I am often asked when I chose to become Catholic. However, it is more truthful to say that over the course of several years I gradually became Catholic and then decided one day to accept the faith I had already come to embrace.
My wife, Callista, is a lifelong Catholic and has been a member of the choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., for 15 years. Although I was Southern Baptist, I had attended Mass with Callista every Sunday at the basilica to watch her sing with the choir.
I accompanied Callista to Rome in 2005, when the choir was invited to sing at St. Peter’s Basilica. While there, I had the opportunity to talk at length with Msgr. Walter Rossi, rector of the basilica in D.C., about faith, history and many of the cultural challenges, including secularism, facing our country. Our conversations were enlightening and intriguing.
During that trip, I experienced my first visit to St. Peter’s Basilica, and I recall marveling at being in the presence of the historic truth of the Church that day.
At the same time, I was being influenced by several books I was reading, including George Weigel’s The Cube and the Cathedral, about the crisis of secularism in Europe, and his book The Final Revolution, about the role of Christianity in freeing Eastern Europe from an atheistic dictatorship.
I was also moved by Pope Benedict’s reflection in his book Jesus of Nazareth that, “God is the issue: Is he real, reality itself, or isn’t he? Is he good, or do we have to invent the good ourselves?”
Throughout our travels, whether Callista and I were in Costa Rica or Africa, she was adamant about finding a local Mass on Sunday. Listening to “Amazing Grace” being sung in Chinese at Mass in Beijing was a beautiful experience, and worshipping with believers across the world opened my eyes to the diversity and richness of the Catholic Church.
Over the course of a decade, the depth of faith and history contained in the life of the Catholic Church were increasingly apparent to me, and the centrality of the Eucharist in the Catholic Mass became more and more clear.
Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States in April of 2008 was a turning point for me. The Holy Father presided over solemn vespers with the U.S. bishops in the Crypt Church at the basilica in Washington. Callista’s choir was asked to sing for Pope Benedict at vespers, and as a spouse, I had the unique opportunity to attend the papal visit and was deeply moved by the occasion.
Catching a glimpse of Pope Benedict that day, I was struck by the happiness and peacefulness he exuded. The joyful and radiating presence of the Holy Father was a moment of confirmation about the many things I had been thinking and experiencing for several years.
That evening I told Msgr. Rossi I wanted to be received into the Catholic Church, and he agreed to join Callista as my sponsor. Under his tutelage, I studied the Catechism of the Church over the next year and was received into the Church in March of 2009 in a beautiful Mass at St. Joseph’s on Capitol Hill.
After a decade-long — perhaps lifelong — faith journey, I was finally home.
Newt Gingrich is a former congressman from Georgia and speaker of the House of Representatives from 1994-1999. He and his wife Callista run Gingrich Productions, which made the film Nine Days That Changed the World.