I am “Sil” — Silvia Emilia de Jesus Barbosa da Cunha — born in 1990 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. My paternal grandparents immigrated here in 1947 from Portugal. My paternal grandparents, like many Europeans after World War II, decided that life would be better on the other side of the ocean, since much of Europe was destroyed by the war. They were Catholic, and Brazil was, at the time, known as the most Catholic country in the world, so they thought they would be safe here. The truth is that most Catholics in Brazil are only nominal Christians. They are baptized as a matter of cultural custom; some even receive their First Communion; but many have little connection with religion. This mentality had an influence on my grandparents, and their attendance at Mass petered out quickly, even though they continued to identify themselves as Catholics.
My grandmother was only 25 years old when she became pregnant with my father. She already had two other children to care for, and she was unsure what to do when she was diagnosed with appendicitis. The state of medicine in 1954 was such that either she, or her baby, or both, could die as a result of the illness. (Abortion, of course, was unthinkable. Even now, Brazilian law considers most abortions a crime. Only really serious cases, such as rape or anencephaly, are exempt.) But in spite of the fact that she was not practicing her religion, she still had a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a manifestation of God’s love for us. She therefore promised God that, if she and the baby both survived, she would name him after Jesus. She had a natural birth at home, with only a midwife in attendance, and she gave birth to twins! To respect her promise, she named both my father and my uncle Jesus. The uncle later passed on, but for the time being, both the twins and their mother survived the illness.
My grandmother was a brave woman, full of faith in the moment of danger, but she soon lapsed in her faith again, and my dad, although baptized, was raised effectively without religion. As a teenager, he had worn his hair long, in imitation of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, since he liked rock music. In those days, he met a boy who was Seventh Day Adventist (SDA). They became friends, and my father was drawn into Adventist circles. After attending that church for two years, in 1974 he was baptized in the SDA church at the age of 19.
My grandparents noticed the improvement in my father’s behavior. Impressed, after a time they followed him into the Adventist church. This is a common phenomenon in Brazil: nominal Catholics, who know next to nothing about their religion, are attracted to other forms of religion, such as Protestantism.
It was in the SDA church that my father met my mother. They dated, then were married in 1987. I came along in January of 1990, and my sister was born a year later. Even today, my parents are very involved in the Seventh Day Adventist church. My father is the chief elder, my mother helps with the Sabbath school. (Adventists don’t recognize Sunday; they go to church on Saturday, the Sabbath, like the Jews.) Being a nurse, she is also involved with the church’s health events. My sister works with the youth ministry and the Youth Sabbath class. I used to be one of the pianists at the church, sang in the choir and, like my sister, helped with the youth ministry and Youth Sabbath school. I was convinced that the SDA is the true and only remnant church.
But things began to change for me in 2013 when, in company with the other members of my family, I traveled to my ancestral homeland, Portugal. We visited the place where my grandmother had lived — a nostalgic encounter. But what impressed me most were the historic old Catholic churches. There are a few old churches like them in Brazil, but in Portugal they are everywhere, practically on every street corner.
As part of the tour, we also visited Fatima. That was immediately a special place for me. There were people coming from all over the world to that small Portuguese town; there must be a reason, I thought. The beauty of the place also impressed me and attracted me to the Catholic faith — something of which I had no previous experience.
So beauty was the medium God used to speak to my heart. When we returned to Rio de Janeiro, I decided that I needed to investigate the Catholic Church using its own resources. Until that day in August of 2013, everything I had heard or read about Catholicism was coming from anti-Catholics, the Adventists who constantly told me that “Catholics worship Mary … Catholics worship statues … Catholics are going to persecute us!” But I wanted to know the truth about the Catholic Faith that I had encountered in Portugal and the beauty I had seen in their churches. I found some websites in Portuguese and watched videos on YouTube by Padre Paulo Ricardo, who is a Brazilian Catholic priest and uses the media somewhat as the pioneering Catholic Bishop Fulton Sheen, an American, did over half a century earlier.
