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I, formerly a Lutheran and now a Catholic

The author explains the path of his conversion from Lutheran to Catholic and the meaning he discovered along the way. He was helped by conversations with a Lutheran pastor; the example of other converts; the support of Lutheran family and friends....

Ville Savolainen-April 18, 2017-Reading time: 7 minutes

It was 1987 when I saw the light in a village in the interior of Finland. A few days later I was baptized in the Lutheran Church, as my family belongs to it. I am the firstborn of nine siblings. My parents wanted from the beginning to give us a solid Christian formation. We used to go to the Lutheran mass, and to various activities that the parish offered to the children.

In the Nordic countries the presence of the Lutheran Church is very strong. In Finland it reaches almost 75 % of the population. It has the status of a national church, with some tax advantages that help to organize the task of forming and serving many people. Until 2000, the president of the Republic appointed the Lutheran bishops of the country. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, is a minority in Finnish societyThe Church, barely 0.2 % of the population. Many Lutherans have seen it as "the bogeyman", something with very negative connotations and arousing distrust: it was so for me as well.

I don't know how to explain it, but since I was a child I suffered from the division and separation of Christians. I was interested in understanding the reason for these divisions. At the same time, the feeling that something was missing was growing inside me. I was about 15 years old when I expressed this concern at home.

In the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, I had always been struck by the liturgical piety, the silence inside the church, the joy and peace. Moreover, with their beauty, art, decoration and, above all, the celebration of the Mass, their churches had a certain attraction for me. As a young man I was very interested in philosophy, and I devoured classical literature, as well as boxing, my favorite sport at the time.

In Finland there is a long-established custom among Lutheran youth between the ages of 15 and 16. It is the Confirmation camp. It is usually two weeks of summer where a course of Christian formation is given to young people who wish to receive Confirmation. This makes it possible to receive Holy Communion without the need to be accompanied by an adult. Today, more than 80 % of Finnish young people participate in these camps. They pray, sing, talk, swim, organize barbecues... A few days of intense contact with God and with others, enjoying the forests and lakes that Finnish nature has to offer. At this meeting there is always a pastor and some young volunteers, who have been specially trained for the occasion. I was also one of those young volunteers. I helped dozens of young people to get closer to God and the Church.

There I met a Lutheran pastor who was finishing his doctoral thesis at the University of Helsinki and was very interested in Catholic pious practice. With him I had long and interesting conversations about philosophy, especially the Ethics of the Catholic Church.tic to Nicomacheus, of Aristotle. At the same time, this pastor taught me to live a contemplative life with the help of intense prayer.

At that time, the Catholic Church often came to my mind. I took advantage of my trust and friendship with that pastor to talk about some aspects of Catholic doctrine. He explained to me the significance of the Pope and his ministry in the Catholic Church, and the difference in the concept of sacrament in the two Churches. He also explained to me the particular role of the Catholic priest in the Church. He gladly corrected some inaccurate ideas I had about the cult of the Virgin Mary and the saints, purgatory and the infallibility of the Pope. Those conversations, full of patience on the part of the pastor, were decisive in my decision to join the Catholic Church later on. In fact, I asked myself why we are not all Catholics. This, precisely thanks to the honesty of a Lutheran pastor.

I started to actively participate in programs that were organized for young people in various camps and Lutheran youth clubs. I also participated with my friends in the activity offered by our parish. But little by little I noticed inside me that my Lutheran life was falling short. Something else was missing. It did not fill me completely. At that moment I had the intuition that the Catholic Church would fill this void completely: there I would find the fullness of the means of salvation and the means for my fulfillment as a Christian.

There was no human reason for making that decision; indeed, those reasons were rather contrary. Nor was there any burning desire or great evidence in the decision. Just a small inkling that hovered in my mind and heart.

My baptismal godmother, in the course of time, had gone from being an active Lutheran to a convinced agnostic. One Christmas day, listening to a homily of John Paul II on the radio, she decided to become a Catholic. With this in mind, I decided to go to her. She told me about her life of faith as a Catholic in Finland, where they were a minority and parishes were counted on the fingers of one hand. I was very impressed by her consistency of life. So many times alone and far from other Catholics, and yet so close to all the Catholics in the world. I decided to go to Mass with her when I traveled to Helsinki. There she introduced me to the priest.

