Eucharist, the Saints, and Our Lady in such a real, tangible way that I finally understood that God was very close, not somewhere up in the clouds, and He had a plan for my life.
I understood that God had created me for a reason. I said my first sincere prayer that day, “God, if You are there, if You have a plan for me, I need You to help me. Show me in a way that I can understand.” People began to pray the Rosary, which I hadn’t prayed since I was very young, so I joined in any prayers I remembered. When they began to sing, something in my heart melted, and for the first time in my life, I experienced the love of God. I was so overwhelmed by this love I began to cry. It was through Our Lady’s intercession that I was able to come into the presence of God. I went to Mass that day, but I knew that I couldn’t receive communion because I hadn’t been to Confession in a long time. My heart was longing to be closer to God, so I spent the next few weeks preparing to make an honest, thorough Confession. As a child, I went to Confession regularly, but I don’t think I was ever really honest. I took in my shopping list of sins—the same three or four things every time. When I experienced absolution this time, I felt great peace and love. I decided that I wanted more of this in my life.
To Act or Not?
As an actor, it was very difficult to live my faith. Every part I was being offered contradicted my beliefs as a Catholic, but I didn’t have enough formation in the faith. I knew that I needed more help. I started going along to a pentecostal Church, where I met people who taught me about the Bible and how to praise and worship. They offered me mentorship, friendship, and community, but I couldn’t let go of Jesus in the Eucharist, so I remained in the Catholic Church. Every week they challenged my Catholic beliefs, so I would go and study my catechism to come back with answers for them. They helped me become a better Catholic, understanding why I believe.
At one point, I had a mental and emotional block about why Catholics had such a devotion to Mary. “Why do you pray to Mary?” they asked, “why don’t you go straight to Jesus?” This was already on my mind. I struggled to find an answer that made sense. Saint (Padre) Pio was a miracle worker whose life inspired me to become a better person. As I read about how his devotion to Our Lady brought him deep into the heart of Christ and the Church and listened to Pope John Paul II, the witness of these two great men inspired me to trust and follow their example. So, I prayed every day for the Pope’s intentions through Mary’s Immaculate Heart.
I went along to a Marian retreat to find out more. I heard about Saint Louis De Montfort’s great devotion to Mary and how talking to her in prayer is the quickest and simplest way to become like Jesus. He explained that there are two ways of making a statue—sculpt it arduously from a hard piece of material with a hammer and chisel, or fill a mold with resin and leave it to harden. Each statue formed in a mold follows its shape perfectly (as long as it is filled). Mary is the mold in which the Body of Christ was formed. God made her perfect for that purpose. If you are molded by Mary, she will form you perfectly, if you give yourself fully.
When I heard this, I understood it to be true. When we prayed the Rosary, instead of just saying the words, I tried to pray the words with all my heart, meditating on the Mysteries. Something unexpected happened. I experienced the love of our Blessed Mother. It was like the love of God, and I knew it came from the love of God, but it was different. She helped me love God in a way that I had never been able to do on my own. I was so overwhelmed by this love that I was moved to tears of joy. Finding such a wonderful gift was like the treasure in the field from the parable. You’d be willing to sell everything to buy the field so you can keep this treasure. From that moment, I knew that I couldn’t continue acting. I couldn’t live in that secular world and be a good Catholic. I also knew that people needed to know about the love of God. So I put my career aside so I could evangelize.
I came to Knock in Ireland to ask God what He wanted. Our Lady appeared there in 1879 along with Saint Joseph, Saint John, and Jesus as the Lamb of God on the altar, surrounded by angels. Mary came to lead people to Jesus. Her role is to bring people to the Lamb of God. In Knock, I met the woman I would marry and the people who offered me a job doing mission work. I came for a weekend, and 20 years later, I’m still living in Ireland.
My love for the Blessed Mother continued to grow once I learned to pray the Rosary properly. I had always found it very difficult to pray it on my own until I went to the National Shrine in Walsingham, England. In the small Chapel with the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, I asked our Blessed Mother for the grace to pray and understand the Rosary. Something incredible happened! As I began to pray the Joyful Mysteries, in each Mystery, I understood that Our Lady wasn’t just Jesus’ mother, she was my mother, and I felt myself growing alongside Jesus through His childhood.
