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Testimonies of Former Catholic Priests

While He was on earth our Lord Jesus Christ spent much of His time showing the priests and leaders of the 'religious establishment' how far they had strayed from God. The outward ceremonies of their faith had got in the way of real religious experience.

Our Lord is still speaking today — calling us away from religious deadness. If we ask Him, He will give us a personal and felt relationship with Himself, as all the writers in these pages say. Let the following former priests tell their story.

Dr. Hegger

Former Brazilian Priest & Seminary Professor

During my childhood I often heard it said that one of the best ways to escape from eternal Hell was to enter a monastery. I decided to follow that advice.

Monastic life is meant to cultivate strong will-power and make one capable of controlling all passions and lusts.

In my monastery various forms of bodily torture were employed to achieve such will-power. We scourged ourselves several times a week, lashing our naked bodies with knotted cords.

Despite the great pain we were told that if we could endure such whippings calmly, we would receive strength to resist every kind of sensual and sexual urge. We were also told that by scourging ourselves we could atone for sins we had already committed and so shorten future punishment in Purgatory.

Round our waists, thighs and arms we wore penitence chains on which were spikes which dug into our flesh. There were also many other kinds of 'bodily chastisement'.

Alongside self-inflicted punishments we had other kinds of humbling exercises designed to extinguish our pride and vanity. In one of these routines a priest had to lie on the floor across a doorway so that other priests would tread on him as they went by. Whenever I did this I felt like a worm upon which people trod, but I thought that God must be very pleased with me for such a voluntary self-humiliation.

The worst humiliation included licking an area of the floor clean with our tongues. Doing this made me feel like an animal, — like a pig wallowing in the mire, or like a dog sniffing around. Sometimes I even felt like an insect creeping in the dust.

But, however I punished and humiliated myself I could not detect any change or improvement in my character or behaviour. I only discovered that my weak and sinful nature was very much alive. For example, when I licked the floor clean with my tongue, it was just then that the strongest feelings of vanity and pride rose up in me. What a wonderful chap you are!' I would think. 'What will-power you must have! You are able to do what others cannot do! You inflict such painful humiliations upon yourself! Wonderful!'

I realised that by these absurd procedures I was only inflating myself with pride.

The monastery is a sublime effort that is doomed to fail. Why? Because the priest or monk takes his sinful nature along with him into the cell.

After seven years as a priest I was promoted to be Professor in Philosophy in a Roman Catholic Seminary in Brazil. However, serious doubts had already begun to develop in me.

At various times I read the Bible and asked myself, 'Is my Church really in accord with this book?' In the Bible it is clearly stated that the only mediator between God and man is Jesus Christ, Who took away the punishment of sin on Calvary's Cross. My Church, however, taught that there were several mediators, especially Mary the 'mediatress of all grace'.

I also began to doubt that God had given to the Pope, infallible authority and power to interpret the Bible, and that it was the duty of every Christian to accept the Pope's view. Could it be right that the Pope had absolute authority to overrule and restate the plain words of the Bible?

With such doubts in my heart I could obviously not remain a priest of the Roman Catholic Church.

For me, the living death of the monastery came to an end. I left the life of semblances and shadows for a world of fascinating reality in which I was free to breathe at last.

I surrendered my office as Professor and left the Roman Catholic Church. I laid aside my priestly cassock, which in tropical Brazil just soaked up the heat, and walked lightly and freely in my shirt sleeves, but deep within I still carried the burden of my guilt.

Outwardly, I was free — but inwardly I was not at rest, for I had lost sight of God completely.

I received much help from an 'Evangelical' church in Rio de Janeiro — a local church where the congregation based their faith only on the teachings of the Bible. The sympathy of the people there helped me very much for they provided me with civilian clothing which I had no money to buy. They also gave me food and

shelter and I shall always be grateful to them.

But most of all the preaching of their minister gripped me. It was completely new to me — to hear such explanations of the Bible. But could I be helped by a non-Catholic preacher?

Certainly, in my seminary training, and as a priest I had heard regularly about the alleged false teachings of such churches, but I had never understood what they taught.

