(Left) U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich presents small replicas of the U.S. Capital to Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in this May 30, 1998 photo. CNS photo

Former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has opened up about his Mar 29, 2009 conversion to Catholicism

NEWT GINGRICH WAS reported to have said on “Fox News Sunday” last month that he “found over the course of the last decade, attending the basilica ... reading the literature, that there was a peace in my soul and a sense of well-being in the Catholic Church, and I found the Mass of conversion last Sunday one of the most powerful moments of my life”. Mr Gingrich was a Baptist before his conversion.

He is now in Europe to shoot a documentary on Pope John Paul II’s 1979 trip to Poland and how it helped to lay the groundwork for bringing down the Soviet Union, according to U.S. News & World Report. The film, “Nine Days That Changed the World”, is slated for release later this year.

The trip takes Mr Gingrich and his Catholic wife Callista to Poland and to Rome.

When U.S. News & World Report asked if this trip to Rome would be different from past ones, he replied, “I don’t know that it’s much different. That part of what led to my conversion is the first time we [he and wife Callista] went to St. Peter’s together. It’s St. Peter’s. I mean, you stand there and you think, this is where St. Peter was crucified. This is where Paul preached. You think to yourself, 2,000 years ago the apostles set out to create a worldwide movement by witnessing to the historic truth they had experienced. And there it is. The last time we were there we were allowed to walk in the papal gardens and you get this sense that is almost mystical.”

The moment that finally convinced Mr Gingrich to convert was when Pope Benedict XVI came to the United States and Callista Gingrich, who’s in the church choir, sang for the pope at the vespers service, said the newspaper. “All the bishops in the country were there. As a spouse, I got to sit in the upper church and I very briefly saw [the pope] and I was just struck with how happy he was and how fundamentally different he was from the news media’s portrait of him. This guy’s not a Rottweiler. He’s a very loving, engaged, happy person,” Mr Gingrich was reported to have said.

According to U.S. News & World Report, Mr Gingrich continued: “I’d first seen Pope John Paul II when he came to the U.S. when Carter was president and I was a freshman congressman. And I [later] met him as Speaker.

 “The other sense is that the Church has had two of its most powerful popes back to back, in their intellectual ability to engage the secular world on behalf of Christ. And the weight of all that, and going with [Callista] to church every Sunday to the Basilica [in Washington, D.C.], a magnificent church with a wonderful Mass. In that sense I felt differently a long time ago, which is why I converted.

Callista Gingrich, who was key to her husband’s conversion, was reported to have said that it was “10 years in the making. I asked Gingrich if his conversion had changed some fundamental political beliefs for him. He said it was the other way around – that political developments had made him more overtly Christian.”

She added that he told her: “The whole effort to create a ruthless, amoral, situational ethics culture has probably driven me toward a more overt Christianity. I’ll give you an example. As a college student at Emory when the Supreme Court ruled that school prayer was unconstitutional [in 1963] after 170 years of American history, I didn’t notice it.

“I’ve now had an additional 40 years to think about it. And I think about the world of my grandchildren. I don’t think American children are healthier, safer, and better off today than they were in 1963. So I have actually become more conservative in response to the failure of the liberal ethos to solve problems.”


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