July 10, 2024 // Diocese

University of Notre Dame Graduate Shares Conversion Story During National Eucharistic Pilgrimage

On Friday, July 5, St. Therese, Little Flower Catholic Church in South Bend was packed. With every pew filled, people sat on the ground around the periphery of the sanctuary just to get a glimpse, to draw close to our Lord. The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage had come to the diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, and the diocese and people from neighboring states came out to meet our Eucharistic Lord with open arms.

Paula Lent
University of Notre Dame graduate Mia Tiwana tells her story of conversion from Islam to Catholicism as part of the events of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage on Friday, July 5, at St. Therese, Little Flower Church in South Bend.

Taking in the scene, one couldn’t help but think of the many times recorded in Scripture when crowds packed spaces just to get a glimpse of Jesus; and the large crowd that later followed Him through the streets to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame.

The cost of discipleship, the grace needed at all times for it, and the immeasurable worth of our Lord were all themes of the talk given by Mia Tiwana before the pilgrims entered St. Therese. Before Tiwana’s talk, St. Therese’s Director of Evangelization, Abby Kyle, shared a favorite and challenging quote with the crowd: “Having Jesus plus the world is not more than having Jesus alone.”

A recent graduate of Notre Dame, Tiwana shared her testimony of converting from Islam to Christianity as an adolescent, a decision for which she risked her life since apostasy is punishable by death in her native country, Saudi Arabia.

Until adolescence, Tiwana had been a pious and satisfied Muslim. “I lived and breathed my Islamic faith,” she shared. “By age 5, I was able to recite many chapters in the Quran from memory. And every single day, I zealously made my Salah by praying five times a day. I have so many fond memories of stirring awake before the crack of dawn offering my sleepy morning to Allah.”

Her conversion was sparked by adolescent rebellion. When she was 12 years old, Tiwana, upset about the constraints Islam placed on women like arranged
marriages, form-hiding clothing, disparity in gender roles, “quietly began a crusade to reconcile feminism with Islam.” She said, “For the first
time, I sought to understand the Quran and Hadith on my own. As the months went by, my faith began to shatter. One day, as I woke up to my alarm for my morning prayer, I realized that I was no longer certain about the God I had been taught to worship all my life. A crisis of faith ensued. I asked God ‘Who are you, and what could you possibly want from me?’” She continued, “A voice deep within me told me ‘Keep searching, Mia.’”

Tiwana began to explore other monotheistic religions, and through studying the Bible, came to believe in Jesus.

She secretly kept a journal filled with Scripture and letters to God. “I remember one letter distinctly,” Tiwana said. “I wrote, ‘God I don’t know what to do, because if I choose you then I’ll have to give up my parents, my family, and everything I have ever known and loved. But if I choose my family and my life, then I will never ever have the chance to know you.’”

Her parents found the journal, read the letter, and confronted Tiwana, giving her two options: Go back to being Muslim, or face the consequences of being Christian. “I was completely frozen,” Tiwana recalled. “The consequence he was talking about was death.”

She was disowned by her family, and faced persecution throughout the following year. Yet she responded with joy and happiness. “There was nothing more fulfilling and sustaining than knowing that I had accepted the true living God,” she said.

Tiwana eventually came to Indiana, and now, years removed from her perilous conversion, she shared that “the graces she received then are all the more needed for each of us in the everyday.”

“The things that help you to be able to die well for God, are the same things that help you to be able to live well for God,” Tiwana emphasized.

“God gave me this amazing opportunity, this mountain top season of life where I was ready to die for Him, and I was actively falling in love with Him. I now, as a lukewarm Catholic, sometimes wonder: Could I do it again? Would I be willing to die for Jesus? How far does my sacrifice go?” she shared candidly.

“I think about the graces that God gave me during that time. I had three things: hope, fearlessness, and perseverance. I need them more than ever now, as someone who has no imminent threat to her life. I’ll say it again: The things that help you to be able to die well for God are the same things that help you to be able to live well for God.”

According to Kyle, Tiwana was asked to share her testimony because, “Mia’s story evokes conviction about truths about Gospel living that are totally lost on the average Catholic. Catholics today, myself included, have become overly familiar with the Gospel to the point of forgetting how absolutely radical it is. There are truths of the Gospel like, ‘He who loves father or mother or children more than Me is not worthy of Me’ or ‘You cannot serve God and mammon,’ that we flip past like an old magazine in a waiting room. Those words from our Lord are meant to cut us to the heart and require us to make a choice: Jesus or everything else?”

The talk struck many hearts, including that of parishioner Sam Mertz, who said, “I thought Mia’s talk was very moving and it was very stunning to see how God worked so powerfully in her life, in her conversion experience.”

As she concluded, Tiwana encouraged the crowd, saying, “Soon our Lord, love Himself, will process in. Ask Him for hope, fearlessness, and perseverance. Ask Him for the grace to live well for Him. And ask Him for the understanding that you were created to be loved, and created to be little.”

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