“Then you will know that I, the Lord your God dwell in Zion, my holy hill.”
(Joel 3:17a, NIV)
I was born in 1971 in Sosnowiec, an industrial mining city in southern Poland, and raised as a devout Catholic. These were harsh times; communism had reared its ugly head, stigmatizing and criticizing the beliefs of those whose faith was precious to them.
My Catholic parents never ceased to attend Sunday Mass. They would always celebrate the special feast days, taking me, along with my younger brother, with them to the church. By the time I was about five or six years old, I would skip along to the Sunday School, where I would be taught by a young catechist the basics of our Catholic Faith. My paternal Grandmother — pious, yet modest — patiently instructed me in the Lord’s Prayer and helped me learn to recite:
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Grandmother’s quiet management of a serious illness, greatly influenced me in my own growing, yet childish faith, As she suffered, I saw that she derived strength from the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Her witness demonstrated an uplifting way of life (which even now after so many years remains fresh in my memory), as she sought in her prayer life to elevate Jesus higher.
The spark from Poland
In 1978, when I was seven years old, there was a great stir across Poland. This was a special year, because the Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, was elected pope, as John Paul II. His pilgrimages back home to Poland played a direct role in the fall of communism, and later shaped a new generation of Poles, who began to see religion, not only as an element in the national tradition, but as a lively component in our daily lives.
In 1980, when I had reached my ninth birthday, I was able to experience for the first time the Lord Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity through receiving Him in the precious Sacrament of the Eucharist. Six years later (1986) I was confirmed. Oh, it was such a moving experience! The Holy Spirit gently touched my heart and softly moved me into a deeper relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
I loved God and longed to have a closer, more intimate bond with Him. After Confirmation, I became more involved in the activities at my parish. I worked with the community of youngsters and made pilgrimages to popular Polish shrines.
During my formative years, I read a whole heap of spiritual literature. I particularly enjoyed the biographies of the Catholic saints and John Paul II’s encyclicals. On a bookshelf in our home, I spied the New Testament. Even though we were a devout Catholic family, it was not our habit to read the Holy Scriptures in our home. From time to time I would remove it from the shelf, flip through it and try to read it with a modicum of understanding. Eventually, I came to the decision that it was too tough for a youngster like me to read. So I put it back on the shelf and there it stayed!
In high school, I had struck up a friendship with a girl who was a Jehovah’s Witness. As a convinced Witness, she had a great knowledge of her Scriptures. I was impressed by the ease she seemed to find her way around those Scriptures! Eventually, much to my surprise and joy, she gave me a gift — a small Bible in which she wrote a special little inscription. Starting to read the Word of God, I discussed with my friend what I saw as controversial Scriptures. She knew her stuff, and, much to my chagrin, I was unable to defend my Roman Catholic Faith. I did not know anyone who could help and teach me. It was an enigma. What about the parish priest? Priests are invariably keen to teach, but, at the time, it never crossed my mind to question the fellow.
Still the avid reader, our library in our family home seemed to be growing by the minute! The shelves seemed to be groaning under the weight of my expanding literature, with our pope (John Paul II) as my “hero.” I longed to follow his spiritual example, his prayer life, his obedience to God and his genuine love for humanity. After his many pilgrimages to Poland, I wanted to become a religious sister, devote myself to the Lord Jesus Christ, live the simple life, and care for the poor in Africa. That was my plan.
I took my Mother aside and quietly informed her concerning my decision to become a nun. Neither encouraging nor opposing, she smiled in my direction. “It is quite normal for Catholic girls of your age to desire to become a nun,” she stated. “It’ll pass.”
Disappointed by her reply, I soon abandoned the idea. It was obviously not a vocation from the Lord, or the Lord would have sought me in this way and that.
Surely, God must have other plans for me. But what?
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
An unexpected turn
Just following my nineteenth birthday (1990), I was accepted by the University of Technology in Krakow. It was during my studies that I encountered some people from a Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC). This American Christian organization’s entire mission was to reach folks for Christ, to spread the message of the gift of salvation in Jesus alone, and to invite men and women to ask Him into their hearts and lives. Surprisingly, I never found the CCC to be anti-Catholic.
