In 2013, more than 100,000 American adults entered the Catholic Church. Each of them was confirmed—sealed with the Holy Spirit—and welcomed to the full communion of the Church. Each new member of the Catholic Church is given the grace to know, love, and serve God in new and profound ways. Each new member of the Catholic Church is the cause for celebration here on earth and rejoicing in heaven.
Each new convert to the Catholic faith has a unique story of the providential call of Jesus Christ. I became a Catholic in 1975—40 years ago this year. I still remember, like it was yesterday, the grace by which the Holy Spirit brought me to Christ’s Church.
On Sunday, I celebrated the Rite of Election—an ancient ritual to prepare catechumens and candidates for reception into the Catholic Church. This Easter we will welcome more than 200 new Catholics into the Church here in the Diocese of Lincoln. And each one of them knows that the Holy Spirit is the cause of their conversion to Jesus Christ, and to his Church.
In November, Pope Francis visited the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Istanbul, Turkey. In his homily, he said that “The profession of faith… is only possible because it is prompted by the Holy Spirit… When we pray, it is because the Holy Spirit inspires prayer in our heart.”
In Turkey, there are fewer than 100,000 Christians across the entire country. Less than .02% of Turks profess faith in Christ. Turkish Christians are usually free to practice their faith, but they live as very a small minority, in a culture defined by the religion of Islam. Turkey borders Iraq and Syria, countries where thousands of Christians have been killed in recent months.
To be a Christian in Turkey is to be, as Scripture says, “a stranger in a strange land.”
When Pope Francis visited Turkey just a few months ago, he understood the difficulties Turkish Christians face. But he told them that through the Holy Spirit, they could “become witnesses to the Gospel across the world.”
I visited the same Turkish cathedral, the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, in early November, just a few weeks before Pope Francis did. I celebrated Holy Mass there with fellow pilgrims from Nebraska. And after Mass, I briefly met a Turkish man named Okan Cuhan. Okan and I chatted for a just a few minutes in the sacristy of the Cathedral. He was raised in a muslim community, but he asked me to bless him, and I did.
In a profound way, the Holy Spirit began to move in Okan’s life. He told an American friend that after receiving that Catholic blessing, “I felt a burning feeling in my whole body.” He said the Christian blessing “was the most important thing that ever happened to me.”
In a letter, he wrote that the words of that blessing—the names of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—echoed through his mind for days.
Okan decided to become a Christian. The Holy Spirit moved in him to profess faith in Jesus Christ. He wrote to that same friend, “I know it will not be easy and of course there is a lot I will have to learn. But you know that I am ready to pay the price of being a Christian living in a Muslim country.”
In January, Okan Cuhan visited his American friend in Michigan, and was received as a catechumen in the Rite of Election. He will be baptized in the near future after a time of catechesis.
In the power of the Holy Spirit, Okan Cuhan has become a witness to the Gospel across the world. The Holy Spirit has inspired faith in him, and moved his heart to profess Jesus Christ. Becoming a Catholic will not make his life easier, more comfortable, or even safer. To the contrary, in fact. Okan Cuhan has accepted the call to become a Christian in a place where faith will have challenging consequences. But he is undeterred. He is ready to “pay the price” of becoming Christ’s disciple.
The Holy Spirit is moving in each of our lives as well. We are all being called and prompted to deeper conversion of mind, heart, and will. We are being invited to faith and discipleship, no matter the cost. The witness of those who will enter the Church in the Diocese of Lincoln should encourage us. So should the witness of Okan Cuhan. No matter where we are called, Christ will be with us, and the Holy Spirit will “inspire prayer in our hearts.”