But his decision as a younger man to leave the Catholic Church to embrace evangelical Protestantism remains a sore point for some in the standing-room-only ballroom Thursday afternoon.
“I cherish my Catholic upbringing. I truly do,” he said, pointing to his parents’ devotion to their faith, the years he and his three brothers served as altar boys at their parish, St. Columba’s, and the eight years he spent in parochial school, joking that “I’ve got the scars on my knuckles to prove it.”
Yet in his teenage years, he said, he became “an agnostic at best,” adopting the view that religion was for those who “needed a crutch in their lives.”
His outlook changed dramatically one “rainy night” at a Christian music festival at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky — the same college that garnered widespread media attention earlier this year for a multi-day prayer service linked to numerous conversions.
“It was like I heard the words for the first time, ‘God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, that whoever might believe in him might not perish, but have everlasting life,’” he said, citing John 3:16. “And it was on that night, not out of a sense of just intellectual agreement, but because my heart was literally broken for what had been done for me on the cross, that I made a decision to put my faith in Christ. And that faith in my youth became my own.”
Pence and his wife, Karen, who were married in a Catholic church, didn’t officially join an evangelical church until sometime later. The couple has three grown children: one daughter is a lawyer, another is a published author, and their son is a Marine Corps fighter pilot who will head to “Top Gun” training in the fall.
Pence also shared his experience of meeting Pope Francis while he was vice president. The pope presented him with a rosary, explaining that it was “for your mother.”
“My mom prayed that rosary every single day. What a blessing,” Pence said.
A call to speak out
Returning to his theme, Pence urged his audience not to be discouraged by the way they see the culture around them growing increasingly secular and hostile to religious belief.
“Times like this, it’s easy to feel powerless,” he said. “But I must tell you, it’s important to remember in this time where we see a culture walking away from the timeless values of our faith, if God is for us, who can be against us?”
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He said he remains convinced that the “vast majority of Americans” still cherish the sanctity of life, marriage, and traditional values.
“I believe the greatest threat we face is not the strength of those who oppose us,” he said. “It’s the inadequacy of our beliefs, the danger of our own indifference, believing the lie that we can’t make a difference or we’re just one voice.”
“Leaving here from the Napa Institute, you have an opportunity to go forth, speak out, and you’ll watch people rally to your cause,” he said.
“We cannot be afraid of the truth when it comes to the public square,” he concluded. “Let us leave here with a prayer that we will have courage to resist what is popular and embrace timeless principles and values that will speak boldly and truthfully, but with love, to our fellow Americans.”