So when Mary said “Yes” at the Annunciation to being the Mother of God, she was also saying “Yes” to me, welcoming me into her womb with Jesus. As Mary traveled to visit her cousin, I felt myself being carried in her womb with Jesus. And John the Baptist jumped for joy that I was there in the Body of Christ. In the Nativity of Christ, it felt like Mary gave new life to me, saying “Yes” to raising me. As she and Saint Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple, they also offered me to the Father, accepting me as their child. When they found Jesus in the Temple, I felt that Mary was also finding me. I had been lost, but Mary had been searching for me. I realized that Mary had been praying with my mom all those years for my faith to return.
I helped found Holy Family Mission, a house where young people could come to learn about their faith and to get the formation they may have missed as children. We chose the Holy Family as our patrons, knowing that we come into the heart of Jesus through Mary. Mary is our mother, and in her womb, we are formed like Christ under the care of Saint Joseph.
Grace upon Grace
Our Blessed Mother was instrumental in helping me to find my wife at Knock and getting to know her as we worked alongside each other in a movement called Youth 2000, which centers around Our Lady and the Eucharist. On our wedding day, we consecrated ourselves, our marriage, and any future children to Our Lady of Guadalupe. We now have nine beautiful children, who each have their unique faith and devotion to Our Lady, which we’re so thankful for.
The Rosary has become such an important part of my faith and a channel for so many graces in my life. Whenever I have an issue, the first thing I’ll do is pick up my rosary beads and turn to Our Lady. Saint John Paul II said it’s like taking her hand so she can lead through any dark times—a safe guide through troubles.
Once, I had a falling out with a close friend, and I was finding it very difficult to be reconciled. I knew they had wronged me, and I found it hard to forgive. This person couldn’t see the hurt they had caused me and others. Part of me wanted to do something about it, part of me wanted to take vengeance. But instead, I put my hand in my pocket and picked up my rosary beads. I had only prayed one decade of the rosary, before this friend turned round with a changed countenance and said, “Pat, I just realized what I did to you and how much I’ve hurt you. I apologize.” As we embraced and reconciled, I recognized the power that Our Lady has to change hearts.
Mary is the means God chose to enter this world, and He still chooses to come through her. I now understand that we don’t go to Mary instead of Jesus, we go to Mary because Jesus is within her. In the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant contained everything that was holy. Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, the living tabernacle of the Source of all Holiness, God Himself. So, when I want to be close to Christ, I always turn to Mary, who shared the most intimate relationship with Him within her own body. In drawing close to her, I draw close to Him.'
A story about how a verse from the Bible changed the life of a Hindu girl and her transformative journey. Don’t miss to read on…
I was born and raised in a Hindu family in India. Growing up in a religious family, I was always encouraged to spend time in prayer. As a kid, I never went to school without a tilak (tilak is a mark, generally made on the forehead of a Hindu, indicating a person’s sectarian affiliation). I believed in Hindu gods and goddesses, but it was a very transactional relationship. My prayers to them were limited to the week before school exams.
Ironically, I went to a Catholic school where I was introduced to Christianity, but I always viewed Christianity as having nothing to do with me. Despite twelve years in a Catholic school, I never understood who Jesus really was nor what He did for me.
I graduated high school with flying colors. I was extremely happy that my prayers to the Hindu gods had been answered. I secured admission to the best college in the city. Paradoxically, this was a Catholic college run by the Jesuit fathers.
During my first year of college, I attended a mandatory class on religion, where people spoke about their faith. I observed that while the Christian students had a lot to say about Jesus, the Hindus like me were mute when it came to professing their faith. I knew nothing about the Gita (the Bhagavad Gita is one of the holy scriptures of Hinduism). All I knew was how to ask God for my wishes to be fulfilled. I felt embarrassed to call myself a Hindu.
Then a Christian professor played a video about Jesus from the movie, The Passion of Christ. I saw how brutally He was scourged and how much He suffered when He was nailed to the cross. I had tears in my eyes. I could barely watch the crucifixion. Sadly, even then, I did not know the real reason why he had died on the cross at Calvary.
