Once you’ve encountered him, Carlos Caso-Rosendi is impossible to forget. Not only is he passionately taking the Gospel to the world – he’s doing it in three different languages! A convert to Catholicism from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, he is founder of the Primera Luz online apostolate, offering Spanish-speaking (and soon English and Portuguese) peoples an intellectually satisfying and culturally engaging presentation of the Faith. He has been featured on EWTN programs such as The Journey Home and Nuestra Fe en Vivo. And, as if this wasn’t enough, he has a forthcoming book on the Blessed Mother!
Shane Kapler: Carlos, as you are a convert to Catholicism, I know our readers will want to hear about your early life.
Carlos Caso-Rosendi: I was born in southern Argentina in the region of Patagonia. In the early fifties the area was still pretty much a frontier land. We had electricity but not much more. There was no TV and only one or two government radio stations. Welsh and English cattle and sheep ranchers settled the area. It is a harsh area, very cold and windy. As cold as the climate is, people are generally warm and friendly with a natural modesty and reserve that resembles the character of the peoples of the British countryside.
From a very early age I had access to good books. My mother, God bless her, used to buy entire collections of books from traveling book salesmen. Of those years I especially remember a small Protestant Bible that I got from my mother (I still have it) and a book that someone left with her around that time. It was called From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained; it had a pinkish cover depicting Adam and Eve and then a throng of people smiling and walking towards some kind of shiny future. That is the earliest recollection of the Jehovah’s Witnesses influence in our family. That book also had some scary representations of people being thrown into the abyss.
My paternal grandmother was English. She was the town’s teacher, a very sweet lady and a devout Catholic like only English Catholics can be. Her house had a Crucifix in each room. There were no crucifixes at our home and I remember wondering why. In my infantile imaginations I thought the name of the man hanging there was “INRI.” Almost half a century later I learned that my childish assumption was some sort of an insight because “INRI” is the abbreviation of “Iesu Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum” while the same in Hebrew is “Yeshua Ha’nazarim Wimelec Ha’judaim”. The initials are YHWH the Name of God in Hebrew. So, after all, the name of the man hanging there was “INRI.” It took me a while to figure it out though!
Kapler: In your article, “Laboring for Beauty,” you shared how religious artwork played a part in your conversion. Would you explain that for our readers?
Caso-Rosendi: Yes. Later on when we moved to Buenos Aires, the big city, my mother obtained a Spanish version of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Along with the EB came a Catholic Bible. It was the Straubinger translation, perhaps one of the most beautiful translations of the Bible ever made into the Spanish language. The footnotes are a treasure of wisdom. Monsignor Straubinger must have been a very holy and wise soul.
That Bible had rich illustrations of all the Christian artists of Italy, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands. I always liked to paint and draw so those beautiful, dramatic depictions of biblical scenes very much capture my attention. By that time we had become Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the Kingdom Hall they taught us that the Church had apostatized by the year 100 and then in 1874 God had commissioned Charles Taze Russell (a Mason and a haberdasher from Pittsburgh) to start printing The Watchtower and The Golden Age. We were also told that everything in between was apostasy and the work of the devil. My only problem with that was the lame illustrations of their publications (one of their few steady traditions). When I compared them with the beauty of the works of Greco, Tiziano, Velazquez, Murillo and I could not explain how God could be producing The Watchtower and the devil could be producing such amazing art. Once I was introduced to the Misa Solemnis (Beethoven) the depth and grace of the sounds were so engaging and made the Passion so real! How could anyone think of that as the product of a deviant and devilish mind? I was only 13 at the time, but the idea started to germinate in my young mind that something was very wrong with the Jehovah’s Witness construct.
Many years later when I was about 45 years old I read two books, almost at the same time. One was Umberto Eco’s Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages, the other was C.S. Lewis The Discarded Image. I had been perusing Jacques Maritain’s writings about beauty and I had a sort of epiphany, something that I still cannot quite describe with words. The idea of beauty plus the conception of the universe coalesced with the particular order I could see in Scripture and the many visual messages of the Bible (the imago) blended at once with the Liturgy I knew by then. This appeared in my mind as the many sides of a diamond. Beauty was the light that made the whole come alive. I knew then and there that the light was God’s love and that I had to become a Christian and a Catholic. In a single instant, all made sense.