My first investigation was of sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). The facts presented in the Catholic arguments against it left me speechless! I had no answer to them and immediately started wondering how the Seventh Day Adventist Church could claim to adhere to sola Scriptura when some of its teachings, such as the Sabbath Law and the Investigative Judgment, were taken, without a biblical basis, from founder Ellen G. White’s books.
The Catholic articles were manifesting the falsehood of everything I had believed was true. I couldn’t take that emotionally, and I stopped reading them for most of the year 2014. I plunged myself into SDA church activities to get my mind off those Catholic things. Nevertheless, some of them continued to bother me.
Adventists are not supposed to go to the movies, but I would go. We are discouraged from reading classic books because they would supposedly corrupt our minds, but I would read them. My college major, after all, was languages, with a minor in literature; I also have a master’s degree in applied linguistics. So it was natural that I should read books in my field of language and literature, and that included the classics.
The result was not pleasant. One day, at a gathering of Adventist youth, I was explaining the Christian symbolism in C.S. Lewis’ famous series, The Chronicles of Narnia. The youth leader interrupted me, claiming, “God has shown me that these Chronicles of Narnia are from the devil, and that God does not like this book series!” So apparently I was advocating something satanic? I was outraged, but kept my mouth shut. By the time I arrived home, I was thinking, “If God talks immediately to the youth leader, telling him what His wishes and intentions are, then God will have to talk to me and teach me what the real Church is. I couldn’t believe a word of what that pretentious leader told us — ‘God told me thus and so’ — right here in front of these kids!’”
After the incident with the youth leader, I decided it was time to resume my study of Catholicism. It was disconcerting, because, as a lifelong Adventist, I was comfortable with the Seventh Day Adventist Church and liked the people who attended it. I didn’t want to believe that the SDA church was not the true Church, and I had no desire to become Catholic. So I spent some months trying to believe in Adventism while studying Catholicism. I struggled to avoid relativism, but my questioning and revulsion pushed me toward agnosticism. I cried for weeks over my situation. I was scared, depressed and just wanted to stay in bed. I wanted my comfortable life back again, without any worries or religious questions. And the more I studied, the worse it became. I was hitting bottom.
As it happened, there was a beautiful old Catholic church next door to where I was working as an English teacher. It reminded me of the churches I had seen in Portugal. One day, passing by, I had the impulse to enter the church. Mass was in progress, and I was drawn to it. There was a sign which announced that there was Mass every day at noon, so I could use my lunch hour to attend and find out what really went on there. Well, they certainly didn’t worship Mary or statues. In fact, the Mass was focused wholly on the Eucharist.
And something strange happened each time the priest consecrated the Eucharist. I had no idea of the reason, but in that moment, I would feel warm and happy inside. Studying deeper, I learned about the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation — that through the consecration, the bread and wine, without changing their appearance, actually became Jesus Christ in person!
To me, in those days, that was a bit too much. How could Jesus Christ be in that piece of bread? There was no evidence of it. Yet every time I attended Mass, I would feel that cozy feeling in my heart. What was that? Finally, I remembered what had happened to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after the Resurrection (Luke 24:29–32). While the disciples were still traveling, they saw Jesus but did not recognize Him. It was only afterwards, when He broke the bread and gave it to them, that it dawned on them who He was! “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?” The same thing had happened to me! I saw Jesus in the Eucharist, and at first I didn’t recognize Him. But my heart was burning!
I attended Mass on my lunch hour during the week and the SDA church service on the Sabbath, and I was confused. I cried and cried, not knowing which way to go, what to do. I just wanted one thing: that whatever I believed in would be real and true. My continual prayer was: “Jesus, please, don’t let me be deceived!”
Then, one night, I had a dream. I had passed many days feeling hopeless and afraid. I was on the verge of losing faith altogether in God. But that night, March 18, 2015, everything changed for me.
