Iraq: A muslim woman gives us a raw glimpse of the spirit of the early Church’s martyrs

I don’t know if this went around on the blogosphere or not.  The great FA deserves a biretta tip for this link to an article from CNA:  o{]:¬)

I added my emphases.

Catholic Navy chaplain shares story of Iraqi conversion
Muslim woman asks–“Do you give up so easily on Jesus?”

Baghdad, Dec 4, 2007 / 04:48 pm (CNA).- Recently, CNA had the opportunity to send a writer to the Anbar Province of Iraq to cover the experiences of a Catholic chaplain working in the trenches. What follows is his recounting of the amazing encounter he had with this apostle in the desert.

Father Bautista: Apostle in the Desert
Joe Burns, War Stringer

A few weeks ago, I returned to the U.S. after spending a week with Army troops in Iraq.  More specifically, I spent six and a half days with my son’s outfit, the 63rd Ordnance Company stationed at Al Taqaddum.  Al Taqaddum is a former Iraqi airbase, nicknamed TQ, and lies about 50 miles west of Baghdad in the Anbar Province near Ramadi.  My son Mike and I spent the first three days in Baghdad while I was processed for my press pass and then waited for a helicopter to become available to take us to TQ.

Al Taqaddum is covered in dust. In some areas where vehicles had repeatedly driven, the earth was ground down to a fine powder several inches deep (I was tempted to look for Neil Armstrong’s footprints!).  The dust in this part of Iraq is so prevalent that it hangs in the air at all times of the day and night, clinging to clothing, nostrils and eyes.

On the second day at Al Taqaddum, I was privileged to attend Mass said by Fr. Jose A. Bautista-Rojas, a Navy chaplain who ministers to the Marines and soldiers at TQ and in the Ramadi area.  It was a hot, dry, windy and desolate day. 

In the 30 minutes prior to Mass, Fr. Bautista discussed recent events of the day with the three of us: my son Mike, his commander Captain Tom Heilman, and myself.

The setting for our conversation was a makeshift wooden chapel, sparsely furnished with the plastic chairs we sat on and a small white table for an altar. Being inside this simple chapel was like finding an oasis in the desert.  What made this oasis most refreshing was the time we spent with Fr. Bautista, a man of irrepressible good humor, joy and generosity.

The events of that morning for Fr. Bautista included a Mass he had just conducted in Ramadi at a Marine detachment.  What made the Mass unique, was that his “congregation” consisted of one lonely Catholic Marine.  When Father Bautista arrived in Ramadi along with his personal bodyguard, a strong young, well-armed Marine, he visited a detachment of eight men, only one of whom was Catholic.  Undeterred, he told the Marine he would be happy to say Mass for him.

The young Marine confided to him, “You know Father, back in the States, I didn’t go to Mass that often, but out here I find myself longing to go to Mass again.  But I’ve been here for seven months and you’re the first Catholic chaplain I’ve seen.”   Fr. Bautista spent some time listening to his story and asking questions about his family.   Then he said Mass for this single Marine, in the presence of countless angels and saints who rejoiced with them.

As Fr. Bautista continued speaking with us, he described the fascinating story of a young Muslim woman who was entering the Church under his guidance through the RCIA process.  Her story was moving.  While working with Americans, this woman, who must remain anonymous, was touched deeply when she realized that the U.S. medical personnel not only treated wounded Americans and Iraqi civilians, but also treated wounded enemy combatants, including one who was known for having killed U.S. Marines.  As she put it, “This cannot happen with us.” 

This dramatic extension of mercy even to enemy soldiers caused her to take the next cautious step.  She asked Father Bautista to “tell me more about Jesus.”  As Father described Jesus and his life in the Gospels, one thing stood out among the rest for the Muslim woman he called “Fatima” (not her real name) and that was how kindly Jesus had related to, as she put it, “the two Mary’s.”  Fatima was moved to see how Jesus deeply loved Mary, his mother, who was sinless, but also how Jesus deeply loved Mary Magdalene, who was “a great sinner.”  As these discussions continued, Fatima reached a point where she said to Father Bautista, “I want to become a Christian.”

