Skip to comments.Eight Stories of New (Catholic) Converts (including a Muslim who has become a doctor in theology)
Posted on 09/09/2013 3:40:59 PM PDT by NYer
From atheism, from Judaism, from Islam. Arriving at the Christian faith sometimes from distant and hostile shores. The last of the series: a Turkish Muslim who has become a doctor in Catholic theology.
ROME, September 10, 2013 – This is not a particularly successful season for converts to Christianity. Often more respect is shown to those who “dialogue” from outside of the Church than to those who embrace the Christian faith and ask for baptism.
But it is also true that conversions to Catholicism are more numerous than one might think. Departing from the most diverse shores, even the most distant and hostile.
Four years after a first series of interviews collected in the volume “Nuovi cristiani d'Europa. Dieci storie di conversione tra fede e ragione," Lorenzo Fazzini - a journalist and the dynamic director of EMI, Editrice Missionaria Italiana - has returned to explore eight more stories of great converts.
The last interview in this new series was released on Sunday, September 1 in the newspaper of the Italian episcopal conference, “Avvenire." And it is with a convert from Islam to Christianity, born and raised in Turkey and today living in Germany.
His name is Timo Aytaç Güzelmansur (in the photo). He was born in 1977 in Antakya, ancient Antioch, where - according to the Acts of the Apostles - the followers of Jesus of Nazareth were called Christians for the first time.
After his conversion and baptism, he studied theology from 2000 to 2005 in Germany, in Augsburg, and then in Rome at the Pontifical Gregorian University. He received a doctorate from the Hochschule Sankt Georgen of Frankfurt, the same faculty of theology where the young Jesuit Jorge Mario Bergoglio intended to complete his studies.
His “mentor” was another Jesuit, Christoph Tröll, a great expert on Islam, highly appreciated for this expertise by the German episcopal conference and by Joseph Ratzinger himself, who in 2005, soon after he was elected pope, called him to introduce at Castel Gandolfo the annual session of studies with his former theology students.
The interview is reproduced further below. In it Timo Aytaç Güzelmansur does not deny the "danger" of conversion in a country like Turkey and therefore all the more so in even more intolerant Muslim countries.
But he emphasizes how conversions are not lacking, including for a reason very similar to his own: the discovery that “Jesus has loved us to the point of giving himself for us on the cross.”
It is a reason that has also motivated other converts interviewed by Fazzini, as demonstrated by the conversations published by "Avvenire" beginning last July 15.
1. PETER HITCHENS - Brother of the more famous Christopher - who with Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett makes up the triad of the “new atheism” - he also comes from a radical aversion to all religious faith. He was a Trotskyite and afterward an ardent supporter of communism of the strict Soviet observance. He converted to Christianity as an adult, prompted by a reflection on a painting by Rogier van der Weyden that depicts the universal judgment.
> Hitchens: "Dio è sempre una possibilità"
2. PATRICK KÉCHICHIAN - From the Paris of Jacques Lacan and the psychoanalysis of Christ of Péguy and Claudel. Passing through the pages of "Le Monde," the French newspaper of “laicité." The conversion of Patrick Kéchichian, a literary critic and writer, found in the love of the Nazarene - through the pages of Kierkegaard - the answers to the questions that were troubling him inside.
> Kéchichian. Il mistero doloroso che va verso la luce
3. TATIANA GORITCHEVA - A Russian theologian and activist, she chose the Gospel, accepting prison and exile in order to reject the “diabolical ideology” of Marxism that wanted to change man by refusing all openness to heaven. Today she lives in Paris, where she warns the hedonist West against another golden calf, the unbridled consumerism that annihilates the spiritual yearning of the person.
> Goritcheva: l'alba dopo il sovietismo
4. STRADFORD and LÉONIE CALDECOTT - They reside in an English city, Oxford, that is synonymous with intellectual power. But Stratford Caldecott and his wife, Léonie, have been conquered by the grace that the Christian faith, discovered as a gift and lived in freedom, can offer to the contemporary world.
> Caldecott: l'élite di Oxford non ama i cristiani
5. FRANÇOIS TAILLANDIER - Can one convert to Christianity thanks to the figure of John Paul II, while remaining “progressive” in one's vision of life? For François Taillandier, a French writer and journalist, this is what happened. He truly lived his journey to the faith thanks to pope Karol Wojtyla, his demanding word with respect to the common mentality, his denunciation of a capitalism that is merciless toward the poor.
