A Catholic Priest: My Friend & Brother

Just found this note in my room at my parent’s house. I wrote this letter to a friend, Santi, who was at the seminary at that time….and on his way to becoming a Catholic priest. I have recently gotten in touch with him again, and I revealed to him that I was a Muslim now. I will admit that I was completely afraid he would judge me (I’ve always been scared of priests and nuns judging me). To my surprise, I was reminded that sometimes a strong faith in a Creator, God/Allah is what makes people fundamentally the same.

I had written this letter to him during highschool (around 2003, I think) when my faith was completely crashing. He responded to my e-mail and gave me beautiful words of advice. Until this day, I thank him for it. I have retyped the letter below (his responses are in bold–as he replied within the text).

Cristi,

Thank you for your email. Thank you for the trust. Thank you for the friendship. Let me start by saying ‘peace be with you.’ Not only do I share my own peace, but I share God’s peace and his mercy. I want you to know that I am here for you, although far physically. I am praying for you and I know that God has a beautiful purpose for you. I hope it is alright if I reply to your message by commenting in it as it unfolds.

“Hey Santiago,

Well, this may sound like a strange question but believe it or not, you are one of the only real Catholics I know…(I am glad we got to know each other through our work at the library. Yet, I think the issue at hand is in the midst of diversity, it is good to have friends who share our values, dreams and goals in life). So I guess it does not hurt asking you for some advice. Well, I will tell you my story and hope for your religious perspective (I believe the religious perspective must always embrace and reflect all other aspects of life). If you can’t help, don’t worry about it, but I’m basically a little bit confused about my faith, I am Catholic too, as you know (I think I remember you went to St. ******…lol. You know, it is quite alright to be confused. Actually, it is good that you are. Being confused shows that you are thinking, that you are meditating and pondering. It shows you are alive). Well, since I began college, there are people of many faiths that I am friends with such as Buddhists, Christians, Agnostics, even atheists (It is good to have many friends, who have many different views and perspectives. In a way, looking into the diversity of life helps us to understand the beauty of our own beliefs and values). I have learned many things from these faiths and have come to respect them. For example, I have come to really respect Buddhists’ spiritually disciplined lifestyle and peaceful meditations (Our Catholic faith also has a very long and powerful tradition of prayer life, meditation and discipline. It’s called asceticism. Just think of the monks and nuns, of priests and religious men and women. Now think that it is not only limited or restricted to them. We are all called to be holy, to love, to meditate and to ponder on the Word of God). While observing people of other faiths, I realize that there are things about Catholicism that I don’t agree with (Think about why is it that you do not agree with them. Then, reflect about what you believe…and why is it that you believe it. Do not only see the beliefs and traditions of the Church only from the point that the Bible and Pope tells us. Search and research about the reason behind these beliefs. Be assured, that any question you have about any topic you can share it with me). I feel that my faith in God is very shaky now (Shaky is a good beginning. At least there is movement. Otherwise, it would be dead. Do not be ashamed to recognize your own confusion. Confusion makes people beautiful and honest. Be honest with yourself and with others). I know I believe in God, but I am not so sure I believe everything in my faith. I have not gone to Church in a long time and I would feel like a hypocrite if I started going now. I also don’t pray that often anymore…I only turn to God when I feel completely hopeless, not because I am a devoted Catholic (Do not think of yourself as a hypocrite. Think of yourself as the Prodigal Daughter. Remember the parable? Coming back home is the greatest feeling and sensation there is. Returning is not only about physical journey, but a spiritual awakening as well. Let God move you and guide you. Do not be afraid to ask God for help, for He is always listening and loving you. He loves you very much and wishes nothing but to overflow you with blessings and graces. God is merciful and forgiving: know that He is always waiting for you and carrying you through it all…always!!!). I think I was happier when I had faith and believed strongly rather than now, but I am afraid I will never go back (Do not give up on God…you are an amazing person and God wants to grow and experience Him always more strongly and more fully. He can do it all. Don’t be afraid). I hope I didn’t confuse you with my story (There is nothing confusing. It is beautiful to read your story. It is honest and humbling). Well, basically I just try to handle all of lives’ tasks on my own without help from others and without prayer, and it isn’t working out too well for me (Realizing that we cannot do anything without God is called humility, for it allows us to see our lives in the perspective of God’s love and purpose for us). I do not know myself anymore nor what my faith is (Sure you know yourself kiddo…Do not beat yourself too badly. Let God speak to you. Do not rush anything. Pray for wisdom, patience and understanding. I shall pray for them too).