My Catholic faith slowly eroded
One CCC member after another showed me from the Word of God how Jesus Christ died for my salvation and how I could, in and of myself, do nothing to deserve His love and salvation, nor could I merit Heaven. One member informed me that salvation is a gift, and that I should realize I am a sinner and hand over my life to Him.
It was through the CCC that I gave my life to the Savior … totally. At first, I was anxious about joining their organization, but, after much encouragement, I became a part of the CCC and I remained with them for the next five years. During this time, I also became convinced of the “once saved, always saved” doctrine.
Bible studies, prayer meetings, and evangelistic outreaching filled all my spare time. We were more than a little zealous, even to the point of using our vacations to work in the German strawberry fields, picking the berries to raise funds to finance missionary trips to Russia.
I felt a great responsibility, a great self-assurance, to invite folk to accept Jesus into their heart, quoting Scripture verses like John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him, shall not perish but have eternal life” and Romans 10:9 “If you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is the Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
During one of the evangelization times in the dormitory, I was questioned by a student: “What will happen if someone does not pray to invite Jesus into their heart, yet loves Him and tries to live honestly?”
Looking her straight in the eye, I replied, “They shall go to hell.”
During my years with the CCC I witnessed a great deal of love, acceptance, support, and the fruit of changed lives. I no longer regularly attended Mass, because the services in the Protestant churches offered fine Bible teaching, which both inspired and challenged me. The deeper I went with the CCC, the further away I was from the Catholic Church.
Soon, I began to question much of Roman Catholic teaching. I was positive the Word of God was the only authority and held the strong, evangelical view that the Christian life began from the “born again” experience. I believed Baptism was for aware believers, and most definitely not for babies. I also believed one confesses one’s sins directly to God, and not to a priest. Could I locate “purgatory” in the Bible? No. So I rejected this doctrine. I also rejected the relationship between living believers and those saints who were in heaven. Marian dogmas became highly controversial issues.
I seriously considered formally leaving Catholicism, but I still held the intense belief that the Eucharist was not just a symbol, but the very real Presence of Jesus. My love for the Eucharist kept me in the Church. It seemed I had a foot in both camps. Although I frequented Mass, I continued to attend Protestant churches.
Trying to be Catholic with strong Protestant views
In 1993 my life turned a corner. I met Robert Pala through the CCC. He was a highly intelligent, handsome, young, Catholic man. We fell head over heels in love with each other and married in 1996. Our wedding day was a happy one!
While Robert and I occasionally worshiped at a Baptist Church, we were also searching for the “right group” within the Catholic Church to fit us. We became members in a couple of Catholic charismatic groups, but we never stayed anywhere long.
I was friends with a Methodist Minister and his wife who needed help with the younger kids in the area. I am good with children, and so I readily offered my services. I wondered if my offer would be rejected because of my Roman Catholic background. Neither he nor his wife saw it as an issue. In fact, he simply saw our differences as an ecumenical lesson in accepting each others’ faiths. I so enjoyed working with the children; I loved them, and they readily accepted me, too.
Robert and I realized we needed to cease trying to find a place of worship in Protestant-land where we’d settle, and we should become active members of the Catholic Church. I agreed, although I used the teachings of the Catholic Church selectively, all the time combining them with my strong Protestant views.
By 2005 a fine son, Michael, was born to us. Three years later our beautiful Marianna yelled her way into the world. We were happy.
Blessed are those whom mourn…
In April 2010, our third child, Lidia Ewa, was born. Our tiny little girl was in trouble. A Catholic nurse used some water to rapidly baptize her in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We held our breaths and prayed, but the tears flowed as our precious girl passed away to heaven during the next day.
I was unable to shake off the terrible grief; it was a dreadful dark time, when I could not understand this sense of suffering. The sense of the loss of our newborn was unbearable. Other women took their babies from the hospital. I went home alone.
Jesus preached in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” He also wept loudly when He knew Lazarus had died.
“Then little children were brought to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them and pray for them, but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as those.’” (Matthew 19:13-14)
…For they will be comforted.
Trying to cope, I, for some curious reason, picked up a Polish Catholic magazine — anything to take my mind away from the darkness of my grief. There was as article about Dr. Scott Hahn’s testimony, telling how he had converted from Protestantism to the Roman Catholic Church. I read a couple of his published books since I was eager to find out how Dr. Scott Hahn as a Protestant should have entered the Catholic Church. My private investigation was on the move!
