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Sharing faith experiences – Benedict Rogers
Welcome to our special program on the Year of Faith, THE FAITHFUL WITNESS, a series on the lives of Inspiring People and Witnesses of faith in the Catholic Church from around the world. These are people who lived their ordinary lives in extraordinary ways. They are examples of great fortitude and virtue. Their unique stories inspire us to be rooted in our faith. God calls each one of us today to inspire our brothers and sisters and to be witnesses of our faith.
The Faithful Witness of this week is Benedict Rogers, a London-based activist, and member of the Anglican Church, who was received into the Catholic Church by Bishop Charles Bo of Yangon on Palm Sunday this year. Benedict Rogers is a journalist and human rights activist. He was born in London, and worked as a team leader for the East Asia team of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
Our program, the Faithful Witness today, presents the story of Benedict Rogers, a London-born journalist and a human rights activist, who recently became a Catholic after two years of preparation in the Catechumenate. The ceremony was held in Yangon, Myanmar, presided over by the local archbishop Charles Bo. In fact, Archbishop Bo played a key role in his decision to convert to Catholicism, matured over time after a long period of study and reflection. The ceremony was attended by Catholics, Protestants, ethnic minorities, agnostics, atheists and Buddhists. It confirmed the strong link Rogers established with the people of Burma and the many others active in the nation. And as reflected by his story, the most obvious sign of the grace received was the "smiles" of friends, which prompted him to write thus: "it seemed to me that even God was happily smiling."
He himself wrote his story for the Rome based News Agency ‘AsiaNews’ which published it on 3 April this year. Let us now listen to him
R: On Palm Sunday, just over ten days after the election of Pope Francis 1, I was received into the Catholic Church in a ceremony at St Mary's Cathedral, Rangoon, Burma, by the Archbishop of Rangoon Charles Bo, with British Parliamentarian Lord Alton as my sponsor. Friends who joined the celebration included Burmese Buddhists, Baptists from the Karen and Chin ethnic group, a couple of Western lapsed Catholics and several foreign friends who are non-religious, secular, agnostic or atheist. On every count this was a unique occasion.
Q: Why did you become a Catholic, and why in Rangoon?
R: So why did I become a Catholic, and why Rangoon? In 1994, I became a Christian, as a result of a one-week mission on my university campus led by Methodist preacher Donald English. For 19 years, I have worshipped in evangelical, charismatic Anglican churches. But I have always had a deep respect for the Catholic Church, and have been inspired by many Catholics with whom I have worked over the years.
R: I work for the international human rights organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which specializes in religious freedom. I have worked on Burma for 15 years, travelling more than 40 times to the country and its borders, to visit dissidents, activists, refugees and internally displaced peoples and to document their stories. I have crossed the borders into the conflict zones many times, and I have been deported from the country twice. I have written three books about Burma, including a biography of the former dictator Than Shwe.
Q: Over the years of mission in the various countries of Asia, Benedict Rogers has met with prominent personalities of the Catholic view, including Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Religious Minorities in Pakistan, murdered by Islamic fundamentalists in March 2011 for his firm opposition to the notorious blasphemy laws. He says:
R: I have also worked on East Timor, Pakistan, China, Indonesia and North Korea, among other places. The suffering of the people and the courage of those who try to change the situation has been a constant source of inspiration. In Pakistan, the Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, assassinated two years ago, was a good friend of mine. We travelled together several times, when he was a grassroots activist. We shared my experiences, including missing a bomb by five minutes, and meeting a seven year-old Christian girl who had been raped. Another friend in Pakistan was Shahbaz's mentor, Group Captain (Rtd) , a leading human rights campaigner. In East Timor, I worked with an amazing nun, Sister Lourdes, and her Secular Institute of Brothers and Sisters in Christ (ISMAIK), as well as with Father Fransisco Maria Fernandes, the first East Timorese to be exiled by Indonesia in 1975. In Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen's boldness impressed me. My friend James Mawdsley, who spent many months in a Burmese jail for pro-democracy protests and is now a seminarian, encouraged me along the way. And Lord Alton's integrity, courage, conviction and conscience inspires me in politics. I have had the privilege of working with Lord Alton for a decade, and travelled with him to Pyongyang in 2011.
R: Sub-consciously, therefore, I have long been drawn to the Catholic Church. But until two years ago, I had no intention of changing my affiliation. I was content to be an Anglican, benefiting from the best of all worlds - appreciating the good things of the evangelical and charismatic traditions, while respecting Catholicism. All that changed during a series of conversations with Archbishop Bo in Rangoon.
Q: when did you meet Archbishop Bo and what happened afterwards?
R: I first met Archbishop Bo five years ago. I was instantly impressed by his understated courage, his quiet determination to take a stand against injustice in Burma, his warmth, generosity of spirit, hospitality, humility and humour. He is not a rabble-rouser, he is not someone who would take to the streets, and he has wisely navigated his way to being a voice of conscience, without getting into trouble with the authorities. Read any of his homilies over the years and the message of justice and freedom is clear, without always being explicit. His combination of boldness and wisdom is impressive.
Q: That was Benedict Rogers sharing his faith experiences. You can listen to the second part of his conversion experience next week.
You have been listening to THE FAITHFUL WITNESS our weekly series based on the lives of Inspiring People and Witnesses of faith in the Catholic Church from around the world. If you have a faith experience to share with us, let us know. Visit our website radiovaticana.va.
By P.J. Joseph SJ
FRIDAY, 24 May 2013