But after watching that video, I started taking an interest in knowing more about Jesus. I visited public libraries to search for the Bible but with little luck. Then I decided to read the PDF version of the Bible available on the Internet. I started with the book of Genesis but did not find Jesus there. Then, I randomly searched for Bible verses on Google. A verse from the book of Matthew struck me: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). This verse teaches us not to judge others.
A few weeks later, we had another religion class taught by a different professor. He asked each of us to share our beliefs and thoughts about our respective religions. Out of nowhere, I raised my hand and explained the verse above from Matthew—a shy Hindu girl sharing her thoughts about a Christian Bible verse! I believe my boldness was the work of the Holy Spirit. The professor had no idea that I was a Hindu. He liked my explanation and encouraged more people to speak up about their religion. This incident was a stepping stone in my conversion to the Catholic faith.
Moments of Truth
During this time, when I was coming to know Jesus and Christianity, I often asked myself, “Why do I always feel so peaceful in a church?” My experience in Hindu temples was quite different. There I found myself distracted by the shouts of vendors, the clanging of the temple bells, the priests chanting the mantras, and the rush of people pushing through large crowds to view the face of the gods. The peace I found in a church presented a stark contrast.
One day during the Covid lockdown, I stumbled upon a video on YouTube in which a priest explained in a lucid manner that no matter how many sins we have committed in our lives, we can still be reunited with God because His Son paid the price for our sins. Jesus Christ, Son of God, became human, lived among us, loved us, healed us, forgave sins, died on the cross and rose again from the dead, and now lives with us until the end of time.
Coming to know the Gospel changed my life. I learned that Jesus knows me and would love me even as a Hindu. Before, I had viewed Jesus as one of the many gods people worshipped, but now I realized who the true God is. None of the Hindu gods I had known had suffered and died for my sins. My heart filled with love for Jesus, and from that day, I considered myself a follower of Christ Jesus.
Tears of Joy
The Holy Spirit guided me to learn more about Jesus. I bought a Bible and started reading it. I was filled with admiration and love for Jesus. Previously, my relationship with God had been transactional. The fact that God loves me just as I am was a foreign concept to me.
I learned that Jesus wants to talk to me every day and to have a personal relationship with me. He loves me even when I am sinful. He is willing to forgive all my sins and accept me lovingly into His arms. I was not worthy of His love, but He loved me nonetheless. Today, my personal relationship with Jesus is the most important thing in my life.
While I was on this journey of establishing a personal relationship with Him, I had a dream in which I saw a man dressed in a brownish-red cloak walking in front of me on a road. The road was flanked by monsters on either side. The monsters wanted to harm me and made terrifying noises. However, these creatures started losing their vigor because of the man who was walking ahead of me. Because he was so powerful, they could not scare me or hurt me. I felt protected and safe in His presence.
I did not understand what the dream was about. But much later, a nun I knew from the Missionaries of Charity helped me interpret the dream. The man walking ahead of me was Jesus. He came to me to strengthen my faith in Him and protect me from the devil. I cried tears of joy after realizing that the creator of the sun, moon, and stars knows and cares for me.
It took me two years to convert to the Catholic faith, but when God opens a door, no person can close it. The Holy Spirit put angels disguised as men and women on my path to Catholicism. On June 25, 2022, I received the sacraments of Baptism, Holy Communion, and Confirmation. Today, I tell people about what Jesus did on the cross for them. I see Christ in every person I encounter. I wish to continue sharing the joy of the Gospel everywhere I can.'
At half past six, when it was still pitch dark and freezing cold, Joshua Glicklich heard a whisper, a whisper that brought him back to life.
My upbringing was very typical like that of any northern lad here in the United Kingdom. I went to a Catholic school and had my first Holy Communion. I was taught the Catholic faith, and we went to Church very often. By the time I got to the age of 16, I had to choose my education, and I chose to do my levels, not at a Catholic sixth form, but at a secular school. That is when I started to lose my faith.