I hope you don’t judge me by this, but it has gotten to the point where I am seeing myself ‘falling apart’. I do not know to whom to turn without feeling that they will judge me (I don’t judge you and never would. You are cute and fluffy Cristy. God loves you. Very much so and you deserve the best. My prayer for you is that you may experience God’s mercy and light. His truth. Know that you are not alone in this journey. We are all flawed and need God’s mercy and forgiveness. I make mistakes everyday and I also humbly ask you to pray for me, too).

I wrote this letter at a point in my life where everything I had ever known had been shaken. I was raised in Catholic school and the Catholic faith was the center of my universe. I remember very clearly when I wrote this desperate letter to Santi. I had written it after reading on a site a post by an atheist who argued that God didn’t exist. It was the first time I had ever heard anyone flirt with such a notion, that I cried for a long time afterward. You can say I was naive, but my whole world was really falling apart. I was in dire need of spiritual guidance, and Santi came to my aid.

My spiritual journey took a long while. After this letter, I considered myself agnostic–a belief in God, but no particular religion. It took me 6 years to arrive “home”— in my case, Islam. I am not sure this is a decision that pleases my Catholic friends and family, but it is the state in which I am sure I belong. Islam is the state in which I can feel God’s mercy, forgiveness, blessings. I didn’t become a Muslim out of desperation nor out of a need to find a spiritual path. In fact, I was quite satisfied as an agnostic–but knowledge of God was absent. I chose Islam first and foremost because of conviction in its pure and healthy lifestyle, and because I believe the Quran is the unaltered message to mankind from the Creator. More so, I feel that  Islam does not conflict with human curiosity; with our natural inclination to ask questions.

When I read messages like the letter above, I can begin to see how my prayers to God were eventually answered. I had asked for guidance, faith, mercy and it is now that I can really see how I have always been receiving them.

When I got in contact with Santi after many years (3?), I feared that he would be disappointed with the fact that I am a Muslim. But when I looked back at his letter, I did exactly what he encouraged me to do:  to never give up on God. And I was relieved to find that he kept his words: “I will never judge you”.

I did not leave Catholicism because I thought it was “wrong” or because it contradicts principles in Islam. My family is Christian, I was raised Christian and Christian values have shaped me into who I am today. In no way do I look down on Christianity. I received schooling under Catholic nuns, received spiritual advice, friendship and support from Catholic priests, and grew up under a very spiritually healthy environment. As you can see in the letter, the fundamentals are the same: a merciful and forgiving God; a goal towards jannah (heaven); asceticism–a simple lifestyle aimed at pleasing God; giving to the needy/poor; devotion through good actions and prayer. As odd as it may sound, Islam reinforced the beliefs and values with which I was raised: monotheism and a devotion to God.  I became a Muslim because I felt it has sealed what I have believed all along and eliminated the things in which I never believed. And this has given me a sense of peace.

Insh’Allah (God willingly), more people will begin to look past the difference between religions  and focus on the commonalities…Read the letter again. Santi’s God and my God are the same. It isn’t by coincidence that he began with letter with “peace be with you”–the same greetings with which Muslims greet one another, salaamu alaykum. We can leave arguments about the differences for another time, but we have come to realize that we are both human beings with a Creator and we need His mercy. We both seek His mercy through different means, but with the same goal in mind, jannah (or Heaven/Paradise).

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One thought on “A Catholic Priest: My Friend & Brother

  1. Cristy,
    I am thankful for our friendship. Re-reading that letter brought tears to my eyes. God is faithful. Never forget you have a good friend in me.
    Salam,
    Santi

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