28-year old Niels Christian Hvidt a few days ago received his Masters Degreee in Theology at the University of Copenhagen. This of course is an undertaking in itself, nevertheless no rare event. After all quite a number of people receive the theological candidature every summer. True, it is not everyone, who finishes with an A+ and wins the Gold-medal of the University for their masters thesis, but this is still not enough for a position in the books of history. The fact that last Wednesday was an historical day at the Faculty of Theology is due to yet another reason. Niels Christian Hvidt is the first Catholic for 464 years, who receives the candidature at the University of Copenhagen.
The last time this happened was in 1533, when the upheavals connected with the Reformation in Denmark had as an effect the closure of the University for a period of four Years. At the reopening in 1537 Denmark had broken with the Pope, and the Lutheran Church had become the official state-church of Denmark. Almost half a millennium after this event Niels Christian Hvidt stands with his diploma and smiles as if to compete with the sun, that has decided to shine this day from a clear sky.
From a first glance one could ask, what makes a Catholic chose a study, where the majority of students belong to the Lutheran faith. The truth is that Niels Christian Hvidt, when he began his studies in 1989, was a member of the Lutheran Church of Denmark as the rest of his fellow-students. But in 1991 he chose to join the Catholic Church.
There is no Catholic tradition in Niels Christian Hvidts family. His youth in Rungsted north of Copenhagen was filled with the school, parties, windsurfing, girls and did not differ very much from the rest of his comrades. But during his high-school studies he started to get the feeling, that something was missing.
"I started feeling a lack of depth in my life and that my existence was to superficial. The thought that we are more than just flesh and blood started to occupy my mind, and I felt a longing for the spiritual world. I decided that I wanted to find a deeper truth, but did not want to bind myself to any fixed religion in my search for God. And yet the starting point of my search was a longing for God and a desire to find the "truth", and this was the reason why I applied for the Faculty of Theology.
In my circle of acquaintances religion was almost a bad word, and we never discussed it - some friendships from that time were lost."
Before Niels Christian Hvidt started his theological studies in autumn 1989, he travelled in his search for the truth to Africa and Israel to learn from the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches. He had a row of experiences, that confirmed his belief in God. The strongest of these experiences later on proved to have a great impact on his decision to join the Catholic Faith.
The Presence of God
"On my way to the Greek island Patmos I saw some Greek mucks. The boat was full with tourists, so I found a place on the top of the ship, where I camped for the night together with two Danish friends.
While I was lying down engrossed in prayer to God I suddenly experienced an incredibly intense power, that poured forth from within. I was lying with a hood over my head and experienced Gods Presence in a more intense way than ever before. Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder, which made me look up. It was Michael - one of the other Danes - who full of surprise explained, how he had seen a man approaching in an black habit. He had gone directly towards me, bowed down and looked at me, and the disappeared just as suddenly, as he had arrived. I myself hadn't seen anything, since I had a hood over my head, but altogether it was an experience, that left me with a deep impression."
After having learnt about the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in Africa and Israel, Niels Christian Hvidt in 1989 - with his Lutheran background - felt ready for the theological studies at the University of Copenhagen. But the study turned out to be a big disappointment.
"The study was a culture-chock for me, and in no way, what I had hoped for. It was very rational, and the name of God was hardly ever heard in the classes. I missed the spirituality, I had experienced in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. The Danish Lutheran Church seemed too rationalistic for me."
The longing for the spirituality, Niels Christian Hvidt had experienced in the south, made him in the year 1990 return to Patmos. On this trip the whole foundation of his future life was laid just as it was after this trip, he made up his mind to join the Catholic Church. At the same time, he got the answer to what had happened on the boat the year before.
"Everything happened here", he explains. "I was a Protestants, I knew nobody, and yet I got the permission to live in the monastery on Patmos. One day I sat talking with two Greek guys, who couldn't understand, that I freely chose to live in a monastery, while on holiday. While we were speaking, someone knocked at the door, and a monk came in. He explained, that he received an insight, that I was present, and that it was he, who had stood on the boat for Patmos and looked down on me the year before. He was sitting in the ship talking with two orthodox priests, when one of them suddenly had exclaimed: "Go on top of the ship, because there is a young man lying there, who is praying!" The monk said that he just went to see, that it was me."
I was speechless! Especially by the fact that these kinds of visions where something very natural to the monk. To me it was like a revelation and a confirmation, that God wanted me to go to Patmos. I had a feeling, that he wanted me there for a specific reason. The rest of the time I discussed a lot with the monks about problems I had with certain aspects of the Catholic and Orthodox faith, such as the importance of the Virgin Mary and the meaning of the Eucharist.
At exactly that period of time the monks studied some writings of the Greek Vassula Rydén, who since 1985 has received revelations from God, who in this way uses her as a mouthpiece to the world. At that point of time she was quite unknown. Today her messages have been published in thirty different languages, and she is considered as one of the most significant Christian prophets.
The monks were sceptical. I borrowed one of the set of photocopies and was very touched and excited - I found, that I in writing could read exactly what I had experienced in prayer with God. This was what I had sought. This was what I had come to Patmos for. After this I went to Rhodos, where Vassulas sister lived. I stayed in a little monastery and helped to build it up, as nobody had lived there for almost a hundred years. I worked in the monastery gardens until noon and read Vassula in the afternoon. All these experiences from Patmos and Rhodos have become the backbone and the foundation of my new life."
Close to the truth
After Rhodos Niels Christian Hvidt returned to Denmark and to his theological studies. Again he missed the spirituality, he had experienced in Patmos and Rhodos. And more and more, he felt that the Lutheran State-Church was too rational and superficial for him. He feels the beauty and the tradition has been pushed to far behind, and that there is not enough respect for the Holy. This is why he chose in 1991 to convert and become a catholic.
Most important for Niels Christian Hvidts choice was not primarily the question of this or that faith. For him the most important is to come as close to the truth as possible, and this he feels he can do in the best way in the Catholic Church.
"I see my conversion to the Catholic Church as a further development from the Protestant faith with a stronger sense of communion and a much stronger tradition, than I could find in the Danish state-church", he explains.
Six years in the primarily Lutheran dominated Theological Faculty of Copenhagen has not given Niels Christian Hvidt any problems in relation with his fellow students. "On the contrary" he says. "I have never felt ridiculed. People have respected my faith and even shown great interest".
Some of the same fellow students are now busy seeking jobs at parishes of the Lutheran Church all over the country - a career that of course does not reconciled with the Catholic Faith. Niels Christian Hvidt now stands with a candidature and a gold-medail from the University of Copenhagen for his thesis on prophecy and has to make up his mind concerning what he wants to do in the future.
At one point of time Niels Christian Hvidt thought of studying to become a medical doctor. He also thought of becoming a Catholic priest, but this presupposes the approval of the catholic Bishop and furthermore another couple of years of studies in Rome or England. This however is not the primary reason why he at this point doesn't aspire for these ideas.
"I just don't feel it is my calling. Being a priest implies living without family, and I long for a life with family and love children.
I would like to work professionally with theology teaching and doing research and other theological work. My special interest is in the field of the relation between the Lutheran and the catholic churches, just as I would like to continue my work with the topic of prophecy, so I guess this will be the direction, I will take", says Niels Christian Hvidt.
"The voyage towards the truth, I began in the end of the 80'ies is not over yet, and maybe it will never end", Niels Christian Hvidt acknowledges "but I have come a whole lot closer," he says, before he with some friends sets out to celebrate his candidature with some good food, a glass of wine and a big cigar.
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