In Rio de Janeiro I heard the minister explain that a man cannot save himself, or deserve entrance into Heaven by any of his own efforts because he is utterly lost and hopeless.

With all this I could heartily agree for I had all too clearly experienced my inability to change myself. In spite of the greatest efforts and every kind of penitence I had not succeeded in becoming a different kind of person.

The preacher went even further and showed that there is only one way to be set free from sin, and that is to be given, by God, a completely free pardon and a new life. He showed how this experience must be obtained directly from Jesus Christ, who gives it freely and unmistakably to all who hand themselves over to Him in complete trust.

At first I found this difficult to believe. It was like a fairy story — too good to be true. I could see the beauty of yielding to Christ. It sounded amazing, wonderful, and yet at the same time it seemed too easy, too cheap.

As a Catholic I believed that salvation was the hardest matter in life;' a matter of struggling and deserving God's favour. But now I began to understand the true teaching of the Bible.

Yes, salvation is indeed the hardest thing in the world and must be deserved by perfect obedience to all the demands of God's law, in other words — perfect sinlessness.

But the amazing fact is that the Lord Jesus Christ, God's Son, has fulfilled all these demands for us and on our behalf, if we trust Him.

At last the wonderful break-through came. My soul opened itself wholly to Christ in complete trust. I could see that it was not the Jews who had crucified Christ — I had done it! My sins were taken by Him. A blinding flash of light illuminated the rubbish heap of my former life.

My soul lay like a bombed-out city before me, and I was filled with anguish at seeing the sin which had permeated my whole being. But, over the rubbish heap I realised and knew that Christ had forgiven me and made me a true Christian. I had become a new person.

Jesus spoke of the relationship between Himself and true Christians in these words, 'I know mine and they know me'. I had begun a new life knowing all the feeling of close fellowship with God which I had never known all my days as a Catholic priest. The dead legalism of the Church of Rome was behind, and the future was a living personal relationship with our wonderful God.

Jean Brepsant

Former Catholic Priest for more than 30 years in France and London

What I am about to relate happened many years ago and can now be safely told. I was in the train between Paris and Lyon. Opposite me sat an officer of the French armed forces in Indo-China.

Worry and sorrow was written all over his face. Apparently emboldened by the sight of my priestly garb, he confided in me. His approach to religion was that of so many Roman Catholics, at least, those of France — the 'eldest daughter of Rome'.

It is to the priest that such people come with all kinds of matters of conscience, for their own contact with God is remote and superficial. What he told me was the unburdening of a tormented heart:

Those whom I have tortured are now torturing me. I was an officer of the Intelligence Service in Indo-China and I tortured more than a hundred Vietnamese. About ten of them died under my own hands. I confessed it in the confessional a long time ago and was given absolution, but it didn't help me to find peace.

Now it is I who am continually tortured. Every night I have the most horrible dreams. My victims appear to me and accuse me and bawl out their hate.

They snarl at me and say, 'We'll make you go through the same torments as you made us go through'. This punishment alone is terrible enough but there is something else. I tortured over 100 Vietnamese

I can't believe God has forgiven me. My crimes are too great. I know I will be damned forever. What am I to do in order to go to Heaven? Confession gives me no peace.'

What was I to say to this man? Only Christ gives anyone peace. My experience as a priest and confessor had gradually convinced me that the confession of grave sins which seriously interfere with the person's inner life can give him no certainty that those sins are forgiven

This can be seen from the fact that there are even truly repentant criminals who, in order to find peace of mind, have imposed penances on themselves for the rest of their lives. Some ex-criminals have been known to enter strict monasteries such as those of the Trappists.

This is because they have been totally unable to find real forgiveness of sins through the confession and absolution of the Catholic Church.

At the time of the encounter which I have just described I did not know how to get peace and forgiveness myself and so I had no message to give to the man.

Later on in life I came to understand how one man can help another, by saying what I now say to every Roman Catholic: Go to Jesus! When you surrender yourself to Him in repentance and trust you will find forgiveness of your sins. You must see Him as the Son of God Who suffered and died to take away the punishment of sin.

It is quite understandable that the former officer could find no peace. Deep in his heart he must have felt that the ceremony of the sign of the Cross and those simple words: 'I absolve you from your sins' could not wipe out his crimes.

