Christ calls, Asians respond


Crucifix leads an Indonesian Muslim to Catholic faith

By Ryan Dagur

March 16, 2022 03:48 AM

Vicky Adam Ubaid Akram had grown up a Muslim but felt a spiritual dryness and lost interest in the religion

Crucifix leads an Indonesian Muslim to Catholic faith

Vicky Adam Ubaid Akram, who was born in a Muslim family in Indonesia, chose to become a baptized Catholic in 2021. (Photo supplied)

Vicky Adam Ubaid Akram had a dream that helped him choose the Catholic faith.

In the dream, he walked in an alley that had many houses of worship including mosques, temples and churches on both sides. But his eyes remained fixated on a Catholic church with a cross on top.

He then fell down and woke up from his sleep. “In that falling position, I looked up again and my eyes were still on the crucifix,” he recalled.

Protestant churches normally do not display a crucifix — a cross with an image of Christ’s body on it — but prefer only a simple cross.

Vicky soon began to read more about Catholicism. “The more I knew, the more interested I became,” he said. Jesus’ teaching about the law of love as “the first and foremost law” was deeply touching, he said. “I really like that part, which for me is the key to being a good human being," he recalled.

Gradually, Vicky began to visit the Catholic church in Malang.

“In 2018 while I was studying in college, I began to feel that I could not find peace when carrying out Islamic religious rituals such as praying”

The 24-year-old had grown up in a devout Muslim family in Malang in Indonesia’s East Java, a predominantly Muslim province.

Just like his father, Vicky strictly followed Islamic rituals such as praying five times a day. But three years ago he first felt “a spiritual dryness” and lost interest in his family’s religion.

“In 2018 while I was studying in college, I began to feel that I could not find peace when carrying out Islamic religious rituals such as praying,” he said.

He even began to feel that Islam was ineffective in “communicating with God and finding him peace” and began to search for other religions.

That was when Vicky turned toward Christianity, his mother’s former religion. A Protestant Christian, she had converted to Islam to marry his father and ever since followed Islamic precepts strictly.

Vicky Adam Ubaid Akram (second from left) with friends after being baptized at Sacred Heart Parish Church in Jakarta Archdiocese on Dec. 18, 2021. (Photo supplied)

Embracing a new faith

Islamic customs and traditions were strong in Vicky’s family, just like most families in the province, where 94 percent of its 39 million people are Muslims.

When Vicky gathered enough confidence to share his transformation with his parents, he had expected opposition from his father, who might see his move as detrimental to the family’s reputation.

But his father surprised him. “He told me if I was serious, I should go ahead,” Vicky said.

It was his Protestant-turned-Muslim mother who opposed his plans to embrace Christianity. "Maybe she feared a backlash from my father's extended family,” he said.

Her opposition did not change Vicky's mind. "I just thought that maybe she needs time to accept it."

In 2020, Vicky moved to the Indonesian capital after he landed a job with a medical device supplier and began to visit the city’s Sacred Heart Parish Church in central Jakarta.

"As a friend, I support his decision. It is his personal decision. It also didn’t hurt our friendship”

That same year, he also registered as a catechumen and started attending catechism classes in the parish.

Vicky’s friend in his university days, Fernando Cayetanus Maturbongs, a Catholic, met him at the church, where he is also currently working.

Maturbongs says he told Vicky about the problems in the Catholic Church such as the sexual abuse scandal and “the difficult theological concepts like the Trinity."

He also warned Vicky about the problems he would face as a member of a minority community if he converted to Christianity. He said he wanted to test Vicky’s determination to become a Catholic.

Wila Azaria, 24, a Muslim and Vicky’s close friend since 2016, said that she knew him as a devout Muslim, and so she was surprised to hear about his decision.

"As a friend, I support his decision. It is his personal decision. It also didn’t hurt our friendship,” added Wila, who works at a hospital in Malang.

Vicky Adam Ubaid Akram with other new converts in Sacred Heart Parish Church after their baptism. (Photo supplied)

Deepening faith

Eugenia Setia Widiastuti, head of the catechesis section at Sacred Heart Parish Church, said Muslims like Vicky form a small group of adult catechumens in the parish.

"Of the approximately 20 catechumens who are baptized as adults every year, about 80 percent are baptized because they want to get married or because they follow their parents' religion," she said.

The Catholic directory in Jakarta Archdiocese indicates that more than 2,000 people join the Catholic Church annually from other religions.

The latest available records show that in 2012 the archdiocese conducted 12,256 baptisms. Among them, 5,188 were above the age of seven, of which 2,427 were from non-Catholic families.

Vicky was baptized on Dec. 18, 2021, with eight others with the baptismal name Giovanni.

He says he now wants to be a good Catholic who cares for others while also continuing to deepen his faith by participating in various activities at the church.

His family have accepted his decision. "Two weeks after being baptized, I was able to communicate with my parents again. My extended family also seem to know, although I haven't told them directly. However, some of them have already congratulated me on Christmas,” he said.

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