"Behold, I make all things new.” — Revelation 21:5 (KJB)
Discrimination and persecution! Sad to say, the Roman Catholic Church of Colombia saw a threat in any Protestant expression of the Christian faith, Lutherans included! American and Canadian Lutheran missionaries experienced it as they shared the Gospel with us. Since the Roman Catholic Church is the official religion of the Colombian State, being protestant (evangelical) was—and still continues to be—a challenging reality. Until 1991 when for the very first time the Colombian Constitution guaranteed freedom of religion, we were literally illegal and undesirable to Colombian society.
My Lutheran family knows firsthand such religious persecution. I remember being ridiculed, ignored and punished during high school simply for being Lutheran. It didn’t help that the teacher for religion, geometry and philosophy was the Catholic priest in the village. Yet God has always turned those challenges into serendipitous ministry opportunities. When we were not welcome in the public school system, we developed elementary schools so that Lutheran children would receive education. Those schools have always been powerful evangelizing tools in the hands of God. Even today, most of the students in our schools come from Roman Catholic homes.
Given this history, I grew up harboring open resentment and bitterness against the Roman Catholic Church and everything it represented in Colombia. Ironically, as part of my healing process, there was an event I will never forget. It happened in Dubuque, Iowa, when my friend Antonio from El Salvador invited me to Catholic Mass at Loras College. God knows how much I resisted, yet I went because the Mass was in Spanish, and I didn’t know English at the time!
Ah the serendipity of God’s healing embrace! Although I did not expect it, the Catholic priest welcomed me and openly invited me to Holy Communion! As I was physically shaking and wrestling with the old negative script I had previously experienced, the Holy Spirit helped me realize this was the grace I needed to heal and embrace the past, no matter what had happened. It did not matter that Holy Communion was given to me by a Catholic priest; what truly mattered was the real presence of Christ in and through this healing sacrament. I literally experienced a change of heart. With tears in my eyes for the new-found joy, I praised God for such a healing experience! Resentment was replaced by forgiveness. I now see Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in Colombia in a reconciled light even as I sincerely engage in efforts to work together where possible and respect our own unique faith traditions.
Beloved friends, on this Saturday when we stand between the broken realities of Good Friday and the glorious triumph of the resurrection of our Lord, I pray that whatever your need for forgiveness, wholeness and healing may be, you will know what transforming power there is in the Word of God and in the Sacraments Christ has entrusted to his church! “Behold, I make all things new.” Thanks be to God!
Pastor Natanael Lizarazo