The constant pushing of the teachers and priests to deepen my faith and love of God was no longer there. I ended up at university, and this is where my faith was really tested. In my first semester, I was partying, going to all these different events, and not making the best choices. I made some really big mistakes–like going out drinking until God knows what time in the morning and living a life that didn’t make any sense. That January, when students had to return from their first-semester break, I returned a bit earlier than everyone else.
That unforgettable day in my life, I woke up at about half past six in the morning. It was pitch black and freezing cold. Even the foxes that I used to see outside my room weren’t to be seen—it was that cold and horrible. I perceived an inaudible voice within me. It wasn’t a nudge or a push that was uncomfortable for me. It felt like a quiet whisper of God saying, “Joshua, I love you. You are my son … come back to me.” I could have easily walked away from that and totally ignored it. Yet I remembered that God does not abandon His children, no matter how far we have strayed.
Though it was raining hailstones, I walked to Church that morning. As I put one foot in front of the other, I thought to myself, “What am I doing? Where am I going?” Yet God kept moving me forward, and I arrived at the church for the eight o’clock Mass on that cold, wintry day. For the first time since I was about 15 or 16, I let the words of the Mass wash over me. I heard the Sanctus— “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts.” Just before that, the priest said, “Joining with the choirs of the angels and the saints…” I put my heart into it and focused. I sensed angels descending on the altar to the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. I remember receiving the Holy Eucharist and thinking, “Where have I been, and what has all of this been about if not for Him?” As I received the Eucharist, a flood of tears overcame me. I realized that I was receiving the body of Christ. He was there within me, and I was His tabernacle—His resting place.
From then on, I began to attend student Mass regularly. I met many Catholics who loved their faith. I often remember the quote by Saint Catherine of Siena, “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” That’s what I saw in these students. I saw the Lord letting these people be who they were meant to be. God guided them gently like a Father. They were setting the world on fire—they were evangelizing by making their faith known to others on campus, sharing the Good News. I wanted to get involved, so I became part of the university chaplaincy. During this time, I learned to love my faith and to express it to others in a way that wasn’t overbearing but Christ-like.
A few years later, I became the president of the Catholic Society. I had the privilege of leading a group of students in their faith development. During this time, my faith grew. I became an altar server. That’s when I got to know Christ—being up close to the altar. The priest says the words of transubstantiation, and the bread and wine turn into the true Body and Blood of Christ. As an altar server, all of this was right there in front of me. My eyes were opened to the absolute miracle that happens everywhere, at every Mass, on every altar.
God respects our free will and the journey of life we take. However, to reach the right destination, we have to choose Him. Remember that no matter how far we have strayed away from God, He is always there with us, walking right beside us and guiding us to the right place. We are nothing but pilgrims on a journey to Heaven.'
Born with non-verbal autism and diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a condition in which sight is gradually lost, he felt trapped in a silent prison of despair. Not able to communicate and hardly able to see…what would Colum’s life be? But God had other plans for him…
My name is Colum, but in all my 24 years, I have never spoken my own name because I have been non-verbal since birth. As a child, I was assessed and identified with moderate autism and a severe learning disability. My life was very boring. My parents fought for my right to an education, setting up a school with other parents of autistic children and battling for funding to continue it. But because I couldn’t communicate, they didn’t know what my brain was capable of, and I found the material dull. People thought I was happier at home watching DVDs. I did not even go on holiday after I turned 8. I did not believe that I would ever break free of my silent prison of hopelessness and despair.
Watching Others Live
I always felt that Jesus was close to me. From my earliest days, He became my closest friend and remains so, to this day. In my darkest moments, He was there to give me hope and comfort. It was very trying to have everyone treat me like a baby when I was intelligent inside. My life felt unbearable. I seemed to be living a half-life as an onlooker, watching others living life while I was excluded. How often I wished I could take part and show my true ability.
By the time I was 13, my eyesight was failing, so I was taken to Temple Street Children’s Hospital for an eye test called an electroretinogram(ERG). God had given me another challenge. I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a condition where the cells of the retina at the back of the eye die off and are not replaced, so the sight is gradually lost. There is no medical cure to fix this. I was devastated. It was such an awful blow to me, and I felt overwhelmed by sadness. For a while, my vision stabilized, giving me hope that I would retain some sight, but as I got older, my sight got worse and worse. I became so blind that I couldn’t tell the difference between different colors anymore. My future looked black. I couldn’t communicate, and now I could hardly see.