Admittedly the Roman Catholic Church does teach that a man is pardoned only on account of the Cross of Christ, but confession and its attendant ceremonies introduce the idea also of a human mediator, namely the priest. Thus confession serves as an obstacle to the confessor seeking of Christ alone and prevents men from surrendering completely to Him. They look to the ceremony itself and entirely fail to see beyond it.

To all who desire an experience of forgiveness I would say — Only Christ gives peace. Go to Him and to Him alone.

Dr. Herman Hegger

Former Dutch priest

A person who feels under a heavy burden because of sin, can never find peace in the confessional box. I certainly found this to be so in all my hearing of confessions.

One instance especially has remained with me, that of a mother who arrested her pregnancy because she did not want another child.

Rightly so, she considered this to be a murder. She confessed it with much sorrow, but her conscience continually accused her — 'You are a murderess! You have murdered your own child!'

Every week she would come to me for confession and repeat her sin.

According to Roman Catholic teaching I told her that she need not confess this sin over and over again. This did not help her.

Furthermore, she was not satisfied with the few 'Hail Marys' that I prescribed as penance. She pleaded for more severe punishment.

Poor mother! Certainly your sin was terrible; but in the sight of a holy God, all our lives are terrible, and all are permeated with crime.

Once we come to see the blackness of our guilt in God's sight, none of us can find peace until we have wept at the feet of Jesus Christ. Only when He says, 'Go in peace, your sins are forgiven,' can we find peace. Everyone must go to Jesus to be truly set free.

Toufic Khouri

Former Lebanese priest

I was bom in Lebanon and baptised by the threefold immersion ceremony which is the custom in the Syrian Catholic Church. When I was three years old my mother died and I was put into a boarding school at Jerusalem run by the Sisters of Mercy.

There was a nun, Germaine, who firmly insisted that I become a priest, and when I was thirteen years old, I chose to go into a seminary to train for the priesthood.

After my ordination I had many doubts, but my Superiors called these doubts 'an angelic virtue'. I was told, 'If you have any difficulties of belief don't be troubled, imitate your patron — St Vincent de Paul.'

St Vincent had written the creed on a piece of paper which he rolled up. Whenever he was attacked by doubts he would kiss the paper, press it to his heart, and say, 'Lord, I do not understand, but I still believe.'

I followed this advice and it brought me a measure of peace, but the remedy was not strong enough to last very long.

My appointment as a seminary lecturer brought new difficulties, for I now had to try my utmost to be a good example to my students.

I sought to get the power for this in the Sacraments, but they did not help, and I began to seriously doubt their value. It was from this time I began to think about resigning from the priesthood.

I spoke with my confessor, an old Franciscan who lived in the cloister of Gethsemane. He just said, 'Oh dear boy, even the greatest saints have had trouble with temptations against their beliefs. This is no valid reason for resigning. Just carry on quietly.'

After five years I was appointed as priest in a parish in Beirut and came into much closer contact with people, and of course, their misery. I came to know the suffering of the poor, and while I wanted to help them with some spiritual good, I felt helpless because I could never find peace for my own soul.

Eventually I went to the Papal representative asking to be relieved of my priestly functions. Again I was put off, for he thought I was merely suffering from depression, and so gave me some money — about twenty pounds — to cheer me up. My purse was fuller, but my soul emptier.

I wanted to leave the priesthood without any grievance, argument or trouble, but my church would not allow me to leave quietly. I began to feel that I was a slave to the system and that the hierarchy would never let me go.

I was afraid to just walk out of the priesthood because I was still governed by Catholic beliefs. I still believed, for instance, that Rome was the sole giver of salvation and outside her there could be no hope of salvation.

Many times I had heard renegade priests denounced. They were always portrayed as monstrous examples of pride, or as slaves to animal instincts. No, I never wanted to become one of them. At the time I did not know that there were many thousands of priests who had left the Church because their consciences did not allow them to accept her claims.

One day I went into my own parish church, knelt down and beat on the altar saying, 'Lord, if You are really here now, please help me!'

