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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.
The archdiocese of Blantyre is located near Malawi’s southern border with Mozambique.
Earlier this week Aleteia sat down with Archbishop Msusa, who shared the story of his own conversion — and that of his father who was a Muslim Imam.
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. 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. 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.
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. They would not not welcome me.
But thanks be to God, I was ordained. To thank God, I wanted to go and celebrate Mass at home. So I asked the Church elder there and my uncle — who was already Catholic at that time — to organize Mass outside.
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 to him: If you want to become Catholic, you have to undergo Christian instruction for 3 years. He accepted, and in 2006, I baptized him.
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. 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, 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.
To give you another example: at first they were pushing me, telling me: you are going away from our culture. But now even the traditional chief has given me a village, and made me a chief. I am looking after 62 families. But of course as a bishop I have many responsibilities so my sister, Christina, is now the chief. But sometimes she phones me when there are discussions and asks me to come.
Is it a village of Christians or Muslims?
It’s a mixture. We are together. After the African Synod [in 2006], I invited people to come together, Catholics and Muslims. We celebrate Mass, we come together, we eat together. I tell them: “Forget about your problems, today we celebrate.” We begin with the Mass, and they enjoy it. The Catholics who are properly disposed receive Holy Communion, and the Muslims are there also. They wait for it every year.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent of Aleteia’s English edition.