My life continued in grey despair with even less inclusion and interaction. My mother now believed that I would have to be institutionalized when I got older. I felt like I was teetering on the edge of insanity. Only God stood between me and madness. The love of Jesus was the only thing keeping me sane. My family knew nothing of my struggle because I couldn’t communicate with them, but in my heart, I felt Jesus telling me that I would be healed in time.
In April 2014, something amazing happened. My Mum took me to my first RPM (Rapid Prompt Method) workshop. I could hardly believe it. I finally met someone who believed in me, who believed that I could communicate, and who would help me put the hard work into learning how to. Can you imagine my delight? For an instant, my heart began to hope—hope, not fear, that the real me might emerge. Help had finally arrived. Joy whirled inside me at the thought that someone finally saw my potential. So began my life-changing journey into communication.
It was very hard work at first, taking weeks of practice to gain the motor memory to be able to spell accurately. It was worth every minute. Feelings of freedom began to grow as I found my voice at last. As God started this new chapter in my story, it felt like my life had finally begun. At last, I could tell my family about how I was feeling, and I felt so grateful to God.
Lashing & Biting
Jumping forward to May 2017. My granny told us she had a very vivid dream a few years ago about Pope John Paul II. In the dream, she was asking him to pray for her grandchildren, and it was so powerful that she wrote it down. She had forgotten about it until she came across the copybook, and it inspired her to start a novena to Pope Saint John Paul II for my siblings and me. She asked a group of people to pray the novena with us beginning on Monday, 22nd May. On Tuesday, the 23rd, at about 9 am, I was watching a DVD in my room off the kitchen. Dad had gone to work, and Mum was in the kitchen cleaning.
Suddenly, our dog, Bailey, started barking at the door of my room. She had never done anything like that before, so Mum knew something was wrong. She rushed in and found me in the throes of a fit. It was very frightening for her. I was lashing about and had bitten my tongue so there was blood on my face. In her distress, Mum got a sense of someone saying, “Just trust. Sometimes things get worse before they get better”. She called Dad, who promised to come home. He asked her to take a video of me which was very useful when we got to the hospital. When I stopped jerking, I was in a stupor for over two minutes. I had lost consciousness during this ordeal, and I don’t remember anything about it, but Mum had been praying for me and watching over me to keep me safe.
A Moment of Illumination
When I finally came to and staggered to my feet, I was very unsteady. Mum and Dad helped me into the car for the drive to the hospital (UCHG). At the hospital, the doctors examined me and admitted me to the hospital for further investigation. The porter came with the wheelchair to move me to the Acute Medical Ward. While I was being wheeled along the corridor, I suddenly got a very dramatic improvement in my eyesight.
How can I describe my feelings at that moment? I felt mesmerized by the beauty of the sights around me. Everything looked so different and so clear. It was amazing! It is impossible to explain how I felt in that moment of illumination. I can’t express the degree of my wonder at returning to a world of color and shape. It was the best moment of my life so far!
When Mum asked me if I had something to say, I spelled out, “My eyes are better.” Mum was astounded. She asked if I could see a sticker on a machine outside my cubicle. I said, “Yes.” She asked if I could see what was written on the top of the sticker. I spelled out, “I am clean.” She was so astonished that she didn’t know what to think or how to react. I didn’t know how to feel at this moment myself!
When Dad and my aunt came in, Mum told them what had happened. Dad said, “We will have to test this.” He went to the curtain at the end of my bed and held up a small bag of dairy-free chocolate buttons. I spelled out what was written on the bag. Then it was rapid fire for a while as he gave me lots of words to spell in the next few minutes. I got all the words right. My aunt and parents were amazed.
How was this possible? How could a blind man write all the words correctly? It was medically impossible. No amount of medical treatment can help with Retinitis Pigmentosa. There is no cure in medical science. It had to be God miraculously healing me through the intercession of Saint John Paul II. It cannot be explained any other way. I’m so grateful to God for restoring my sight. It is an act of true Divine Mercy. I am now able to use a keyboard for independent communication with speech, which is much faster.