Thoroughly disillusioned with my Catholic faith, I decided to visit the Beirut Bible Bookshop to find a book on different religions.

Conscious that I was visiting 'heretics', and clad in my priestly garb, I went to the Bible Bookshop. I rang the bell and asked for a book on religions. To my surprise I received a very friendly welcome and the people there spoke to me very simply about Jesus Christ, and gave me a booklet entitled Towards Assurance.

I took this booklet back to my room and read from it every day. As I read this alongside the New Testament, I came to understand the real nature of the Christian message.

I possessed several versions of the Bible, in Arabic, Aramaic, Latin and French, and yet I had never before read it thoughtfully. I had never had any real appreciation of the Bible as the Word of God, but now I grasped it eagerly, as with a hungry heart.

The day came when I knelt down and surrendered myself entirely to Jesus, just as the Bible urged me to. I closed my eyes and said to the Lord, 'Lord Jesus, You alone are the Saviour; Your name means Saviour. I yield to You as my Saviour, and from this moment will not build on anything else.'

So, the miracle which I needed so much occurred — I became a new person, a child of God.

With new life in me I had the courage to leave the Church. Without any fear and without hurting anyone I told my Bishop — 'Monseigneur, I desire to leave the Church.' A long exchange with the Bishop resulted, after which he said to me, 'What strange ideas you have!'

'But Monseigneur, these are not my ideas, but they are in the Gospels.'

'No, no, these are Protestant fallacies. Why don't you want to listen

to confessions anymore?'

'Because,' I answered, 'only Jesus has the power to forgive sins. He has shed His blood for us. He alone is entrusted with the power from God to be the Saviour and Forgiver of men and I must not infringe on the rights of Jesus Christ.'

My Bishop wanted me to talk with a Jesuit priest in the hope that he might alter my thinking, and sent me to the Professor of the Theological Faculty of Beirut. The professor questioned me on the condition of my soul:

'How is your prayer life?'

'Oh, prayer is the outpouring of my Soul!'

'Do you pray to St Vincent de Paul?'

'No, Father, not at all.'

'Do you pray to the Holy Virgin?'

'No, Father, I pray only to Jesus Christ, and I pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus.'

'But don't you believe in the Holy Virgin anymore?'

'Certainly, and I respect her highly, but I do not want to give her any of the rights that belong only to Jesus.'

'It is very clear to me,' he said, 'you are too much of a Protestant and I will not speak with you any longer.'

I left my Church, but I left it with complete peace of heart for I had met with the Lord Jesus person-to-person. A Christian is someone who has had a personal experience of Christ — and who has received an entirely new life as a free gift from God.

This happens the day we rely on the Lord Jesus Christ and stop depending on our own efforts to earn salvation. It happens on the day we totally trust what Jesus has done to take away sin and ask Him to become the centre of our life, the destination of our life and the companion of our life.

Benigno Zuniga

Former Jesuit Monk, Catholic Priest, and Seminary Professor

Until I was past fifty years of age I lived in complete spiritual darkness. Despite having been a priest for many years, my knowledge about Christ was very limited and distorted — in fact, for me, the real Christ of the Bible had been hidden under a blanket of complex religious teaching.

I believed that outside the Roman Catholic Church there was no possibility of salvation, and that the Pope, as Christ's representative on earth, was infallible. And my loyalty was so great that I would have been willing to give my life in defence of the Pope.

I had been educated by Jesuit Fathers, and decided to become a Jesuit monk at the age of sixteen. I studied in Peru, Ecuador, Spain and Belgium, and was later ordained a priest.

For years I taught in Catholic schools, held a position as a Professor in a Seminary, served as Vice-Chancellor of the Ecclesiastical Tribunal in my diocese, held the office of a chaplain in the army, and served as a priest in two of the principal parishes of my country.

As a parish priest, I set myself to Opposing the Protestants in my area. I treated them as heretics, and I taught my people that they all held the lowest possible moral standards.

As some of these Protestants continually appealed to the authority of the Bible I decided to write a book exposing their error in the light of the Bible.

As I studied the Bible chapter by chapter over a period of three years, it was a terrible shock to me to discover that I was the one in error. Far from being able to refute these heretics, I found myself refuted by my own Roman Catholic Bible. I began to see how far away from the Bible my Catholic beliefs were.

