Sunday, April 14, 2019
Linda Reeves - The Florida Catholic Palm Beach
OAKLAND PARK | Muslim Christopher Booty questioned the religion he practiced, so he looked back into history, tracing the roots of Islam and other world religions. When he met up with Jesus Christ and learned about God’s mercy, he was hooked.
Christopher and his wife, Kristin, are being baptized during the Easter Vigil at Blessed Sacrament Church in Oakland Park this year. Their daughter, 8-month-old Catherine, and their son, Maytham, who will be 3 in May, will also be baptized and welcomed into the Catholic Church.
“They are converting from Islam,” said Father Robert Tywoniak, pastor of Blessed Sacrament. “I am sure this is rare.”
The Bootys’ story is unique. A native of Broward and practicing Muslim, Christopher, 28, married his Muslim wife Kristin, 27, five years ago. Part Irish and a little English, Christopher grew up without spiritual guidance or a Christian community, and as a teen, he explored various organizations in a full-fledged search for a home.
“Growing up without religion, without a community of people, I wanted to be part of something,” said Booty, who was raised in Pembroke Pines. “I did one semester of college and dropped out. I was working at some dead-end jobs. I didn’t have a vision. I was looking for someone to tell me how to lead a moral life. In 2012, I became a Muslim.”
Kristin is from a tiny village in the Canadian mountains. “I was raised agnostic,” she said about growing up without faith — only the belief that it is impossible to know whether there is a God or a future life. Kristin needed something more solid, something more concrete.
In her third year at the University of British Columbia, she began looking for a group to join. “I was always looking for ways to be accepted by my peers,” she said. “I jumped around to different communities. I tried an atheist community and Buddhism. I found the Muslim community on campus.”
Christopher and Kristin met through Facebook. They continued to have conversations online and through Skype, and at the end of 2013, they finally arranged a meeting near the Canadian and U.S. border. It was love at first sight, and they felt like it was a solid match.
Months later, they married. Kristin moved to South Florida to begin life with her husband. She joined Christopher’s Muslim community to practice Islam and take up the Muslim way of life in South Florida.
Adjusting to life in Florida was difficult for Kristin, who came from a town of a little over 1,000 people. Christopher worked several low-paying jobs and then returned to school to further his education. They were living with Christopher’s parents, trying to make ends meet.
Both he and Kristin found themselves growing distant from the members of the Islamic group they belonged to. They also found it increasingly difficult to live the Islamic lifestyle, which includes guidelines and directions for virtually every aspect of life, from socializing to praying five times a day.
Slipping away from their religion, both Kristin and Christopher felt guilty, sinful and fearful. They had no one to turn to for help and spiritual guidance. “You start to feel hopeless,” said Kristin. “You don’t have a way to repent. I said please, I am sorry. Don’t send me to hell.”
Christopher struggled with the Islamic God he knew, the God of Abraham, but a God of conditional love. He began reading about the prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam, which was established in the seventh century, approximately 600 years after Christ. “I read these old books about the life of Muhammad. A lot of the stuff I was reading is not talked about today.”
He dug a little deeper and went back further in history, tracing the roots of Christianity and the ministry of Jesus, filled with healing, love, compassion and mercy. “Even though that was 2,000 years ago, the historical documents are there. You see something is going on. They are talking about Christ,” he said.
He began to rethink his Islamic religious practices and consider a spiritual alternative. “I started thinking: Is this what I want to pass onto my kids?”
Kristin and Christopher visited Blessed Sacrament Church a year ago after finding the parish’s welcoming website online. Maytham was nearly two then, and Kristin was five months pregnant with Catherine.
“They came to us last year and they stayed with us,” said Deacon John Okragleski of the parish. “They kept coming and they stuck with us through the summer.”
Christopher and Kristin felt like the parish was what they had been seeking all these years. “I felt welcomed,” said Christopher. “We had people talking to us.”
Christopher and Kristin entered the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) in September and began the journey to the Catholic Church slowly, step by step; first learning about the beliefs and practices, then continuing to discern whether to embrace the faith.
“At best I feel very much at peace with God,” said Christopher. “If you look over history and at the Old Testament, you see we don’t deserve it,” he said of God’s love and mercy. “We didn’t do the things we were supposed to do for salvation. He keeps giving us chances.”
As part of their process, the family visited St. Mary Cathedral the first Sunday of Lent, where they affirmed their intention — and were accepted — to join the Church during the Rite of Election. During Lent, they participated in ancient rites called “scrutinies” which encourage repentance and change in preparation for the Easter Vigil.
The Bootys’ story, while unusual, also is timely in the era of “nones” — younger generations who identify with no religion. Christopher’s own roots and history include parents who did not practice any faith, although his mother was born to a Methodist family and his father was Catholic.
“My dad was raised traditional Catholic,” said Christopher, who became emotional talking about his beloved grandfather and his witness of strong faith and Christian values. “Both of my grandparents were Catholic. They were devout. I have always had a soft spot for Catholicism. I remember going to Christmas Mass as a kid with my grandparents.”
He shared stories about his great grandfather, a building superintendent at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
“We visited the basilica,” said Christopher about a recent trip he made with his wife to Washington D.C. and the mother church of America. His grandfather’s name is inscribed there on a memorial along with that of other faithful Catholics, a family legacy for generations to come.
“We went to a Mass there. That was a moment for me. I remember standing there and crying,” said Christopher.
“It is important for my children to be raised as Christians,” he added. “We live in this very dangerous culture. Kristin and I grew up with no guidance, no identity to faith. Things have gotten a lot better since we came to Blessed Sacrament — the way we look at ourselves, our personal life. We have a brighter future and we have hope.”