'I had the courage to be baptized … because my faith is important to me,' she says while fearing for her family who remain with her former sect
Karen Medina (not her real name) is a former member of a powerful religious sect in the Philippines that believes Jesus Christ is the chosen one but not divine.
Iglesia ni Cristo claims itself to be the one true church and the Bible as the only source of faith, which is the only basis of salvation — sola fide, sola scriptura.
The sect, founded in 1914, is popular with some 2.6 million followers. The founding family's blessings are much sought by politicians around election time.
Karen said she decided to leave the sect and be baptized a Catholic because the Catechism of the Catholic Church answered her doubts and explained her faith in a way that the sect leaders could not.
She was hesitant to openly talk about her conversion, fearing her former sect may fire her from the company owned by their pastor. She and her three siblings, who remain in the sect, continue to work there.
Karen’s journey to Catholicism was unexpected. She accidentally met her then-boyfriend, now husband, in a coffee shop near their office.
I remember that day. I just felt curious. I told him to take me to Mass so that I can see what you’ve been doing. I keep on washing and ironing your long sleeves without seeing what you do with them
Every week she and her office colleagues would go to this coffee shop to relax. One day she saw a stem of a Peruvian rose on her table alongside her cup of coffee and banana bread.
Her visits became more regular until she decided to tie the knot with her boyfriend, a Catholic, two years later. He agreed that she remain non-Catholic but she consented to get married in a Catholic church.
In her former sect, men and women don’t mix inside the church. There was no sharing of bread and wine, considering it as the body and blood of Jesus Christ. After all, Christ was only human, not God, according to her.
She also had several opportunities to join her husband in church. Roel (not his real name) would wear white long sleeves and go to the altar before communion. Karen realized later that she had married a lay minister, someone who helps the priest distribute Eucharist during Mass.
Gradually, she became curious about her husband’s faith. For two years, she had been praying and attending the sect’s services for God to give her a child, but it did not happen.
One Sunday, Karen took her chance to join her husband in their parish.
“I remember that day. I just felt curious. I told him to take me to Mass so that I can see what you’ve been doing. I keep on washing and ironing your long sleeves without seeing what you do with them,” she joked.
This struck a chord in my heart because the priest gives a homily not by literally interpreting the Bible. My former religion says that the real Church of Christ uses Scriptures alone as the basis of faith, not traditions
Her faith journey began on that day. Karen says she was amazed by the homily one Sunday. The gospel was about the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).
“It was the homily of the priest that really captivated me. He told the congregation that in that story the Scriptures named the poor man Lazarus. But it did not give a name to the rich man. He was only referred to as ‘the rich man,’” she recalled.
“This struck a chord in my heart because the priest gives a homily not by literally interpreting the Bible. My former religion says that the real Church of Christ uses Scriptures alone as the basis of faith, not traditions.”
Whenever she aired her doubts about the Bible or faith to the pastor of her sect, he would seemingly dismiss them by quoting Scriptures.
“By that time, I was quite disappointed. The deeper questions I asked, the more antagonistic I appeared to my pastor,” she recalled.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explained her doubts and the mysteries of faith in a more understandable way, satisfying her spiritual quest and doubts, she said.
During her baptism in April 2019, Karen cried tears of happiness but was afraid of what may happen to her family.
“I always feared for the future of my family members who have not decided to leave my former religious group … I had the courage to be baptized as Catholic because my faith is important to me,” she said.
Karen now serves as a lector in a parish in Quezon province, south of Manila, which she and her husband serve every Sunday. She hopes her son will one day become a priest.
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