Often as I studied I was moved to tears to think that I had submissively followed human ideas rather than the teachings of God.

Another effect of reading the Bible chapter by chapter was that my conscience came to life within me. I saw that I was personally a long way from God. As a priest I projected an image of holiness, but in reality I gave way to all kinds of sin and lived a thoroughly worldly life.

The black robes which I wore symbolised the darkness of my heart. No amount of sacrament, prayer to the saints, penitence, holy water, or confession of sin to a human confessor could give me the calm and peace which my soul began to long for.

One day, although a priest of over fifty years of age, I at last surrendered my heart to God. I knelt before Christ Who, though invisible, became real and living to me. Feeling like a nobody and with sorrow in my heart, I repented of having offended Him by my awful life and sins. In my imagination I saw the Cross where His precious blood was shed to save me from the punishment so richly deserved by me.

The result of this prayer was that Christ transformed my life. He called me out of the 'tomb' of spiritual darkness and brought me to feel and know Him.

The secret of spiritual reality is to have a personal meeting with Christ through a sincere and vibrant faith. When Christ takes over a heart every other spiritual blessing is assured.

Orlando Molina

Former Catholic priest

I was very young when I entered a Salesian Seminary to train to become a priest. My desire was to save many souls and achieve a state of perfection. For me, to be a priest was to be another Christ.

But once I was a priest I realised that I was chiefly serving the interests of an organisation in which there was much human ambition and selfishness. I could not find satisfaction and peace for my own soul, let alone for the souls of others.

As a trainee for the priesthood I had to forgo practically all contact with parents and other relatives and friends. Their 'world' was supposed to be dangerous for my spiritual condition, they were regarded as if they were harmful, radio-active elements.

I also had to renounce my own personality, my own will and freedom, and always do what my Superior ordered.

During those years of study, I was like an orphan boy among many fathers, but with no mother. Psychologically, it was very natural for me to give the whole of my affection to the Virgin Mary. I used to pray to her as the 'Mother of God', unaware of the impossibility of a created person being a 'parent' of God.

During my theological studies in Italy I found many things taught in the Bible which I could not square with Catholic teaching.

The study of Church history also brought a lot of doubts into my mind. I learned that my Church often had to correct the errors of 'infallible' Popes, and to repair the bad decrees and laws of early Councils.

Being in London, to study English, I went looking for the peace that my soul

A Church Council composed of some 3,000 prelates...

'My Church often had to correct the errors of 'infallible Popes and to repair the bad decisions of Councils' had not found yet inside the Roman Church, and I made a few contacts and talked with Protestant ministers. I began to feel that these Christians were much closer to Jesus than I was.

Like many other priests I regarded myself as superior to 'ordinary' people, but the day came when I saw that I was a poor sinner, like anyone else, who had to seek the mercy and forgiveness of God.

As I read the Bible I was surprised at the number of times it said that we must be 'saved' (ie — accepted by God and brought to know Him) by trusting in Him, and not by performing good works. I realised that I had to find Jesus in a personal way. I saw that all my imagined good deeds were full of selfishness and soiled by sin.

I experienced something I had never felt before

I could only ask God for forgiveness and mercy. I placed all my trust in Christ, believing that when He had suffered and died on the cross, He had personally taken the punishment due to me for my sin.

By approaching Christ in this way, I experienced something which I had never felt before. I felt very sure that Christ had forgiven me, I felt a love and closeness to God which was entirely new to me, and I found a definite change in my whole disposition.

I left the protective surroundings of my Order, and broke completely with the Catholic Church. Since then I have had it proved to me many times over that Christ is with me. I had never before experienced His help and guidance as I do now.

Celso Muniz

Former Priest and Principle of the Catholic Metropolitan Seminary

From childhood on I looked restlessly for reality and certainty. In my youthful opinion the priesthood was the best way of experiencing truth and of obtaining salvation for the soul. A schoolteacher once said to me, 'It is even more difficult for a priest to be lost than for a stone to float in water.'

