This is a story of a prodigal son. I can only tell you part of the conversion of José Luis Sansaloni. His return to the Church of his ancestors is filled with so many miraculous events that we could not fit them here. I was a mere witness to a process of many years that led José Luis through Mary to the Eucharist and a fervent, faithful life in the Catholic Church.
It must have been around the end of the century when I began to participate in various Internet forums. I was trying to be of help to the many people that were leaving various cults, mainly Jehovah’s Witnesses who were disillusioned with the beliefs of the sect. In one of those forums I met a man who lived in Barcelona. He signed his messages as ‘Sansa’. He had lived all his life as a Jehovah’s Witness. His parents had him baptized as a baby in the local Catholic Parish of Christ the Redeemer in Barcelona’s neighborhood of Guinardó. Five years later, in 1965 they began to ‘study the Bible’ with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. José Luis grew up in ‘the truth’ — that is how the cult identifies itself — eventually marrying his beautiful wife Elisa. The couple raised two handsome boys. Everything seemed to be going well.
Shortly before the end of the century, José Luis began to wander the web online and soon he learned the true history of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. At the time, a series of top officials of the Watchtower Society had defected that organization and they were writing books. One of those men, Raymond Franz, had written a book exposing the Watchtower Society: Crisis of Conscience, and later, In Search of Christian Freedom. As a result of the increasing exposure to embarrassing information about the origins of their faith, a sizable group of people had abandoned the fellowship and now “gathered” in various Internet forums. Sansa was one of them. That is where I met him.
Later, while I was on vacation in England I decided to fly to Spain and pay a visit to the group of renegade Jehovah’s Witnesses. Sansa organized a meeting in Seville. They turned out to be a lovely group of very sincere people who wanted to serve God but they did not know how.
Later, after my very public conversion, I visited Spain again but at that time I could only meet Sansa and a few of the other members of the group. Most of them did not understand how anyone could become Catholic. Sansa did not understand either but he respected my decision. I had occasion to visit the Evangelical group he was worshiping with, another lovely group of very devout men and women.
In the inevitable conversations that followed, Sansa could not avoid letting out some frustration, saying things like “I don’t need a stinking Pope”. I paid no heed to it and let him blow some steam. Eventually he and I drove from Barcelona to Sevilla to visit Manuel Jesús Perales-Gómez, [photo, right] a fellow Catholic writer and veteran member of the Roman Order of Our Lady of Rocío in Sevilla. We met with Manuel and his family for dinner at a local ‘bar de tapas’ and there Manuel unwittingly uttered a prophecy. He said to Sansa: “I sense you love Jesus with all your heart. One day you will have to come to Mary” — that brought a semi-sarcastic smile to Sansa’s face but the phrase remained with him through the years. Manuel died suddenly in 2010, perhaps not knowing about Sansa’s conversion.
Eventually Sansa and his wife moved to a small town in Andalusia where they joined a small Pentecostal group. After a while, strange things began to happen. Here in Sansa’s own words:
In 2004, without knowing how or why I began to have some discrepancies with the pastor, given that his way of teaching was irking the majority of the group members. The truth is that everything ended in a painful split. Complete families left, leaving the church practically without male members. Little did I know at that time how frequent those divisions were among Protestants.
Sansa left that group shortly after. About that time he began to read Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism about the conversion of Scott Hahn, and a translation of Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. He tried to get some advice from various Catholic priests in the area but none seemed too interested in helping him. Following an impulse, he bought a small booklet of Catholic prayers and one night he prayed the Hail Mary again for the first time since infancy. Next to him, his wife was sound asleep. He finished the prayer and went to sleep, wondering if this call he was hearing to join the Catholic Church made any sense at all. Then the first of many miracles happened. Again, in Sansa’s own words:
I got up in the morning and went to work. I took my car out of the garage. Remember, patient reader, that the vehicle stays there overnight — this is an important detail — As usual I took the road towards my place of work. I did not drive more than a couple of miles when it started to rain. I turned on the windshield wipers and noticed something stuck under the left wiper: something I had not noticed the day before when I parked the car.
Since I was in a rural place, I stopped and got out of the car to remove the little piece of plastic. I almost began jumping and screaming with joy. In my 45 years of life I had never found something like this on the windshield of my car, but there it was: just the morning after asking Mary for guidance. That was almost a miracle. In my hands I had a small plastic calendar with the image of the Mother of God, holding the Child. The legend on top of the calendar said simply: “Open your window”.
I never knew how that message ended on the windshield. My car had spent the night locked in my garage. Someone did it and that “someone” was very attentive to my prayer the night before. I will always give you thanks, Blessed Mother, for having spoken so clearly to me that day.
José Luis was received in the Church in March, 2005. His wife Elisa followed him in January 2007. They were married before God on May 13, 2007. Many small miracles and graces happened and continue to happen to the Sansaloni family. Too many to relate them all here. Following this link you can read his own conversion story (in Spanish).
We walk beautiful and strange roads through the shadowlands on our way to Heaven. The story of José Luis and Elisa is a story of redemption where Mary Most Holy plays a very important part, lovingly guiding souls from darkness to light. It only took one Hail Mary. Meditate on the power of that prayer and the unfathomable ways of God.