Then I decided to go to Mass on my own every Sunday. For a Lutheran it is not obligatory to attend Sunday Mass, and in fact one usually goes only two or three times a year. However, it is customary to go to the parish to pray, sing, drink coffee or eat something and talk about topics related to the faith. For me it was a big leap in quality and quantity. But I gave it a try.

I started going to Sunday Mass in Kouvola, where I met the parish priest, a priest of Polish origin. At that time in the Catholic Church in Finland there were hardly 20 priests, all of them foreigners except one. From the first moment I felt at home. I was sure that when I entered the door of that parish for the first time, there could be no more excuses or hypocrisy in my life. To walk through that door was to never turn back. I had to live consistently as a Catholic Christian. There I began a weekly course on Catholic doctrine, and Sunday Mass became my flesh and blood. After a prudent time, when I was ready, I joined the Catholic Church by professing the Creed and receiving the sacrament of Confirmation. Many Lutheran friends also attended this very special ceremony for me.

When I am asked why I joined the Catholic Church, I do not know how to explain it well in words. It was clear that my family, my relatives, my friends had a decisive influence. What's more, I always counted on their support. And, curiously, all of them are Lutherans. I see clearly that God calls through other people. On the other hand, I was faithful to the intuition that I felt inside me, producing an enormous change in my life: from a small seed a tree has grown.

For me, joining the Catholic Church is not an end in itself, but a beginning. As a Lutheran I felt a bit individualistic. Yes, I was surrounded by people, but I was alone, with my own life and my own salvation. Moreover, I saw how the meaning of the Lutheran ministerial priesthood was weakening and becoming more and more worldly, in accordance with the circumstances dictated by society. This caused in me a very strong reaction of rejection.

In the Catholic Church I saw that priests are stewards of the mysteries of God. I enjoyed receiving them: confession from time to time, holy Mass and my prayer life. I found participation in Sunday Mass to be an effective medicine for my own hurts, shortcomings and worries. Regularity in prayer and the sacraments protect me from many evils. A good and healthy diet never hurts, even if sometimes I do not get enough.

I am now married. My wife is Lutheran and we have two little daughters baptized in the Catholic Church. We go to Mass together, pray together and try to form the girls in the Catholic faith. My wife's help in this task is indispensable. It says a lot about her generosity and dedication, because even though she is a Lutheran, she fully accepts the decision we make about the Catholic education of our children. For this, the best way to form my children is by my own example as a good Catholic. When my wife became pregnant with our first child, I began to understand better that I am called to be a better person, a better Christian, a better Catholic and, above all, a better father.

Two years ago I met by chance with isä Raimo, priest of the Opus Dei and vicar general of the diocese, at Oulu airport in the center of the country, as I was seeing off my newly married brother. A isä Raimo had known him for a long time, but we lived more than 400 kilometers apart. A few days before we met at the airport, I had moved with my wife and two daughters to live in Helsinki. There I would start my PhD in economics. He asked me if we could meet one day in Helsinki. I began to have regular spiritual direction with him and so I also got to know Opus Dei. With the help I am receiving I notice how I am growing step by step in my inner life, understanding better what it means to love God and others and to forget myself. Perhaps the focus I had as a Lutheran on my own salvation is now opening up to that dimension of service to others. I have been chosen for the apostolate starting with my own family and friends wherever I am.

When my friends ask me what it means to be a Christian, I answer that it means to imitate Christ, to try every day at home, at work, with friends, to put people before oneself, trying to love them all.

For me, being Catholic means that I joyfully accept and understand that I need the help that the Church offers me, especially through the sacraments, precisely in order to imitate Christ and serve others with love.

In the Mass, God himself gives himself anew for us in his humility in the form of bread and wine, so that he can live within us and transform us from within, making us like him. When we are unable to love our neighbor, he offers us forgiveness through the sacrament of Penance. In the same way, we too learn to humble ourselves and forgive others.

"When I am asked why I joined the Catholic Church, I am asked, 'Why did I join the Catholic Church? I do not know how to explain it well in words. I was faithful to the feeling I had in my inner self. For me, joining the Catholic Church is not an end in itself, but a beginning.". "My wife is a Lutheran and we have two young daughters baptized in the Catholic Church. We go to mass together, we pray together, and we try to I have to form the girls in the Catholic faith. My wife's help is indispensable.

The authorVille Savolainen

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