Since Father Bautista sees himself as a chaplain for all troops, not just Catholics, he decided to introduce Fatima to other chaplains from Protestant and Orthodox backgrounds.  After some time had passed, Fatima returned to Father Bautista and said, “I want to become a Catholic like you.”  When Father asked her the reason for her decision, she said, “You were the only one who told me about the other Christians, so you left me free to decide for myself.  That’s how I knew this was the right decision.”

As their catechetical lessons developed over time, Fatima’s family discovered her plan and was warned sternly by her father that if she continued on this path, she would be disowned by the entire family and would never have contact with them again.  At this point, Father Bautista became concerned for Fatima’s well-being and cautioned her to look carefully at the consequences of her decision and to think seriously before continuing her path into the Church.

Fatima paused for a moment and then looking intently at Father Bautista asked, “Do you give up so easily on Jesus?”  [Fantastic.  This is a raw glimpse of the spirit of the martyrs of the early Church.] The question took Father aback for a moment, but then he thought, “This is incredible; this Muslim woman is already bearing witness to me about how important my own faith is!”

As he related it, this woman’s question had caused him to give greater thanks for his faith and for the great privilege of sharing Christ with others.  Fatima is currently continuing the RCIA process with great courage and joy.

In a wonderful irony, the first words she will hear spoken during the Liturgy of the Word in the Rite of Acceptance will be those spoken to her great ancestor, Abraham: “Leave your country (and your kindred and your father’s house), and come into the land I will show you” (Gen 12:1).

After sharing this moving testimony, Father Bautista excused himself to prepare to celebrate Mass for us.  Moments later, as he led us in the prayers of Mass, I was struck by how blessed I was to be present in this moment, in the ancient dusty land of Abraham, who so willingly offered his only son to God.  Now, together with Abraham and his son, Isaac, with all the angels and saints, with our own brave son and his commander, we returned to this same land and heard these magnificent words:

“Look with favor on these offerings and accept them as you once accepted the gifts of your servant Abel, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, the bread and wine offered by your servant Melchisedech …” 

Here, in the same treeless, windy, dusty desert from which God had called Abraham, Christ had returned.  Now, through the hands of his servant priest, Father Bautista, a perfect offering was made to fulfill the offering attempted by Abraham.  And through this same priest, the Good News that was foretold to Abraham now returned to his homeland to bear witness to a courageous Muslim woman; a woman who was willing to sacrifice everything to know this Jesus who forgives even his enemies and who loves even the sinful Mary.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Gil Garza says:

    The book, “Infidel,” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali gives a frightening view of what this woman may undergo when she leaves the religion of peace. We should all pray earnestly for her safety.

  2. Jenny Z says:

    That was a very moving story… beautiful, thanks for sharing it Father :)

  3. Mary Jane says:

    Thanks for that fascinating article. And for the reminder of how easily I give up on Jesus when I don’t even have anything to lose.

  4. David says:

    I’m teared up Father…no, seriously! Yesterday, here in Toronto a 16 year-old girl succummed to her brutal injuries inflicted by her Mohammedan Pakistani father for “dishonour.” It seems that she refused to wear her hijab at school and for this “apostasy” she was murdered by the man who should have been her protector. Her brother was also arrested for obstruction as he tried to stop the police from arresting his father. May this
    young girl be remembered and may it remind us all of Baptism by Blood and Baptism of Desire.
    I prayed this morning that Jesus would have extended His Divine Mercy to her. For her own
    father, may he come to repent through the Blood of Christ and may God have mercy on his soul.

