Pope Benedict XVI’s “First Convert” | Roger Dubin | Catholic World Report
The story of how a New York Jew wrestled with Christ and became Catholic
Groucho Marx once said, “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have a guy like me as a member.”
So began my witness testimony at the Easter Vigil on April 7, 2007, when my wife Barbara and I entered the Catholic Church. For a New York Jew, who’d detested the name “Jesus” for as long as he could remember, to be standing before a packed congregation at Sacred Heart Church in Prescott, Arizona, having to recount in three minutes how he got there—well, you can imagine what a surreal a moment that was.
Yet now, when instead of three minutes I have three thousand words, plus six years as a Catholic, the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of Pope Francis for perspective, the task is, if anything, even more daunting. But Carl E. Olson, editor of Catholic World Report, asked me to give it a shot, so here goes.
On April 2, 2005, there came the news of the death of Pope John Paul II. I’d always admired the pope for his courage in confronting the horrors of communism, and for aligning with President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher in a united front that led to the downfall of the Soviet Union. Yet as a spiritual leader he meant nothing to me.
Nevertheless, Barbara and I found ourselves becoming involved in the events and the funeral as they unfolded on television. Even the typically skewed commercial coverage couldn’t disguise the tributes from all corners of the globe, and the love for the pope and grief at losing him from Catholics and people of every faith. At some point in the two weeks following, Barbara—a long-lapsed Protestant who’d never lost her regard for Christianity—turned to me and said, “You’ve got to get religion, Roger. You’ve been drifting way too long.”
Early on the morning of April 19, I left on a business trip, first taking the commuter flight from Prescott, our home since 2001, to the Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. There was a wait before my next flight to the west coast, so I stopped for coffee, and soon after I arrived at the gate, the white smoke appeared over the roof of the Sistine Chapel on the television monitor. Sipping my cappuccino, I watched with a large group of travelers, interested—as a news hound mostly—in who’d been chosen. From my casual observation, however, quite a few in the crowd were Catholics, and far more invested in the outcome than I.
When the announcement was made that Cardinal Ratzinger had been elected, people around me seemed to register either shock or joy.