My Praying Mom
Let me tell you about how I kept the faith. I had many times of doubts when I felt hopeless. It was only Jesus who kept me sane. I got my faith from my mother. Her faith is very strong. She inspired me to keep going when times were tough. Now I know our prayers are answered. It took me a while to get used to having my eyesight back. My brain/body disconnect was so great, and my brain was not wired to use vision in a functional way. It was fine for scanning, but it was difficult to get my brain to use information from my vision. For instance, although I could see, I still found it hard to identify what I was looking for. I got frustrated sometimes when I stumbled because I didn’t see where I was going even though I had a vision.
In September, I went back to the hospital for testing. I got a 20:20 score for my sight and color vision, so my vision is normal now. However, the retinal photograph still shows degeneration. It hasn’t improved. According to medical science, it is impossible for me to see clearly. I should still be stuck in a murky, grey world. But God, in His mercy, has released me from that dull prison and plunged me into a beautiful world of color and light. The doctors are baffled. They are still baffled, but I rejoice because I can still see.
Now, I can do many things much better than before. I can tell Mum things much faster now that I can use the laminated alphabet sheet. It is so much quicker than the stencil. I am so grateful to my talented Mum for persisting with my education despite the difficulties and for praying so faithfully for my healing.
In the Gospels, we hear about Jesus restoring the sight of many blind people, just as he had restored mine. In these modern times, many people have forgotten about miracles. They scoff and think that science has all the answers. God is left out of their considerations. When a miracle like my healing occurs, He is revealing that He is still very much alive and powerful. I hope that my story of healing will inspire you to open your heart to the God who loves you so much. The Father of Mercy awaits your response.'
Freelance artist Holly Rodriguez had been an atheist all her life and never thought about God or considered joining a religion or even going to church, but one day…
It was December of 2016, I had woken up one winter morning wanting nothing more than my usual cup of coffee. I had been an atheist all of my life. I had never thought about God and certainly never considered joining a religion or going to church. However on that day, for no reason at all, I felt a sudden desire to go to church. There was nothing unusual going on in my life to bring about this sudden change of heart. I had been living a fairly normal, quiet life as a freelance artist in a small seaside town in Kent, England.
I searched for the closest church that was open that day and found a Roman Catholic church within walking distance. That was a surprise.Although I had passed that area many times, I had never noticed a church there before. It’s amazing how blind we are to the presence of God, and how near He is to us, when we walk the path of life with a closed heart.
I phoned the church and a kind lady answered the phone.She introduced herself as the parish secretary and I asked her some questions which she was happy to answer. She told me the church was Catholic and that she would let the priest know I had phoned and we said our goodbyes. I was shy and didn’t know what to expect. I’ve always been one of those people who likes to know everything about a situation before making a decision. I didn’t know what a Catholic Church was, and had never met a priest before. I decided to take the day off work and learn about the Catholic faith, so did a lot of reading on Wikipedia for a few hours.
Then my phone rang.On the other line was a kind voice—a priest who introduced himself as Father Mark. He was very friendly and enthusiastic which came as a shock to me. I had never in my life met someone so eager to meet me and welcome me. We scheduled a time for me to visit the church the next day. When I had arrived, Father Mark was there in his cassock to greet me. It was the first time I’d seen a priest in person and I remember being really fascinated by his cassock. I guess I’d never thought about what a priest looks like. I had only seen the Pope briefly on the television news occasionally, but never anything beyond that.
Father Mark sat with me and we talked for a couple of hours, then he invited me to join the “RCIA” classes. He also suggested that it was a good idea to start going to Mass right away, so I did. I can recall the first Mass I ever went to. It was Gaudete Sunday and I sat in the very front pew, absolutely clueless to the etiquette. Everyone around me was standing and then sitting and then standing again and sometimes kneeling, and reciting the creed and other prayers. I was new and found this a bit intimidating, but also fascinating and intriguing. I followed what everyone else was doing to the best of my ability. The priest was wearing a beautiful rose vestment that looked very ornate and delicate. He chanted at the altar and I watched and listened closely as incense filled the chapel. It was a very beautiful English Mass, and from then on I knew I’d come back.