Along with that I realized that knowledge is a poor substitute for that kind of truth. That kind of truth pervades the soul the way a sunny day warms and energizes the body. It is hard to explain, but I learned that one cannot get to be acquainted with God merely through knowledge. One has to experience God like one experiences love. No romantic novel, however brilliant, could possibly replace the touch or sight of the beloved. I understood why Aquinas thought of all his writings as mere straw after being granted the grace of contemplating the Holy Trinity.
In time, with some help from Our Lady, I was baptized and confirmed in the Cathedral of the Most Holy Blood in London [England] on the Feast of the Assumption. The place of my baptism and confirmation is not far from the ancestral home of my paternal grandmother. I truly believe that her prayers brought me home to the Catholic Church. My conversion was truly effected by another English subject, C.S. Lewis. He worked my intellect; my grandmother worked my soul through prayer.
Kapler: What do you feel it is most important for Catholics to know regarding the teachings and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Caso-Rosendi: I believe one can understand their doctrine as a sort of sum and perfection of all heresies. There are elements of all the old heresies there: Arianism, Donatism, etc.
One thing JW’s have right is the concept of authority. They do not believe in private interpretation at all. They will only accept what comes from the central source in Brooklyn as long as it is vaguely connected with Scripture. That is why it is better not to waste time talking with them about their various errors but to simply show them the central points of Scripture that guarantee us the authority and the permanence of the Church.
One that I use often is Matthew 16: 13-20. JW’s believe that the “rock” (they say “rock mass”) Jesus talks about there is Himself. But that is easy to prove false. First we use the “imago;” Jesus walked for days to Caesarea to have that meeting with his apostles in Roman territory, very near the temple-cave of Pan. That cave had strong iron gates designed to prevent people from stealing gifts left for the gods. Jesus then renames Simon as Kepha, Peter, Rock. Using the language of Isaiah 22: 19-22 about the replacement of Shebna, the master of the royal house, Jesus names Peter as his High Priest.
Now, we know that the Romans occupying the fortress of David in Jerusalem had named a false High Priest over Israel. That false High Priest was Kaiphas the son-in-law of the real High Priest, Annas. Observe the similar sounds of Kepha and Kaiphas. The next step is to compare their meanings: Kepha means rock, or a rocky promontory while Kaiphas means the opposite, a dell or depression. Jesus enriches the imago indicating subtly that one (Kaiphas) is going down and the other (Peter) is going up. The order of the Old Testament comes to an end and the Church must advance and grow.
The mention of the “gates of Hell” is not gratuitous either. Gates are defensive devices. The whole thrust of Jesus’ words indicates that the Church is to storm the gates of hell and take its treasure (like in the nearby cave). In time Peter will conquer Rome itself, the capital of the Caesars. The purple of the Roman Emperor will be replaced by the purple of the Roman Bishops. The Church will take the spoils of Rome, even its language for herself. All of that is clearly contained in Jesus’ prophetic naming of Peter as the master of the kingdom, forever.
The clarity of this image is strong enough to make anyone think long and hard before denying it. Its biblical totality cannot be denied. Once one has begun to prove the true authority of the Church, the rest falls easily in place: We are the Church. The Bible is ours. Let the one who has ears to hear listen.
Kapler: Give our readers a snapshot of your apostolate, Primera Luz. What will they find there?
Caso-Rosendi: Primera Luz began on October 10, 2004. Our mission is consistent with the third paragraph of Redemptoris Missio, in fact with that entire document, where John Paul II called out to the whole Church:
“Peoples everywhere, open the doors to Christ! His Gospel in no way detracts from man’s freedom, from the respect that is owed to every culture and to whatever is good in each religion. By accepting Christ, you open yourselves to the definitive Word of God, to the One in whom God has made himself fully known and has shown us the path to himself.” (Redemptoris Missio 3)
Primera Luz is fundamentally an apologetic presentation of the Catholic view of the world. It is presented to the 600+ million Spanish-speaking peoples. We strive to sound a bit different than the mostly trite presentation of the Faith that characterizes the Spanish Catholic culture. We want vibrant and intellectually engaging Catholic writers to be heard in Spanish and to be heard LOUDLY.
