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Sharing faith experiences – Benedict Rogers - II

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 last week, presented to you the first part of 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."
Today we shall listen to the second part of his faith experiences. 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: Roger’s decision to convert to Catholicism also came following meditation and study of various authors, including Von Balthasar, de Lubac and the encyclicals of Pope Benedict XVI, especially Caritas in Veritate. His story becomes concrete evidence of how a country still missionary territory, may instead become an opportunity to encounter Christ, to proclaim the Gospel, to rediscover the Catholic faith that Europe and the West seem to have abandoned. He says:
R: So two years ago, I asked Archbishop Bo what one would do if one wanted to become a Catholic. At the time it was a question arising more out of curiosity than intention, but his answer marked a turning point for me. He explained very simply and briefly: "If a person finds they can accept the teachings of the Catholic Church, then they are ready to become a Catholic". He added, with no pressure but with extraordinary graciousness: "If you ever find yourself in that position, I would receive you into the Church here in Burma".
Q: So amazing, what happened then?
R: That had two effects. First, I thought what a beautiful and symbolic idea, given my years of commitment to Burma. But second, I thought that is not a good enough reason to become a Catholic - just because I like one particular Archbishop and have a commitment to one particular country. And so, I thought, I should investigate and explore Catholicism more proactively, and find out whether it is for me.
Q: What was the result?
R: Well, over the past year or so, I have read everything I could get my hands on. I have read many of Pope Benedict XVI's books and all his encyclicals, which I loved. I read several of Scott Hahn's books, which were immensely helpful in explaining some of the teachings of the Church which, as an evangelical Anglican, I had previously not been familiar with. I read George Weigel, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, John Henry Newman and GK Chesterton. I read Malcolm Muggeridge's Conversion and Something Beautiful for God. I read the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. I read many of the Church Fathers and great Saints. I studied the life of John Paul II, through Witness to Hope and the documentary Nine Days That Changed the World. All of these books and writings drew me closer and closer to the Church. The tug that I had first felt several years ago grew stronger and stronger. The more I read and talked and prayed and thought, the more I was drawn to the Barque of Peter.
Q: So, your reading helped you much!
R: In addition to reading, I had several Catholic friends who helped me, by being willing to listen to my questions and offer some answers. My parish priest prepared me for my reception by meeting with me on a weekly basis for several months. I took part in an Evangelium (RCIA) course.
R: In January this year, I made a five-day personal Ignatian retreat at Campion Hall, Oxford, led by Fr Nicholas King. During that retreat, God spoke to me in some very beautiful, clear ways which helped to draw everything together and confirmed in my heart and mind that I was ready to take this decision. And so I moved forward on my journey, to a Rite of Election service in Southwark Cathedral, London, where my name was read out along with 450 other catechumens and candidates, at a service led by Archbishop Peter Smith. And then came Palm Sunday.
Q: What do you feel now?
R: Like many converts, I have a feeling of coming home. As the cathedral bells rang out across Rangoon on Palm Sunday, I felt an extraordinary joy rising up within me. Here I was, in a country that is not my own but which I have come to love, in a Church which was not my own but is now my spiritual home. I was smiling. My friends were smiling. I had a sense that those who had inspired me along the way and are no longer with us, such as Shahbaz Bhatti and Cecil Chaudhry, were looking down and smiling. I had a sense that God was smiling too.
Q: That was Benedict Rogers sharing his conversion experiences.
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, 31 May 2013


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