Sonali Fernandes, a Filipina from Cebu, converted to Catholicism from Hinduism.
Sonali was born on the Philippine Island of Cebu. Despite residing in a predominantly Catholic nation, she and her family were originally Hindus, as they are of Indian descent and no one in their family practices Catholicism.
However, her parents had shown strong devotion to our Lady, especially during challenging times. During those times, the kind woman never failed to provide them with support and direction.
When she was seven years old, she attended a Catholic school for her primary education. During her elementary years, the majority of her classmates were eager to attend their First Holy Communion celebration.
She wished to participate, but she had not yet been baptized. Therefore, she decided to ask her parents for permission to be baptized so that she could celebrate with her peers.
She learned about the Christian belief system through catechism as she grew older. Soon after, her parents decided to convert to Catholicism. After having already participated in a Hindu ceremony and a civil ceremony in 1993, they developed a strong desire to have a Catholic ceremony.
Her desire to deepen her relationship with God grew stronger during her college years as the years progressed. She was introduced to the Work, a Catholic organization, by her enthusiasm and a friend.
Further, the Cebu study center, where a remarkable oratory can be found, offered access to a well-stocked library without charge, which greatly contributed to her life. The center had a lovely image of our Lady in a golden frame with intricate details.
“This refinement was what made me take my religion and faith seriously”, Fernandes declared.
Sonali was inspired to elevate the significance of her faith and religion after observing the center's devotion and diligent approach to worship and its members' unwavering commitment.
She found her conversations at the center to be incredibly edifying. She discovered that for the modern apostle, one hour of study is equivalent to one hour of devotion. She is comforted and draws closer to the Lord in the Tabernacle as a result of the humble, placid, diligent, and jubilant nature of those engaged in the work.
There were times when she was unable to attend Sunday Mass, but the teachings she received as a child instilled a deep belief in the Sacrament of Confession and a strong wish to continue in this responsibility.
She recalled attending Mass daily, even during an exhausting 36-hour hospital shift and rigorous medical school courses.
“The days when I heard Mass despite tiredness were much more bearable than days without Mass,” said Fernandes. "This is as if God’s grace multiplied her time and energy, akin to the miracle of multiplying loaves and fish."
There were instances in her spiritual life when she encountered obstacles, such as being tempted to stop attending Mass due to her feelings for a non-Catholic Christian.
However, she sought assistance from the center's personnel, who recommended enlightening literature on the Catholic faith.
As a result, her inner peace was restored, and she developed a much stronger belief in the principles upheld by the Catholic Church.
In 2018, Fernandes met her future spouse through a Catholic dating website. She informed him about the work in Mumbai. After a year of gradual immersion in Opus Dei's activities, he discovered his vocation to become a supernumerary member.
In due course, her own true purpose also becomes apparent. Despite being in a long-distance relationship for four years, they remained devoted to each other and eventually tied the knot in 2022 on the auspicious day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Fernandes' formation in the work highlighted the importance of marriage and that loving her husband is one way of loving God.
On August 4, 2023, in Cebu, Fernandes and her husband fortunately met Msgr. Fernando Ocariz, the prelate of Opus Dei, at a momentous event. The encounter brought her great delight as the Father recognized them, talked to them, and extended his greetings on their first wedding anniversary.
Fernandes told the priest of their intention to move to Mumbai and eventually to Canada. The priest motivated them to seek support from the community of believers and urged us to actively participate in the church, no matter where they would end up. He assured them of his prayer and kindly asked for their prayer in return.
She finds comfort in the knowledge that God has conferred upon them the priceless gifts of faith, vocation, loved ones, and, most importantly, His constant presence whenever she attends Mass and partakes of the Holy Eucharist. - With inputs from Opus Dei
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