In my dream, I was alone, climbing up a steep mountain. Every time I thought I was making a little progress, I would slip and fall back. The summit remained an impossible goal. Suddenly, Jesus appeared at my side. He spoke in a sweet but firm voice: “Do you know why you keep falling back? It is because you don’t allow me to hold you in my arms.” Jesus then took me into His arms and carried me all the way to the summit of the mountain.
I woke up crying, but this time it was different. I was no longer crying because I feared that God didn’t exist. I cried because I finally knew that He truly exists and truly loves me. He wants to guide me on His path. With this encouragement, I continued my study of Catholicism. I was quickly convinced that the Catholic Church was indeed the real and true Church that I had sought.
There is some good Catholic material available in Portuguese, but there is a lot more available in English. An English-language website which was central to my own conversion is Catholicism and Adventism. This is a blog by a medical doctor in South Africa comparing Adventism and Catholicism. I found other significant information in the conversion story of Scott Hahn and his wife Kimberly (Rome Sweet Home), Arthur and Teresa Beem’s conversion story (they were Adventist, like me), Bishop Fulton Sheen’s videos, EWTN, the Coming Home Network, and apologist Dave Armstrong. Little by little, every objection and misconception was demolished. But it came at a price, because I loved the SDA church.
Realizing that Adventist ideas about Catholicism are completely mistaken was a really hard pill to swallow. Since everything I had believed about the Catholic Church came from Adventist sources, I had to throw it away and start all over again. At the same time, I moved to new employment in another school, so that I no longer worked near that beautiful Catholic church with Masses at noon. Eventually, I found another church where I could attend Mass, the Basílica de Santa Teresinha do Menino Jesus (Basilica of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus; the saint is also known as St. Thérèse of Lisieux).
On October 9, 2015, as I was waiting at the bus stop to return home after work, thinking about the basilica, I recalled that there was a prayer, a Rose Novena (a nine-day series of prayers, in imitation of the prayer vigil the first Christians conducted after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, while awaiting the arrival of the Holy Spirit; see Acts 1:14), to St. Thérèse. She had said that, once she had passed on, she would shower the world with roses from heaven — the roses representing God’s graces and aid. Once on the bus, I pulled out my cellular phone and googled the novena, to read the text. The website stated that people usually pray this novena between the 9th and the 17th of each month. That day just happened to be the 9th, so I began praying the novena that very day. My request to God was, “Lord, if you really want me to be Catholic, please grant me a rose as the promised sign that St. Thérèse has interceded for me.” On the eighth day of my praying that novena, a woman came by the bus stop and handed me a red rose. I was stunned! My prayer had been answered.
It turned out that the lady was carrying an armful of roses and was giving them to passersby. The flowers were part of a celebration at St. Edwiges (St. Hedwig) church, since that day, October 16, is the feast of St. Hedwig.
Before the end of the year, I studied the Catholic teaching on contraception, abortion and related matters. Adventists generally don’t know about these things, and I myself did not. Until I read this information, I had not even realized that an unborn child is a real human being. The Church is quite detailed and specific about the morality of these acts. On the other hand, official SDA doctrine speaks of abortion as a “tragic dilemma” and goes on to say that it is OK to murder an unborn baby if it is going to be born with “severe congenital defects.” This is eugenics — the sort of atrocity one would expect of Hitler or Stalin, but not of a Christian church! But Adventists deny the existence of the human soul, and to them, human life is a merely material concept. Apparently, then, it does not matter if you commit murder!
This is how I found out that Adventists are fence-sitters when it comes to defending human life. No wonder I could not understand how the SDA church could consider it a sin if a woman pierced her ears to wear earrings, but piercing and killing a baby in her womb was perfectly all right!
The testimony of a former atheist and abortionist, Stojan Adasevic, was also influential in my journey to Catholicism. He returned to Christian belief and gave up his abortion practice because of a recurring dream in which St. Thomas Aquinas, a philosopher and theologian of the 13th century, spoke to him about human life and abortion.