I entered seminary for a twelve year period of study and I gave myself completely to a life in accordance with the regulations of the Roman Catholic Church, I did all the ascetic exercises and I also taught asceticism when I was Professor of Ascetic and Mystic Theology and Principal of the Metropolitan Seminary at Oviedo in Spain. [Asceticism is the art of mastering 'self and bringing under control all passions, desires and lusts by severe self-discipline, abstinence or by inflicting punishments on the body.]

Yet through all the years I could not find for myself the self-control, peace and certainty which I taught other people to acquire. My inner restlessness, added to the many disappointments I experienced from the Roman Catholic Church when comparing her teaching with the Bible, brought about an increasing struggle within me.

While in this spiritual turmoil my attention was caught by Protestant radio broadcasts from abroad. These made me hunger for the true message of God and so the Bible became light and food for my soul.

I can never forget the night of my conversion'

My desire to understand precisely what Jesus had taught led me to seek contact with a church I had heard of, where the Bible was the only source of guidance for their faith.

As I studied the Bible and spoke with these' Christians, I saw Jesus Christ in a completely new way, — as a perfect Saviour who must be approached directly and personally by faith alone.

As I continued to search the Bible, I recognised more and more clearly the errors of Roman Catholicism, and I wanted to experience the kind of conversion of which the Bible speaks. On the other hand, because I was very tied to my church, I wanted to have this experience without leaving Catholicism.

However, I gradually became convinced that the Roman Catholic Church had pushed Christ aside with her wrong teaching and her highly complex church organisation. For me this was a most painful conclusion to form.

I can never forget the actual night of my conversion. Another day of severe inward conflict had ended when I sought refuge in the Lord and in His Word, the Bible. I could not sleep.

It was not so much that I tried to pray, but prayer suddenly welled up in my heart and I could not hold it back. More than ever before I felt the burden and weight of the sins of my past life. I thought to myself — I am completely sinful. I felt hopelessly forlorn and wondered how I could ever come out of this state. I thought — I cannot deliver myself; I am useless and good for nothing in the sight of God. Never before had I felt so incapable of doing any good. I thought of how many times the Lord Jesus Christ, in the Bible, had invited those who felt utterly lost to come to Him.

I felt strongly drawn towards Him, for He offered free and undeserved forgiveness. Indeed, Christ had been ready to come to suffer the punishment of men's sin in their place.

At last, without any further desire to do anything myself, I threw myself into the arms of God my Father, Who had given Jesus Christ for my salvation. I prayed, 'Come to me Lord Jesus, I give myself to You as my only, personal and all-sufficient Saviour.'

The hours flew by as minutes. I felt as never before, completely at one with the Lord my God. Deep down within myself I thought, 'Thou art mine, 0 Lord, and I am Thine! Thy possession for all eternity.'

I do not know how it happened but it is a fact that all my wavering, doubting and vacillation disappeared, and my happiness had become complete.

My decision was now made, and standing before the choice of Jesus Christ or the Roman Catholic Church, I chose to follow the Lord Jesus Christ whatever the consequences would be.

I discovered a fact; Christ took over my life and made me one with Himself simply because I trusted my soul to Him. The Lord is not merely some good man who shows us the way, but He is the Way. The Lord is not just a teacher of truths, but He is Himself the Truth. The Lord is not a hero who gave His life for a humane cause, but He is the only Saviour Who is Life for all who turn to Him.

When I realised the total depravity of my sinful human nature, I felt like a shipwrecked man, who sees the glittering shore at a distance. If only he can reach that shore he will be safe. The shore does not seem very far away, but that is only because things tend to look nearer when viewed across water. The man begins to swim, and at first does quite well, but as he reaches nearer to the shore he suddenly feels a current which sweeps him back out to sea.

He struggles all over again, for he must get through the currents and the breakers or he will die. He tries again and again but he cannot make it, and at last the inescapable conclusion presses into him — the law of nature will not permit him to reach his goal.

Desperate and broken he can only wait for the end. This is the experience of the man who discovers the inadequacy of his own human power to please or find God, and who realises that he can never save himself from the Day of Judgement.

On the eternal shore dwells a holy God, and that holy God maintains His holiness by His commandments.

