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Turn to Jesus (Article)

A Matter of Experience
Father Thiemo Klein LC (Herford, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany)

P. Thiemo Klein , L.C.
Fr. Thiemo Klein , LC

“I am not a theologian, but I know that it was the Virgin Mary who brought me home from the war”. My grandfather was a barber who survived bombs and bullets as a machine-gunner sergeant in World War II. Malaria and shrapnel stayed with him for the rest of his life. So did his experience of the living God who helped him through the valley of death.

When I hung up the phone, I felt better. My grandfather’s witness across the Atlantic Ocean had brought light into the darkness of doubt. Doubts about the faith are like an earthquake: no place to hide, nothing to hold on to. Parents, friends, Church, and teachers become suspect of false teaching. Were they all living in error? But why was I doubting?

In the Back Seat

“Let’s go, kids, shine your shoes and get in the car!” It was part of our Sunday morning ritual. After a good breakfast, my two sisters and I would polish our shoes and go to Mass with our parents. I grew up in a Catholic family in the countryside in Herford, a hilly town of 60,000 inhabitants in Westphalia, in northwest Germany. It was great fun to play in the forests or on the farm of a friend, building huts and little dams in a stream. I was an expert with the fishing rod and a sharpshooter with my pellet gun.

Our family was special. We ate fish on Friday and no sweets during Lent. Nobody else in my elementary school classroom got up at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning to go to Mass. Almost everybody there was Protestant, and religion was not important to them. I went to Protestant religion class at school and then had Catholic religion class in another school in the afternoon. Later, even though it was much further away, I attended a Catholic school, and that meant quite some sacrifice for our parents (Thank you, Mum and Dad!) All this made our life tougher, but created an unspoken mystique: We are Catholic!

But I was not yet on my personal journey of faith. I was still, so to speak, in the back seat of my parents’ car, and my faith was still a black-and-white photocopy of theirs. Into the copy machine had gone the children’s Bible, religion class, and Sunday Mass, and although the picture was the same, it was achromatic and some lines were indistinct. The color of personal experience was missing. Color was waiting for me in Canada…

Northern Exposure

“What a wide-open horizon!” I exclaimed as I got out of the plane. Just 16 years old, I had flown to Canada as an exchange student for the 1991-1992 school year. I lived in Barrhead, Alberta, a town of 3,000 inhabitants two hours northeast of Edmonton. My host family consisted of a divorced lady and her two children. I was the babysitter. Little did I know that I was going to encounter Christ in that house.

Joe, a good Catholic friend from high school, invited
P. Thiemo Klein , L.C.
"I wanted the whole world to know about Christ´s love for us".
me to a Japanese Jiu-Jitsu martial arts club where he was the assistant trainer. I started to go there regularly to work out. The trainer, Phil, was black-belt, and a “born-again” Lutheran. He was as fervent a Protestant as Joe was a decided Catholic. Dressed in our white Judo suits, between push-ups, shoulder throws, kicks and punches, we would discuss theology: What did Christ say about the Eucharist? Why can we pray to the Virgin Mary? Little by little I started to question why I was Catholic. Was it only because I happened to be born into a Catholic family? I knew the doctrine about Christ, but I did not have the experience Phil seemed to have. His was a personal relationship with Jesus, not just knowledge. His love for Jesus Christ and his fervent witness impressed me very much.

In spring we went to a fighting tournament somewhere in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia. We drove for 24 hours. During the trip, Phil told me how he had stopped practicing his childhood Catholicism and had drifted to Asian meditation. He had been striving to empty his consciousness to reach Nirwana. At one point he was submerged in the spiritual world when suddenly he felt a dark and evil spiritual presence grasping for his soul to possess him. In panic he shouted “Oh God!” – and the name made the evil presence withdraw. Phil told his Lutheran girlfriend about his experience. She brought him to her pastor, and Phil re-discovered Jesus Christ under his guidance. Now he was giving classes at the Jiu-Jitsu club to finance his theology studies: he wanted to become a Lutheran minister. He knew his faith and treated me with a lot of charity; we stayed over at his house on my birthday, and his mother even baked a cake for me.

To Be or Not to Be…

I came back to the house in Barrhead in the early hours of a very cold April day. Everybody else was still asleep. Snow had fallen and the sun was just rising. A deep silence reigned. I sat down on the couch in the living room and looked out the big window in front of me. In my soul I contemplated the impressions of the last days, weeks, and months. What is important? What does it all mean to me? Suddenly the light of truth invaded my soul: Jesus Christ is real! Jesus is a real living person, my friend and Savior! He died for me on the cross! He washed all my sins away. He opened the way to eternal life! I knew then that his love is the most important thing on Earth. Untold joy overflowed into my heart, and my life changed at that instant. The love of Christ healed something in me, gave me a strength I did not feel before. A chain that tied me to the abyss was broken. “I am free!”