These days 1 in 4 South Americans baptized into the Catholic faith as children will identify themselves as agnostic by age 20. We are bleeding souls at a pace that is both scandalous and sad to contemplate. We have mosques being built in the territories of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The whole continent, even good portion of those attending Mass every Sunday, are basically soft-core Marxists and believe many of the black legends created to defame the Church’s history. Theology of Liberation priests are conducting almost a million “Bible studies” across a continent that was once the mantle of Mary, the glory of the Southern Cross. What is going on is enough to make any faithful Catholic’s blood boil.
To make things worse the Spanish king has recently signed an abortion law while the body of bishops silently acquiesced. It’s a crime that calls for the wrath of Heaven. I don’t know what others will do, but God gave me some ability to communicate and I still have a few years of good health (hopefully) left ahead of me. I want my hands and conscience clear of the blood of any man, and I am determined to fight the fight as I am called. No limits, no conditions. This may sound like empty rhetoric but that is the mission of Primera Luz, to bring the First Light of Creation, God’s Love, to all those who read Spanish, English, or Portuguese. Our English and Portuguese sites are forthcoming. By the Grace of God we will have them up soon.
Kapler: How did you become involved with Marcus Grodi’s Coming Home Network?
Caso-Rosendi: I got in touch with Bruce Sullivan through e-mail because I was looking for a good book dealing with the Sacrament of Baptism. We quickly became friends, and he made the contact with CHN. In a curious coincidence, I received the call inviting me to participate in the program on the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady. By “chance” my first interview was scheduled for December 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (and Patroness of Primera Luz.) As a result of that I was invited to a Spanish language program of EWTN Nuestra Fe en Vivo, with Pepe Alonso. In yet another coincidence the interview in Spanish took place on February 13, the anniversary of the apparitions of Fatima. I took all three consecutive coincidences as a sign from Our Lady that I had some work to do for her and that perhaps that work involved the media.
Kapler: I was incredibly impressed with the thoroughness of your book, Ark of Grace: Our Blessed Mother in Holy Scripture. How did it come about?
Caso-Rosendi: Ark of Grace is our first project in the three languages. Rebecca Smith edited the original English version. I translated it into Spanish and Fr. Horacio Bojorge, S.J, revised it. My dear friend Carlos Martins Nabeto, a canonical lawyer from Sao Paulo, Brazil, and an excellent translator, translated the Portuguese version. I admit that the Portuguese version is music to my ears; it is just sweet.
I wanted to honor Our Lady and thank her for my conversion and her continuing protection. It is hard for me to believe that I once considered Our Blessed Mother an obstacle to my conversion. Today she is my daily companion in prayer and the focus of all my work. I want to be her son because I have finally understood that to be a son of Mary is perhaps the sweetest way to be like Christ her Son.
Unfortunately I can see that many Catholics do not know how to defend their Mother from the attacks of Bible thumpers and sectarian know-nothings. It is an appalling situation and I thought it was about time to do something about it. The book is simple and short. The Bible passages are included for the most part. The book could be printed for less than a dollar a piece on paperback. Unfortunately we have been unable to raise the money to do the three languages at once but I know Our Lady will send someone at the right time to produce these volumes.
Kapler: Where can our readers obtain a copy?
Caso-Rosendi: The chapters can be read in Spanish in our Apologetics section along with many other items defending the Catholic Faith. I would like to stress that all materials published in our Apologetics section have a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur extended by a Bishop of the Catholic Church. Records are available to those who wish to ascertain that. Like I said before, I hope and pray that a viable producer will allow us to print the three languages at once. I can guarantee the Portuguese and Spanish versions will disappear from the shelves once we put them out there.
Kapler: What are your current projects?
Caso-Rosendi: Our Primera Luz team wants to develop books, audiovisuals and continue our presence on the web. We want it to be a self-sustaining effort because there are already so many Catholic organizations asking for money to operate. We intend to serve without having to invest time and effort in fund-raising. We want to be different from the many organizations that are working that model. Tent and Gospel weavers like St. Paul, that’s our model. I am also involved in the development of a commercial tabloid — to pay the bills, so to speak.
Since you have been so kind to give me this chance to connect with American Catholics, I would like to ask for all people reading this, to please say at least one Hail Mary every day for us and for all our brothers and sisters south of the border. Since the days of Francis Solanus and St. Rose of Lima our continent has been a bulwark of the Vera Cruz (the True Cross.) Pray for us that the banner of Christ may wave once again triumphant under the Southern Cross.