Having searched for more information about Dr. Scott Hahn via the Internet, I stumbled across The Journey Home program on YouTube. I spent many hours of many days simply watching episodes, listening to the apologist Victor Scaravilli from Oregon, U.S.A., reading the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the early Church Fathers, and praying. I was trying hand to check every detail with an open mind and heart, all the time asking the Holy Spirit for guidance.
Scaravilli made a statement about anxiety, which seemed to resonate within me, regarding the turmoil in my soul. He stated that when a Catholic attends Mass he (she) must not only know the Church’s teachings, but he (she) must believe and agree with them. At that moment, I asked myself whether I was a true Catholic. I replied, “No.” So, what to do now? Where to go next?
Maybe I should read more. I purchased some more books by Dr. Scott Hahn and Bruce Sullivan. I also listened to the testimony of Mrs. Leona Choy on The Journey Home. Her story underpinned my quest; it was a milestone in my search.
I was able to locate Mrs. Choy’s email address and was thrilled when she replied to my inquiry. She was kind and patient and seemed willing to answer my questions over a series of several weeks. She had written her own story, candidly telling her late-in-life journey from Protestantism to the fullness of faith, and the riches of the Catholic Church. Her book (My Journey to the Land of More: Evangelical to Catholic) became a vast help in my own journey back home. But was I to come home at last? I was still unsure.
Jumping through hoops
However, I needed to jump through a number of hoops before I could approach a priest concerning the Sacrament of Reconciliation. One such hoop dealt with Baptism. In John 3:5 we read: “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” Therefore, being “born again” is more than just a “mouth” declaration! In Acts 2:38-39, I discovered Baptism is for adults and for children: “Peter replied, Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the Name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children.”
The next hoop dealt with our beloved departed, who are, as I came to see through Scripture, alive and surrounding us, just as close to us as they were on earth: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.” (Hebrews 12:1) Ah, so my beautiful baby has to be praying for me, as she is one of the “great cloud of witness” – what a comfort! However, purgatory, to me, was not a hoop, but a hurdle, for it is not explicitly mentioned in my Bible, yet there are a few verses which seem to point to it, especially 1 Corinthians chapter 3: v. 8-17, which mentions being saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
Mary was my biggest hoop! She is named as the “Ark of the Covenant” for Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, greeted her with the same words that King David used in relation to the Ark in 2 Samuel 6:9. If she were the ark of the new covenant, she had to have been kept without sin. “Blessed are you among women…” (Luke 1:42). In that context the rest of the Marian dogmas became clear and understandable.
Hoop number four — the Sacrament of Confession — was not such a big hoop to squeeze through. I could get through quite easily when I looked up John 20:22-23 in my Bible and discovered: “And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven, if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’”
Finally, I realized the Bible was first canonized in about 400 AD by the Church’s authority on the basis of oral tradition and preserved for fifteen hundred years. When I came to this realization, I began to see how illogical it was to rely upon the Bible alone, to see it as the only source of authority. God’s Word says the Church is “the pillar and bulwark of the Truth.” (1Timothy 3:15)
Meditating upon these issues and successfully either jumping through the hoops or over the hurdles, I came to the conclusion that the Roman Catholic Church had the answers to each of my questions. In the past, I had the answers in my head only, yet I only half believed them with lip service. Now, I knew with my innermost heart and soul. I wanted, more than anything, to seek out the priest for confession, to submit myself to the Sacrament of Penance, but I confess to you, my reader, that I was just a little nervous of entering the confessional. I had to confess every sin without withholding anything and excusing myself.
One week before Easter Vigil 2011 I received the Sacrament of Penance and on the Easter Vigil I was able to renew my baptismal promises and confess my belief in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I was truly happy again!
With Easter 2011 behind me, I thought seriously concerning my involvement within the Catholic Church. Having previously read St. Faustina’s Diary, which penetrated my heart, I became involved in the Divine Mercy Shrine Center in Krakow. The theme running through my life, like a thread of pure gold, is JESUS, I TRUST IN YOU! I can totally trust in this abundant mercy. I am happy in Him and joyful in His Church. I am back home, at last!
I thank my Lord for those precious ones who I have met along the way; Mrs. Leona Choy and Dr. Janice (Jan) Lockwood, a convert from North Wales, have become firm friends to me. Bless you both.