Now I really wanted to be a Christian. But Catholic? It had been a Protestant who told me about Jesus Christ, the living Savior. I had many doubts and many questions and I felt like the ground was moving beneath me. When I told my grandfather on the phone and he told me how the Virgin Mary had helped him, I felt better but I still needed more.

I wanted to talk to a priest. The parish priest was not at home, but on Sunday the bishop came. Years later I remembered that he came to preach about vocations to the priesthood. I was not thinking about the vocation, I just wanted to know why I should be a Catholic. I talked to the bishop´s secretary, Father Francois, from Quebec, for two hours. He explained to me how our faith is the most biblical and complete. We have the complete original, no abbreviations, no remix. That convinced me. Riding home on my bicycle, I said to myself: “I want to be Catholic!”

The Rosary Rebel

The father of my friend Joe told me: “Pray a Rosary every day, and you won´t have problems with your faith anymore”.

“Very good,” I said. “So how do you pray the Rosary?” I didn´t know how because it was not the custom in my parish. On the way home from Joe´s house, Joe gave me his rosary, a brief explanation and a card listing the 15 mysteries. I must have been rather scared to lose my faith, because I prayed all 15 mysteries that night.

From that day on I prayed the Rosary every night, even when I came home early in the morning from a party. It took me months to learn how to see the scenes and share the feelings of Christ and Mary. My favorites were the sorrowful mysteries, where you can see how much Christ loves us. I wanted the whole world to know about Christ´s love for us.

In July of 1992, I came back to Germany. Many old friends had changed a lot: colored hair, smoking cigarettes, long nights at the disco… They were grasping for a personal freedom that I had already found in Jesus Christ. They were rebels against the establishment and became slaves to fads, fashions, and music. The Rosary gave me access to a love out of this world. I was my own person, because I leaned on Jesus.

Different impressions hit me. As a catechist in my home parish, I found out how much the kids need Christ. “A priest lives for Christ 24 hours a day,” I said to myself. That would be something worth dedicating your life to. If I could get only one soul to heaven, I would have done something that lasts for eternity. What greater mark could I leave in this life? I found that in my prayer life I had experiences similar to the ups-and-downs my friends had in their relationships with their girl-friends. When I told my best friend, he raised an eyebrow: “Maybe you do have a vocation…” The thought of becoming a priest came and disappeared, but with more prayer it became constantly present. Finally, I made it part of my personal rebellion against the mainstream mediocrity. If you do not understand, try this saying, “I am going be a priest!” and you will provoke much more thought, interest, and friction than any punk. I was a rebel with a divine cause!

Later on, I learned to wish to be a priest only for love of God. My parish priest helped me with his example. I saw him praying alone in front of the tabernacle in the church. “That is really a man of God,” I said to myself. Also, the priest at my school, the Marienschule Bielefeld, gave me a good example. He had great care for Christ in the Eucharist.

The Real Thing

I met the Legionaries of Christ at a youth retreat in Bonn. Father Eamon Kelly impressed me. He had a personal relationship with God and a burning love for Christ, the Church, the Pope, the Virgin Mary, and the salvation of souls. “That’s the type of priest I want to be,” I said to myself. Father Albert Gutberlet and Father Klaus Einsle were there too and sang a song about the vocation. When I read the information about the congregation, it was love at first sight. I knew: “This is going to be my religious order”.

But first I had to finish high school in 1994. When my parents brought me to the candidacy program, and they saw the novitiate my mother prophesized: “You will have to change a lot!” She was right. The candidacy was not easy and the novitiate turned out to be even more difficult. But I got what I wanted: a good, Christ-centered priestly formation and an environment of real brotherhood.

The experience of Christ grew over the years to a spiritual union of lives: in Salamanca, Spain while studying humanities; in New York as a student of philosophy; in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland during four years of apostolic internship doing youth work; and especially in Rome during my years of study in philosophy and theology. The priesthood is not a job; it is a living love.

Father Thiemo Klein was born in Herford, Nordrhein-Westfalen (Germany) on April 18, 1975. He studied at the Ursuline´s Marienschule in Bielefeld. He spent the school year of 1991-92 in Barrhead, Alberta in Canada. In September of 1994 he entered the novitiate of the Legionaries of Christ in Roetgen, Germany. He studied humanities in Salamanca (Spain) and went to New York to study philosophy. With a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, he started his apostolic internship in 1999 as an assistant for youth work in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland. After four years of extensive language studies and pastoral experiences, he completed his university studies in Rome at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College from 2003 to 2008, earning a licentiate degree in philosophy and a degree in theology. During this time, he also worked apostolically in Germany. From the summer of 2008 on, he has led the youth work of the Legionaries of Christ in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia.

Translation of the vocation story published in the book "Vivir para Cristo"



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