These are like the great waves and currents around the eternal coast, and man will never pass them by his own efforts because he is far too weak and sinful by nature.

To extend the picture, imagine that suddenly a helicopter is seen taking off from the shore. Will the pilot see the drowning man?

It approaches the place where the lonely man is battling hopelessly against the waves, and a rope is let down right over his head. If the drowning man will only grasp the rope then the helicopter can lift him out of the water and carry him over the waves and the boiling surf to safety.

Here is a perfect picture of what Jesus Christ has done. He was seated in the land of eternity at the right hand of the Father. Then He came to this world from the Father's side in order to save us. He entered into the boiling surf of God's wrath when He suffered the punishment of sin upon the Cross at Calvary.

And since that time He has repeatedly left the mountains of His glory and come (spiritually) to save 'shipwrecked' sinners. Countless times He has seen the sinner wrestling with the waves of God's law — and He has reached out with the hand of salvation. Every lost person who has completely trusted Him and believed His Word has been pulled out of the sea of condemnation and into a new life.

Returning to the illustration of the drowning man, supposing he had ignored the rope and tried his utmost to continue to reach the shore in his own strength? Obviously, he would have drowned.

Or, supposing he had only half trusted his rescuers. What if he had reached out to grasp the rope with one hand, and yet continued to swim with the other. He would have failed in both measures, and drowned.

We can never find salvation while part of us trusts in what Christ has done to take away the punishment of sin, and another part of us still trusts in sacraments, indulgences, and our own attempted good works. Real salvation comes only when we fully trust Christ.

Renato Di Lorenzo

Former Italian priest

For 20 years I never examined my beliefs

Our Lord said 'Come to Me — all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.' Also God promises that He will be a Father to us, and we may become like sons and daughters — in a very close relationship with Him. Over and over again the Lord Jesus Christ says (in the Bible) that true Christians will know Him, and walk with Him.

They will go directly to Him with all their confessions and prayers, and He will make Himself known to them and bless and guide them. They will definitely feel and know His presence and His powerful help in their lives.

It is a tragic fact that many people sincerely believe in forms of religion which fail to give them any real, personal experience of God. They feel nothing. They are not changed or greatly helped at all. They cannot say that they know the Lord God and His great love and kindness.

Is our religion real? Or do we invest wasted sincerity and belief in some gloomy, make-believe religion? It is no use saying 'I am a Catholic,' or 'I am a Protestant.' Our Lord said plainly that in the last Day, the Day of Judgement, many people will say, 'Lord! Lord! I did this, and I did that in the pursuit of my religion!' But Christ will say to them 'Depart from Me — I never knew you.'

Thousands of people think that God will accept them on the grounds of their Church or religious 'label'.

God has only one definition of a true Christian. True Christians are those who have gone straight to Him to repent. Those who are truly ashamed of their sin, and will totally yield their lives to Christ and obey Him. Those who want God to change them completely and give them new lives.

The same Saviour Who stretched out His arm 2,000 years ago is still receiving men, women and young people who go directly to Him in real prayer. When we go to Him, life is wholly changed.

I would never have believed that I would leave the Roman Catholic Church, even less the priesthood. If someone had predicted it, I would have thought it impossible.

I entered the Salesian Order at the age of fifteen and in due time I was ordained to the priesthood. I worked mainly with young people, and enjoyed this work very much. Then, after nearly ten years as a priest, my Father Superior imposed a punishment on me — sending me to Rome for one month to perform spiritual exercises.

The reason was that I had revealed to him that I had experienced an affection for a young woman. I had broken off the relationship partly because I was not sure that I was truly in love with her, but also because I had consecrated my life to God and was not prepared to retrace my steps.

There was, of course, much pride and selfishness in my decision. It would have been somewhat humiliating for me to have to confess that I had been 'unfaithful' to my priestly calling.

I had asked my Superior for transfer to another monastery, but instead of receiving a fatherly talk I was duly served with the letter informing me of my punishment. I knew that for the rest of my life this blot would stand against me and I would always be viewed with suspicion.

During my month in Rome desperate and bitter thoughts surfaced in my mind. Sometimes I wanted to escape, it did not matter where. Other times I yearned for my work in Naples.