  5. Pleased As Punch says:

    And behold, Fr. Bautista used the *Roman Canon*! If a military chaplain on the dust plains of war-torn Iraq can use the Roman Canon, can’t Fr. Whoosiewhatsit at St. Ipsydipsy in the exurb of Metropolis X?

  6. CDB says:

    “This cannot happen with us.”
    She was moved by mercy. I think sometimes we don’t realize the extent to which 2,000 years of Christianity have changed the world. How many of the medics and doctors treating the enemy wounded realize that such a thing is only possible because of Christ?

  7. Belloc says:

    This is indeed a wonderful story. Fatima is in my prayers. But how sad that Father Bautista, a man whose other instincts seem so correct, would first feel it necessary to risk losing her to heretics and schismatics before receiving her into Christ’s own Church.

    Father’s in my prayers as well.

  8. Great article. It’s good to have a Catholic writer who has some understanding of theology (eg noting the priest and one marine were not alone at Mass).

    I have to admit this article was a bit of a gut punch to me. How often we take our faith for granted in the United States, even amidst the secularism going on here.

    And how strong this woman’s beliefs are. I’ll definitely pray for her. It sounds like she is blessed that her family will only disown her, since leaving Islam is punishable by death. Yet, it seems clear that she is a woman of mercy, so I pray God will have mercy on her situation.

  9. fr william says:

    Belloc, surely Fr Bautista was entirely right to warn her of the difficulties ahead, and that she should consider her decision carefully before proceeding. After all, did not our Lord do the same with his prospective disciples? He never left them in any doubt that following him was going to be no stroll in the park, and urged them to weigh the cost and the consequences (Lk 14.28ff and like passages).

  10. Franklin Jennings says:

    “But how sad that Father Bautista, a man whose other instincts seem so correct, would first feel it necessary to risk losing her to heretics and schismatics before receiving her into Christ’s own Church.”


    He gambled on her freedom. Christ gave her that freedom, and her desire, and Fr. Bautista has enough confidence and faith in what he has met, Who he has met, that there was little to fear in giving her knowledge.

    And since this girl was running after Christ, the gamble paid off.

    What if he had just baptized and confirmed her, and decades later she discovered there were millions of other Christians not in communion with the Bishop of Rome, or any bishop for that matter?

    No, she’s met them, and she knows who takes her humanity, her freedom, her desire, seriously. She knows who cares about her; he who would risk losing her.

  11. Cathy2 says:

    Belloc is right(eous).

    All Father had to do was explain to her that the other sects exist. Who sends a child for rotten fruit in a minefield when he owns a tree ready for harvest?

    “Fatima” is why the Lord sent us to Iraq. Has Islam ever been defeated without the blood of Christian soldiers and their personal converts? (I wish The Wanderer would consider this.)

  12. Franklin Jennings says:

    Its amazing that the obvious difference between Fr. Bautista’s Catholicism and the other sects, the difference that shined out to this girl, verifying for her that this was Christ she was meeting, is so absent among so many of Fr. Bautista’s fellow Catholics.

  13. Kris says:

    I’m confused. Is the yardstick for measuring the “real” or “true” Christian whether or not he shares you with other differing Christians?

    I could understand a prudent hesitation re: the consideration of what such a convert might truly have to face from her own Muslim group with such a decision, but the only comparison re: hesitation in taking advantage of a situation I recall is when Pope JPII honored the wishes of the Jewish parents separated from their child who was raised by Catholics. Otherwise I doubt if the Catholic “parents” would feel obligated to lay out all versions of Christianity without caveats once the decision to convert to Christ was made. After all, when Christ asked His followers if they too were going to leave Him once He put forth some really new propositions about Himself, I doubt if He would have been less disappointed if they merely walked away to choose something perhaps only one degree less than what He was offering of Himself! But to assist in perhaps what could be a sacrifice of one’s own life for less than the fullness of Truth? Why? Where’s the integrity? And where is the importance of what could have been the great missing element – the Eucharist??

