A young Indian woman, Sonam Shaikh, chose to convert to Christianity after attending Christmas Mass. Remember that moment, she said “Everything fascinated me". After that initial “thunderbolt” that filled her heart with joy, she took on the path of Initiation, which she describes in her journey toward baptism.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Born to a Muslim father and a Hindu mother who had to convert to Islam to marry him, Sonam Shaikh never imagined that listening to Gospel at the midnight Mass would be “the first step towards embracing Christianity”.
The young Indian woman was born in Kolkata on 20 May 1989. She spent her childhood in Nepal, where her father had moved for work, and returned to India in 1996. She graduated in Commerce and holds a postgraduate diploma in Hospitality and Aviation.
The turning point in her life came in 2011 when a co-worker invited her to attend Mass on Christmas Eve. Until then, she had never been in a church, but at that point, she felt something inside her, and “I immediately began to Love this powerful God”.
What follows is Sonam’s story. She is currently completing the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
During my professional career, I met a young Catholic man, who invited me to Christmas Midnight Mass in 2011. Being a Muslim, during twenty-two years of my life, I had never ever visited a Catholic Church before, nor had I ever been to Mass and I knew nothing about Christianity.
I readily accepted his invitation to the Christmas Midnight Mass as a social and cultural event. Everything fascinated me. Just being present at the Mass was a wonderful and magical experience. The long entrance processions with the vestments of the priests, the altar servers, filled me with awe.
I was not prepared for this grandeur. As the Mass progressed, the priest came up and began to read (from what I later came to know was the Gospel) the narrative of the Birth of Christ. This was like a thunderbolt, listening to the Virgin conceiving by the Holy Spirit, the Angels singing, the God being born.
This was beyond imagination. This God was so powerful, that everything moved at His Word. The power of God stirred within me an intense desire to know Him, and I immediately began to Love this powerful God. It was an experience etched in my memory, the first step towards embracing Christianity. Thus, my desire to follow this faith began and that is how I came here, to the RCIA* programme.
The RCIA programme was very useful and positive experience. Although I thought they would only teach us prayers and reading the Bible (the word of God), it wasn’t only that.
I believed that my love for Christ and journey with him is a private experience. However, through the RCIA programme, I realised that this experience also needs to be shared with others.
My reverence for the Lord has grown deeper and stronger. Reading the word of God and having a conversation with him have become a very important part in my life.
The commitment, endurance and support of entire RCIA team also matured my love for the faith. These people selflessly serve to give us the good news.
Here are a few of the experiences I had during my journey in RCIA programme:
The first Retreat of my Life
Where I came to know how much Jesus loved us and still love us. He was humiliated, he suffered, and he shed every drop of blood to redeem the whole world. I learnt to be more forgiving, more compassionate, and to be able to share my experiences.
I am closer to God and to my family, friends, neighbours and everyone else. My faith grew stronger in God and God’s path for me and for others. So many graces, so much to be thankful for. I see and hear differently because of my readings and pondering of the Scriptures and life with God within me.
Thank you RCIA team for making this retreat such a meaningful experience.
Rite of acceptance
This is the first ritual performed in the Church followed by Mass. We were gradually introduced to various aspects of Catholic beliefs and practices. I came to realise and to admit what God has meant to me and that the relationship with him had deepen and strengthen me.
When I was standing in front of the altar for the first time, it felt like the most awesome pleasure that a human is capable of experiencing. I was filled with joy as we were introduced to the Parish, received blessings from the Father and all of them praying for us.
Rite of Election
The Rite of Election is the stage before receiving the Sacraments of initiation (Baptism, holy Eucharist and Confirmation).
The Rite of Election closes the period of the Catechumenate. This rite coincides with the first Sunday of Lent in the presence of Bishop. He inscribed our names in the Book of the Elect.
Receiving the blessing from Bishop was one of the proudest moments of my life.
Now we Catechumen are proud to be called Elect or illuminandi (those who will be enlightened). It is now the beginning of the period of purification and enlightenment as an Elect. I was looking forward for the three scrutinies that will be held on the third, fourth and fifth Sunday of Lent.
As I draw closer to the celebration of Easter (eager to be baptised and receive the blood and body of Christ), I pray for myself and everybody to be faithful and loyal to our Lord.
The most heart touching moment and experience during this journey was the washing of the feet.
The whole act suggest that we should be proud of who we are and what we have. But we should always be humble and meek. We should give up our ego, pride and selfishness.
I was speechless by the end and my eyes were filled with tears because this was the most humble feeling I had ever experienced.
Even, we candidates were blessed to wash our animators’ feet and this was a sense of satisfaction and changed our vision towards others.
This resembles the Love and Care for others.
“I pray that after our Baptism, May we remain loyal and committed to Christ, our Lord”.
All to Jesus I surrender,
All to Him I freely give.
(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this article)