I passed through moments of very deep depression. I called upon the Lord in prayer, but everything in and around me remained silent. I felt completely alone, as if in a prison, constantly aggrieved and assured of my innocence.

The monastery was situated on Mount Selie, near old Rome, and commanded a view over the whole of Rome and the Colosseum. From it I could watch ordinary life as it flowed beneath me. I saw how people enjoyed one another's company and loved each other, and I asked myself whether they really offended God in so doing.

I wanted to mix with these people. I longed to discard my black robes, my cassock — which made me feel like an unreal person — and I badly wanted to be a genuine person like everyone else.

I confided in an old Father and explained my feelings to him. He suggested that I write to my Superior asking him to give me permission to return to my former work. My Superior answered that I must bear all these unpleasant experiences as penance for my sin and unfaithfulness. However, he did give me permission to go out every hour of the day. '

So I went out. I did not travel about Rome as a pilgrim as he clearly intended, but as a tourist. I bought gaudy newspapers and magazines, yet I was not satisfied.

I used the opportunity to ask advice of many other priests. Their reasoning always ended at the same point: I should never have put my problem before my Superior, but I should have kept quiet. My Superior had acted in accordance with church law, even though he had interpreted it in the strictest manner.

I returned to Naples, not to continue my work there, but rather to go back to my parents.

During my time in Rome I had spent some time retracing my steps through the teaching of the Catholic Church, and comparing it with the teaching of the Bible. I had come to the conclusion that the teaching of Rome did not come from the Bible, and I began to feel that the Bible was wrongly and unfairly quoted merely to substantiate the teaching which had come into being.

I had been taught to believe in the Catholic Church on the grounds that I could only find Christ through the Church. Obedience to Christ, according to Catholic teaching, meant subjection to the substitute of Christ on earth, namely the Pope.

However, as I read through the Gospels in my 'punishment-cell' I saw that this teaching was contrary to the Gospels.

In Rome I frequently consulted the telephone directory for the address of a Protestant church, although at that point Protestantism did not exactly fill me with confidence. The only reason I was inclined to contact Protestants was for help in leaving my church and beginning a new life. I never thought they could help me in my struggles of faith.

During my stay with my family in Naples the thought about contacting Protestants came back to me, and I began to wonder whether they might be right after all. During this time I was allowed to fulfil all my priestly functions, but during a period of seven months I only read mass twenty times, heard confession on even fewer occasions, and never wanted to preach.

One Sunday, I avoided mass and went for a walk. During that walk I noticed a building displaying literature about the Bible. It was the entrance of an 'Evangelical' church. I did not venture in as I thought I might cause a commotion by going in dressed in my Roman Catholic clerical garments, so I phoned the minister and visited him privately to explain my case.

He put me in touch with several ex-catholic priests who helped me very much, but I was not yet willing to leave my church. I was afraid of making a decision which might be influenced by my recent punishment. I therefore resumed my duties as a priest and spiritual leader among young people, and though I threw myself into all manner of religious work with great energy, I found that I developed an increasing repugnance for it.

I no longer believed in the Mass, nor in the priestly hearing of confession. I had several conversations with my new Superior, who was very alarmed 'at how near I had drifted to Protestantism. He advised me to pray very much to Mary, saying that she would help me find my faith again.

My departure from the priesthood was now inevitable, and within a short time I left Naples and made my way to the well-known 'refuge' for ex-priests in Velp, Holland.

In this home, as a result of reading the Bible and praying to God for forgiveness and help, I came to find Christ in a personal way. I underwent that experience of conversion which Christ calls (in the Gospel of John) being 'born again'.

Every birth involves effort and pain. Twenty years of monastic life coupled with my Catholic theological training and my obstinate character provided great hindrances to my seeking and finding God. But finally I yielded to the Lord in childlike surrender and said simply — 'Lord, I believe.'

Since then the Lord has never left me alone. He has strengthened my faith through both joy and sorrow and has truly made Himself known to me as a living and personal friend and Saviour.

These testimonies have been given to Faith & Reason Forum through the generosity and ministry of Abrahamic-Faith.