.- Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich told the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast that his conversion to Catholicism helped him discover the “transforming power of faith” in the face of the “increasingly aggressive secularization” of the United States.
“People ask me when I decided to become Catholic,” he told those gathered at Washington D.C.’s Marriott Wardman Park Hotel on the morning of April 27. “It would be more accurate to say that I gradually became Catholic and then realized one day that I should accept the faith that surrounded me.”
“The depth of faith and history contained in the life of the Catholic Church were increasingly apparent to me,” he added. “Slowly, over a decade, the centrality of the Eucharist in the Catholic Mass became more and more obvious to me.”
Gingrich, who entered the Church in 2009, is widely mentioned as a potential Republican presidential candidate.
His wife Callista’s long involvement with the choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception brought him to Mass every Sunday, he recounted. He often spoke with Basilica rector Msgr. Walter R. Rossi, especially during a 2005 trip to Rome.
Gingrich said he thought George Weigel’s book “The Cube and the Cathedral” captured the “crisis” of European civilization as “militant, government-imposed secularism undermines and weakens Christianity.”
“As Monsignor Rossi and I discussed the crisis of secularism in Europe and the growth of a government-favored pagan culture to replace Christianity, a terrible parallel grew in my mind between what had been happening in Europe for the last century and what is now happening in the United States,” he said.
“The American elites are guided by their desire to emulate the European elites and, as a result, anti-religious values and principles are coming to dominate the academic, news media, and judicial class in America.”
Criticizing U.S. courts as “especially powerful engines of coerced secularization,” he said the 1962 Supreme Court decision that barred prayer from schools marked the beginning of “a decisive break with the essentially religious nature of historic American civilization.”
Gingrich continued to explore his own beliefs and he reconsidered his own tolerance for aggressive secularization.
“Callista and I have two grandchildren,” he said. “The more I thought about the culture they are surrounded by and the direction of that culture’s evolution, the more troubled I became.”
His “moment of confirmation” about the Catholic faith came during Solemn Vespers with Pope Benedict XVI during the pontiff’s April 2008 visit to the U.S. The Pope’s “joyful and radiating presence” helped Gingrich confirm many of his thoughts and experiences.
“Pope Benedict’s message of ‘Christ our Hope’ was exactly right,” he told the prayer breakfast. “It captured in three words the heart of the salvation Christianity offers.”
The same “transforming power” of faith also had an impact in Poland during Pope John Paul II’s “extraordinary” nine-day visit in June 1979, which Gingrich and his wife have chronicled in his documentary “Nine Days that Changed the World.”
“Amidst a Communist dictatorship, Pope John Paul II reminded the Polish people that freedom and human potential could only be achieved through a relationship with Jesus Christ,” Gingrich explained.
In the face of “continuous anti-religious war” imposed by the Soviet Union, John Paul II’s biblical exhortation “Be Not afraid” gave courage to Catholics and caused fear in Moscow.
“For nine days the Holy Father crisscrossed Poland evangelizing and teaching. For nine days the people of Poland watched, listened and participated,” Gingrich said. “By the end of his pilgrimage something decisive had changed.”
He credited the papal visit for the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Gingrich and his wife believe their documentary is a movie with “universal meaning” that is “directly relevant” to contemporary America and to “our crisis of culture and civilization.”
He prayed that the soon-to-be beatified John Paul II will intercede for us so that “we too will be a positive, evangelizing influence in today’s world.”
The Seventh National Catholic Prayer Breakfast brought Catholics to Washington, D.C. for an April 26 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and for a breakfast the next morning.
Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn. delivered the keynote address for the morning event. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and pro-life investigative reporter Lila Rose also spoke.