When a Catholic Bishop Baptized his Muslim Father
Archbishop Thomas Luke Msusa's fascinating story of faith, conversion and vocation
by DIANE MONTAGNA OCTOBER 16, 2015
|Aleteia/Abp Thomas Luke Msusa|
VATICAN CITY — Forty-eight prelates from Africa are currently in Rome for the Synod on the Family.
In speaking with the bishops of Africa about the synod, sometimes surprising and beautiful stories emerge about their countries, their culture, and even their own family lives.
One such story is that of Archbishop Thomas Luke Msusa of the Blantyre archdiocese in Malawi, who is a convert from Islam to Catholicism.
Archbishop Msusa, 53, serves as vice-chairman of the eight-country association of member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa. He was ordained a priest of the Missionaries of the Company of Mary, commonly known as the Montfort Missionaries.
Your Excellency, we have heard that many Muslims are converting to Christianity in Malawi. What can you tell us about this?
Yes, it’s true. I worked in the diocese of Zomba for 10 years, and every year at the Easter Vigil in the cathedral there would be 100 to 150 adults coming into the Church. And there are so many others in the parishes as well.
I have asked them how they came to convert. They said it was through Radio Maria, which is very powerful in our country, very powerful. These people listen to Radio Maria. (Support Radio Maria!) When we celebrate big Masses, Radio Maria is there. At first, when the radio was not there, they only heard propaganda against the Catholic Church. But now they have come to know the truth about the Catholic Church. That is why they have converted to Catholicism.
In Blantyre, the diocese where I am now, it’s the same. When I go for confirmation, you find 20 to 50 people at the parish who are Muslims converting to Catholicism.
This is not a problem in our country. In the village I come from, 99.9% are Muslims. Some of my relatives are Muslims. My father was an Imam.
You were raised Muslim?
At the age of 7, I left home and went to the parish because I wanted to go to school (Catholic schools that teach and live the Catholic Faith make a difference!). Nobody from our village would help me. So I stayed at the parish. At the age of 12, I asked for baptism myself, and I was baptized.
Then I asked the priest: “How can I become like you?” And he sent me to the seminary. (God inspires vocations through holy priests!)
When I eventually returned home, my relatives and my father heard about it, and they were against me. They would not welcome me at home, so I always stayed at the parish.
But thanks be to God, I was ordained. To thank God, I wanted to go and celebrate Mass at home. (God works through those who rely on His grace!) So I asked the Church elder there and my uncle — who was already Catholic at that time — to organize Mass outside. (Celebrate the Mass with dignity and reverence and people will find the Lord!)
People were laughing and wondering how many people would come, but it was full of people. My relatives and my father came. And he said to me: “You know, I was refusing to allow you to join this Church, but I believe now we will probably reach heaven through you.”
My father, who was a teacher of Islam — an Imam — said this.
Did your father also convert to Catholicism?
When I became a bishop, I returned home and invited people to come together. And my father, an Imam, knelt and said, “I need baptism.” And I said, “Oh father, all these years you have been saying I’m going to hell. Are you going to hell with me?” (laugh).
Our instruction in the Christian faith lasts 3 years (!), so I said him: If you want to become Catholic, you have to undergo Christian instruction for 3 years (Definitely not the low-bar cafeteria Catholicism of most western parishes!). He accepted, and in 2006, I baptized him. (God makes fervent disciples through authentic catechesis!)
Now, he is very old and very sick. When I go back to Malawi, I have to go to his home so that he can declare before everyone what he has become. (No "shy" Catholicism there!) I will travel there on the 29th to bring peace to my family. We follow the side of the mother. He must declare that he has wanted to join us as a Christian (A real public profession of faith!), so that when he dies there will not be any problem to bury him. It will be my responsibility — our responsibility as Christians – to bury him with a Christian burial.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent of Aleteia’s English edition.Pray our Canadian bishops hear the voice of God speaking through men such as Archbishop Msusa! Pray a prayer of thanksgiving to God for an abundant harvest in Africa, and pray that the harvest may increase in the Americas and Europe!