    And how often have people made the decision to leave the True faith based solely on a bad personal episode with some particular religious when there were other good persons surrounding them? As I said, I’m confused.

  14. Derik Castillo says:

    When considering the difference in the religious diversity
    we in the US are exposed to in contrast with other
    countries, I understand the actions of Fr. Bautista when
    he let Fatima know about other denominations.

    I pray for Fatima, may God protect her with his
    mighty arm.

  15. EDG says:

    Wonderful story. However, I do wonder if Fr. Bautista believes that all “versions” of Christianity are of equal value and the Church is really not offering anything special. I’m very tired of hearing people told that there’s really no reason to become Catholic, it’s all the same, as Cdl Kasper said to the Anglicans a couple of weeks ago. Why did this priest feel he had to offer Catholicism as an “option,” and not as the natural truth, to someone who had already sought him out?

    I don’t think converts from non-Christian religions should be received with harangues against Protestantism, but I certainly think there should be some confidence in the specialness of the Catholic Church and its foundation by Our Lord. After all, one of the reasons Islam exists in the first place is because of the weakening, divisive effect in the ME of the heretical forms of Christianity that circulated in those centuries.

  16. EDG: However, I do wonder if Fr. Bautista believes that all “versions” of Christianity are of equal value and the Church is really not offering anything special.

    Perhaps you need to rethink that.

  17. Jesus says:

    Thanks for reminder of how easily I give up on Jesus when I don’t even have anything to lose. I think that Muslim women was moved by mercy we can know how strong this woman’s beliefs are so I pray to God for mercy on her situation. Thanks for sharing this rare story with the post.

  18. michigancatholic says:

    2 things:
    a) He\’s only asking her to count the cost, which is from scripture. It\’s a very important thing, under the circumstances, for her to be sure before she commits herself to people physically close to her who won\’t fail to notice the change. It could cost her life, as both the priest and the young lady are only all to aware. It\’s always a threat under those circumstances.
    b) Catholicism is the only faith that one can ask any philosophical or spiritual question of (in good faith). You might not get the answer right away, given. You might not get the answer you\’d emotionally like. But the answer is possible–you are never told you \”can\’t ask that.\” This is totally unlike any other religious faith, even other sects of Christianity. It\’s one of the many sure signs of its truth. There is no harm in looking at the Christian alternatives at the point of initial conversion–if she is looking at the right things, asking the right questions, it is by this depth & coherence of the Catholic faith that she will know she is Catholic. [I\’m a convert too.]

  19. michigancatholic says:

    Her remarks about mercy, and her being stunned at the willingness to return kindness for violence is an example. She can ask, “how can it be?” and “who is this God?” The answers are wondrous and deep and every time she asks, there will be more about God and his mercy to realize, when things go well and even (perhaps especially) when they don’t. She won’t find this kind of depth anywhere else. Those who aren’t ready won’t see it, but apparently she has.

    Hers is an awesome account of courage. I’ll be praying for her.

  20. Muzhik says:

    I fully understand and approve of the good Father’s willingness to introduce her to other brands of Christianity. Being a Christian is hard enough. Being a Catholic Christian is especially hard because Catholicism stands for something. I think a convert needs to choose to stand with what Catholicism stands for.

    I also agree with the point made by michigancatholic about the ability to ask questions in Catholicism. I post regularly on a board that’s frequented by Protestants. They know I’m Catholic and usually tolerate me, mostly because I try to be polite. There has been one person who is a liberal Catholic and who has not been especially deferential to other posters, and who recently posted an interpretation of part of Ezekiel that was at odds with what other people on the board believe. As a result, she has been shunned for “misleading seekers and causing dissent among believers”!

    I’m afraid I posted a reply on that board that will probably get ME shunned. michigancatholic’s comment made me realize how, as a Catholic, I’m much more willing to treat other opinions with respect, and to treat even the most outrageous comment as an opening to explain Catholic and Christian teachings.

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