> Taillandier: "Io, convertito dal papa combattente"
6. MYROSLAV MARYNOVYCH - His commitment to human rights in the former Soviet Union cost him 10 years of prison and exile. Today he is vice-rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, where he directs the Institute on Religion and Society, which he founded in 1997. He also founded the Ukrainian section of Amnesty International. He participated as an observer at the 2001 synod of bishops.
> Marynovych, un mistico nel gulag sugli Urali
7. JEAN-MARIE ELIE SETBON - The novels of the Jewish-American writer Chaim Potok, with the protagonist an ultra-Orthodox Jewish painter who paints a crucifixion and thus causes scandal in his community in New York, seem to have come to life in Jean-Marie Elie Setbon. Of a Jewish father and mother, he was drawn to Jesus crucified as a child, was ordained a rabbi in Jerusalem by the traditionalist Lubavitch movement, and today, having become a Catholic, seeks to pass on to everyone his encounter with Christ.
> Setbon. Dalla kippah al Crocifisso
And the following is the eighth and last interview of the series.
GÜZELMANSUR, A MUSLIM WON OVER BY JESUS
An interview with Timo Aytaç Güzelmansur
Q: How did your conversion to Catholicism come about?
A: I began to approach the Christian faith at the age of 18, after meeting a Christian with whom I became friends in my city, Antakya. I come from a Muslim family that is not particularly religious, but I received instruction based on Islamic principles: my parents belong to the Alawite community.
After my encounter with some Christians, I began to read the Bible, in particular the New Testament. And I was immediately fascinated by the person of Jesus. This fascination, which still overwhelms me, and the surprise (because of the wonder) that Jesus loves me so much as to go up upon the cross and give his life for me, are the reasons why I became a Christian.
Q: How did the people around you react to the news of your Christian conversion?
A: There were different reactions. In my family there arose a certain incomprehension of what it meant that a son in his twenties should decide to be baptized. Probably because of a sense of shame, given my decision not to express very much about the reasons for my religious choice, there took place a certain distancing between myself and my father, so much so that for a while I had to leave the home of my parents and emigrate to eastern Turkey. For some of my friends, I was no longer who I used to be. They even treated me as a renegade and broke off all contact with me.
Q: Why did you decide, when it was time for you to be baptized, to take the name of Timothy?
A: About two years after I became interested in Christianity I decided to be baptized. A priest of the Little Brothers of Jesus prepared me for baptism. On January 6, 1997 I was baptized with the name of Timothy at what was then the cathedral of the apostolic vicariate of Anatolia, in the city of Mershin. My baptism was celebrated in the afternoon in the presence of just a few people.
Personally, I chose this name because Timothy was a follower of St. Paul. Timothy was originally from Iconium, the modern-day Turkish city of Konya. When he, together with Paul, began to evangelize Anatolia he was young like I was when I asked for baptism. In a letter Paul wrote to Timothy: “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example for believers in word, in action, in charity, in faith, in purity" (1 Tm 4:12).
Q: What aspect of Christianity struck you the most?
A: I converted to Christianity because of Christ! As I have already said, what still fascinates me is the love of Jesus for men. He loved us to the point of giving himself for us on the cross. If Jesus gives his life for me, how can I respond? For me this represents the fundamental question. And it seems logical to me to repay this love by following Christ and receiving baptism.
Q: Are there aspects of Islam that you consider positive?
A: Islam is not a homogeneous religion. Within it we find many religious currents and diverse cultural imprints, and all of them are presented as Islamic.
For example, I find it tremendous that Islam does not make any distinction among races or discriminate based of the color of one's skin: all men are treated as brothers. In the particular Islamic community of my parents, the Alawites, the love of the believer for God and for men is emphasized.
There are, however, various aspects of Islam that I cannot accept, like for example the relationship between man and woman, the unclear relationship with force, the often cited concept of “holy war.”
Q: Is peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims possible?