Straight to the Heart
I liked it so much that I kept going back every weekend and even started attending daily Mass. My love for Jesus grew at every encounter. During my first Christmas Eve Mass, the priest tenderly carried the Christ Child statue, wrapped in his ivory satin cope the way that priests hold a monstrance.As he processed around the chapel with the Infant Christ to the crib, accompanied by the chanting of prayers, I was moved to tears. I thought that was so lovely. Never in my life had I seen anything like it before.
As I prepared to be received into the Catholic Church, I spent a lot of time reading at home, especially from the catechism given to me by the priests of the parish. A week before my baptism that I was told I’d need to choose a Saint for my confirmation. There were thousands of Saints however, and didn’t know how I’d choose from them all. I knew nothing about them except for Saint Philomena because the priest did a homily on her one Sunday morning. By divine providence I came across a fascinating book, “Interior Castles” while I was volunteering in the parish café. It was written by a Spanish Saint I’d never even heard of before—the Carmelite nun, Saint Teresa of Avila. Since my family is of Spanish heritage, I chose her as my patron although I didn’t know much else about her.
Finally, during the Easter vigil Mass on April 15th 2017, I was baptized and confirmed into the Catholic Church. I was so excited that I could now receive the Blessed Sacrament at the altar rail, instead of a blessing that I was up bright and early on Easter Sunday to sing with the choir at the main Mass. Soon after, I joined the Legion of Mary and began praying the Rosary, making Rosaries and doing mission work around the town to bring the lapsed Catholics back to Mass and pray the Rosary with people at home.
Saint Teresa remained a guiding influence in my life, teaching me to love Jesus more and more, but I had no idea who the Carmelites were until I joined our parish on a day pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Simon Stock at Aylesford Priory, a historic home of the Carmelite friars.
A Radical Change
Years later, I would stumble upon another Spaniard, Saint Josemaria Escriva who also had a great love for Saint Teresa of Avila and the Carmelites. He was the founder of Opus Dei, a prelature within the Catholic Church, which I joined as a co-operator, with a mission to pray for the members and priests. I felt God calling me to a deeper commitment, but didn’t know if that was with Opus Dei, or in religious life as a nun.A priest friend told me that I had to make up my mind and choose which path to take, that I couldn’t stay suspended in uncertainty forever. He was right, so I began to pray and fast, listening to God’s call. My life had gone through a lot of changes in a short period of time and I suffered a dark night of the soul.
My Cross felt very heavy, but I knew that if I kept persevering in my faith, all would be well. I had to let go of the need for total control, allow God to lead the way and stop fighting against His will.I had been too caught up in my own ego and desires to really listen to Him. When that epiphany came, I decided to let go and live each day as it came to me, as a gift from God and to let Him lead the way. I adopted the philosophy that God places us where we are in life because that is where He needs us at that specific time. I made myself an instrument to His divine will. When I abandoned myself to Him, God showed me that everything had happened that way because He was calling me from the very start.
Lead Kindly Light
I kept receiving gifts from the Saints which were leading me to Carmel. One day, I was entranced by a bright pink rose growing out of the cement. Later I discovered that it was the birthday of Saint Thèrése of Lisieux who said that she would send people roses as a sign from Heaven. That same day, I was in a secular incense shop when I came across a box of pretty rose scented incense sticks with an image of St Thèrése of Lisieux on the box. These little signs helped plant seeds of vocation and seeds of faith.
As I write this, I am about to celebrate my 6th anniversary as a Catholic and preparing to enter the sacred garden of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Accepting this vocation to be a cloistered nun, if God wills it to be so, I spend my life praying for the Church, for the world, and for priests. It has been a long journey, and I have met so many wonderful people along the way.
Saint Thèrése of Lisieux referred to Carmel as her desert where Our Lord spent forty days in contemplation and prayer, but for me it is the garden of Gethsemane where Our Lord sat among the olive trees in agony. I join Him in His agony with unbridled love, and walk with Him on the Via Dolorosa. Together we suffer for souls and offer the world our love.'