Moving into the year 2016, I was Catholic in my heart, but undecided about what I should do about actually taking the step and becoming Catholic. I continued praying the Rose Novena to St. Thérèse, and once again in October received a rose. But I was not ready, afraid to declare myself Catholic, especially to my staunchly Adventist (and therefore anti-Catholic) parents.
Finally, on the last day of the year, I made a New Year’s resolution: In 2017, I would tell my family in full clarity about my conversion. They had already noticed some “weird things,” such as Catholic books in my bedroom, holy cards with pictures of Catholic saints and prayers, so they already suspected something was going on. In April, the week before Easter, I had “the conversation” with my parents and sister. My boyfriend (who is Catholic) was with me and helped to explain things. My family was, of course, hurt and confused, but ultimately I knew that I needed to go forward with my resolve to become Catholic.
I received my first Communion in June — the happiest day of my life! I also began keeping the times of penance before Christmas (Advent) and Easter (Lent) in a more conscious way. Being Catholic is not easy, but I must admit that it was the best choice I have ever made.
I now understand in a practical way what Jesus said about the structure and authority of the Church in Matthew 16 and about the Eucharist in John 6. I can see clearly that Ellen White’s texts are not consistent with the Christian Faith. One of White’s texts that illustrate such unbiblical points and made me cringe over the ignorance of Adventists in general was the following, taken from her book, Early Writings:
It was at midnight that God chose to deliver His people. As the wicked were mocking around them, suddenly the sun appeared, shining in his strength, and the moon stood still. The wicked looked upon the scene with amazement, while the saints beheld with solemn joy the tokens of their deliverance. Signs and wonders followed in quick succession. Everything seemed turned out of its natural course. The streams ceased to flow. Dark, heavy clouds came up and clashed against each other. But there was one clear place of settled glory, whence came the voice of God like many waters, shaking the heavens and the earth. There was a mighty earthquake. The graves were opened, and those who had died in faith under the third angel’s message, keeping the Sabbath, came forth from their dusty beds, glorified, to hear the covenant of peace that God was to make with those who had kept His law. The sky opened and shut and was in commotion. The mountains shook like a reed in the wind and cast out ragged rocks all around. The sea boiled like a pot and cast out stones upon the land. And as God spoke the day and the hour of Jesus’ coming and delivered the everlasting covenant to His people, He spoke one sentence, and then paused, while the words were rolling through the earth.
Jesus Himself states in the Bible (Matthew 24:36) that no one knows the day or hour of the end of the world. But, unbelievably, Helen White claims to know it, direct from God!
The SDA also has false teachings about the Pope, claiming that on the Pope’s tiara there is the legend, Vicarius Filii Dei, which is supposed to signify the number of the Beast of the Apocalypse. This is widely taught in the Adventist church’s Unlocking Apocalypse Seminars. It is something I had heard since I was a child. But if someone were to research it, he would quickly discover that such a tiara does not exist and never has existed in the history of the Catholic Church. Anti-Catholics have simply made it up, probably basing it on the historical crown that Popes used to wear when the Pope was also the ruler of the Papal States in Italy. Those States no longer exist, and the crown is no longer worn.
Adventists also claim that Catholics believe that everything a Pope says is as if it were coming direct from God Himself. In their ignorance, they misunderstand what ex cathedra pronouncements are and the meaning and strict limits of papal infallibility.
Looking back, I can truthfully say that I am thankful for having grown up in a Christian home. I was deeply loved, and I am glad for the good things I learned in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. But at a critical point in my life, I realized that there was much in that church that was not true; it was not the true Church. When I received my First Communion as a Catholic, I understood that the final piece of my life’s puzzle had been put in place; the picture was complete, and all my questions and doubts had been answered. Now, the greatest happiness of my life is being Catholic. I have my Father in God, and the Church is my Mother. My fellow Catholics, all over the world and down through the centuries, are my spiritual brothers and sisters. The Bible is a story written by God, who desired my existence and loved me even before I could truly love Him.