A: Yes, I think it is possible, in part because I have the impression that both in Europe and in Turkey everyone knows little about the other. We often live close to one another but not with the other. We must show more interest in the lives of others by exchanging our religious experiences. As persons seeking the will of God we have many global challenges that we can overcome only together.
It seems to me that that weight of history is bearing down even more upon us and upon our possibility of knowing one another. This is nonetheless the time, as Vatican Council II said in the document "Nostra Aetate" on the religions, to leave aside the past in order to seek to understand one another sincerely and mutually and to support together the promotion and protection of social rights, which are moral goods; not last, among these rights, peace and freedom for men. We must have the courage to approach one another.
Q: From your German observatory, are conversions from Islam to Christianity on the rise?
A: In the Catholic Church in Germany, about two hundred persons of Muslim origin are baptized each year. It is not known how many new Christians there are in Protestant circles who come from Islam, because there are no statistics.
Persons who leave Islam have different reasons at the time they decide to take this step, which is dangerous. Some of them say: Muhammad was too violent a statesman and man of religion, and this violence is also transmitted in the Quran. Others perceive the Arab communities where Islam is the majority as very backward. Still others have left Islam because they came to live in the West, and here they want to integrate completely: according to them, one fundamental step is to accept the creed of the majority, or Christianity.
But above all there are Muslim persons of profound religious sensibility who are seeking God, who for this reason find in Christianity a God who loves them and offers them peace and acceptance. Thanks to the encounter with Christ they discover an image of God that obviously they cannot find with Islam.
Q: In Italy the condition of Christianity in Turkey today is known above all because of two serious incidents, the double homicide of the priest Andrea Santoro and of the Bishop Luigi Padovese. How do Christians live in your country of origin, Turkey?
A: Yes, unfortunately in the recent past in Turkey there have been waves of unopposed violence with regard to Christians. Personally I did not know Fr. Santoro, but I lived between 1998 and 99 in the parish of St. Mary in Trabzon where in 2006 he was barbarously killed. Moreover I was a personal contact of Bishop Luigi Padovese in the city of Iskenderun. His killing, at the hand of his driver, still finds me dumbfounded today. To this series of murders must be added those of three Protestant Christians and of the Armenian journalist Hrant Zaehlen.
After these events, Christians in Turkey find themselves ever more ill at ease. The social humor of the country offers a great variety of situations: one goes from attitudes of friendly closeness to hostile outrages. Depending on where one lives in Turkey, it is possible to experience all of these situations. In the city of Malatya, wherein 2007 three Protestant Christians were killed, still today no Turk will identify himself as a Christian. While in Antakya even the representatives of the state extol the good relations among Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
Q: In the Islam of today is there greater attention than in the past to democracy, human rights, and religious freedom?
A: When the uprisings known as the Arab revolutions broke out, no one was able to predict what dynamics would be unleashed. Many persons in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrein and elsewhere took to the streets because they knew they could no longer allow themselves to be exploited by the power of the state. Men, women, and young people rose up for their rights and to have more freedom.
In this context as well, the different cultural traditions have influenced the political and social life of individual countries. I do not see democracy at polar opposites with respect to Islam. Even if in this period the news coming from Turkey is not good, we must remember that there there is a democracy that works, in a majority Islamic population. I do not believe the majority of the Turkish population would accept sharia as a state system. What is necessary is more formation and education. We need courageous Islamic voices in opposition to fundamentalism to create a freedom of the individual inspired according to the canons of Islam.
(Interview conducted by Lorenzo Fazzini, with help from Antonio Ripamonti)
For Muslims and Jews who convert to Christianity, relations with their community of origin often become difficult to various extents. But sometimes the converts are not welcomed even by Catholics.
The Jewish convert Jean-Marie Elie Setbon Breese responded to a question in this regard as follows:
"Yes, even those whom we call 'reformed Jews,' the 'liberals' who participate in Jewish-Christian dialogue, even they did not appreciate my conversion. But I am not an exception, seeing that other brothers and sisters of mine in the flesh have experienced the same thing. I can cite as an example the chief rabbi of Rome, Eugenio Zolli. I definitely think that today, even in the Church, the acceptance of a Jew, and moreover an ultra-orthodox Rabbi, remains a taboo, seeing that it does not become a topic in interreligious dialogue.”
On the conversion in 1945 of the chief rabbi of Rome, Zolli, cited by Setbon, and the reactions, see this article from www.chiesa, with a commentary by the Jewish historian Anna Foa:
> The Jew, Jesus, Who Changed the Life of the Chief Rabbi of Rome
Wonderful list of converts. Thank you!
It may be a difficult time for converts to Roman Catholicism, but there there is no poor season for converts to Christianity. My God, the God of the Bible, always accomplishes His purposes because He is sovereign in all things. He cannot be thwarted.
If it is given unto a man to come to Christ, without a shadow of a doubt, that man will come to believe and trust in Christ. The Master Himself said, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:37) That’s an absolute guarantee.
“Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure” (Isa. 46:9, 10).
Catholics are Christians — but you knew that!
Oh I know no such thing. I believe there may be some actual born-again Christians on the membership roles of Rome, but the Roman Catholic system teaches a false, damning gospel. Other than leaders like popes and cardinals, who are certainly non-believers, I won’t presume anything about the spiritual condition of individual Catholics.
By the way, I’m a grace believing Baptist. I certainly don’t believe all Baptists are Christians because I know being born again has nothing to do with walkng an aisle or being baptized or even himan decision. No, being born again is an act worked by the Holy Spirit on the dead hearts of human sinners.
Thank you for these wise words from Scripture. I am thrilled that these extraordinary people, impelled by Chris’s grace, have come to Him so whole-heartedly.
"All by myself, I read the Gospel, and experienced measureless delight. What a surprise I received in the middle of the green lawn: 'But I say to you: Love your enemies.' And from the height of the cross: 'Father, forgive them.' The New Testament really is a covenant... brand new! Everything in it seemed to me to have an extraordinary importance. Teachings like: 'Blessed are the pure of heart' and the prayer from the cross draw a line of demarcation between the world of ancient ideas and a new moral cosmos. Yes! Here there arises a new world. Here are delineated the sublime forms of the Kingdom of Heaven, of the persecuted who have not persecuted in return, but have loved."
They have come to Rome, not to Christ.
Has anyone ever shared The Gospel with you? If you want the only Gospel that saves, if you want the truth of Christ, listen to the links below. None of these links have a thing to do with Catholicism. What I have linked is strong meat suitable for all sinners with a concern for the eternal destination of their own soul. I can’t make you listen, but I will pray you do.
I don’t want to contend with any man. I merely want to sound a warning and point the way to Christ. Please don’t go through this life like the Hebrews Paul wrote of in Romans 10 who had a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. They thought they knew God, but they were lost. Presumption of salvation is perhaps the saddest condition I can imagine.
“Let him that thinketh He standeth take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12)
Ping for later
What a strange thing to say. That's usually the sermon Catholics give to Baptists, not the other way around. Would you care to preach a few more of our talking points?
As for them "coming to Rome, not to Christ" you aren't God, and you aren't competent to judge the interior condition of their souls anymore than they are yours. They may know Christ far more deeply and intimately than you can even imagine. Or not. It's not for you to play the Pharisee and judge them, nor they you.
My priest shares the Gospel with me every day when I attend daily Mass. Quite a silly question, in my opinion, to ask a Catholic.
Christ died for all.
“May are called, but few are chosen.”
Your error here --- but surely inadvertent --- is called "rash judgment". It is making a judgment against another person with little evidence, with no evidence, or against evidence.
The person who tells his story in this post at the top of the thread, Timo Aytaç Güzelmansur, makes it very clear that he has put his faith in Christ, who died for our salvation. It is Christ, and Him crucified, who is the object of his trust, and Whom he encountered in the Holy Gospels in the faith community of the Catholic Church.<> A careful re-reading of brother Timo's testimony will show that this is true.
Tagline for you.
Indeed Im not God, but I believe His Holy Word. I said earlier I remain hopeful for individual Catholics, so I’m not judging any FReeper’s soul. I am, however, saying that the Catholic gospel is “another gospel” that does not save. Most people don’t care enough to warn Catholics. I care.
I’m not going to argue with you. I have warned you and provided some links for your edification. All I can do is try to point the way to Christ. I can’t set you on the path.
Tagline for you.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:28)
Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.
2 For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.
3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.
4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.
Galations 2:16, 21
16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.