By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
After a spate of embarrassments from too many Catholic politicians who defy Church teaching, American Catholics will finally get to hear from a politician who practices what he preaches. Louisiana’s governor, Bobby Jindal, a devout Catholic, is slated to deliver the Republican response to President Obama’s prime-time address to Congress tonight.
The nation’s youngest governor, the 37 year old Jindal is a well-known cultural conservative and a good friend of pro-life and pro-family groups across the nation.
Piyush “Bobby” Jindal was born in 1971 in Baton Rouge, Lousiana to Indian immigrants shortly after they arrived in the U.S. Raised as a Hindu, Jindal claims that Hinduism provided “moral guidance and spiritual comfort” during his formative years. As a teenager, a friend told him that he and his family would “go to hell” if they didn’t convert to Christianity, which prompted him to begin reading the Bible.
According to an article appearing on Indolink.com, Jindal was a graduate student at Oxford when he wrote an article about his conversion.
“My journey from Hinduism to Christianity was a gradual and painful one,” he wrote. “(I)t never occurred to me that I should consider any other religion; to be a Hindu was an aspect of my Indian identity.”
He admits to being angered by the Southern Baptist friend who threatened his family with hell, but the experience served to motivate him to examine Hinduism more closely even as he was “searching for an objectively true faith that would lead me to God.” Simultaneously he began reading the Bible “to disprove the Christian faith I was learning both to admire and despise.”
As he delved deeper into the Bible, says Jindal, “I saw myself in many of the parables and felt as if the Bible had been written especially for me. After reading every book I could find on the historical accuracy of the Bible and Christianity, I was convinced that the Bible had remained unaltered throughout the centuries and that circumstances surrounding Christ’s death led to the conversions of thousands.”
Jindal admits that up to that point his perspective remained intellectual and not spiritual.
The next decisive event in his spiritual quest came in the form of a film depicting the crucifixion of Christ. As he recalled, “For the first time I actually imagined what it meant for the Son of God to be humiliated and even killed for my sake. Although the movie did not convince me that anything was true, it did force me to wonder if Christians were right. I realized that if the Gospel stories were true, if Christ really was the Son of God, it was arrogant of me to reject Him and question the gift of salvation.”
It required many hours of discussion with a pastor before he was “ready to take that leap of faith and accept Christ into my life.” It would be another two years before he would be baptized into the Catholic Church.
It is important to note that Jindal claims one of the inspirations for his conversion was the simple “compassion” of a young girl who dreamt of being appointed to the United States Supreme Court so that she could overturn Roe v. Wade.
Jindal’s decision to convert to Catholicism created tension at home. For his parents, his conversion represented more than simply a rejection of Hinduism; it was also a rejection of “tradition.”
“My parents went through different phases of anger and disappointment,” he said. “They blamed themselves for being bad parents, blamed me for being a bad son and blamed evangelists for spreading dissension. There were heated discussions, many of them invoking family loyalty and national identity.”
In an article published in Jesuit Magazine, Jindal states, “New converts often treasure their Catholic faith because of the painful and deliberate process through which they accepted Christ. If Christianity is worth risking family and friends, it is worth practicing on a daily basis.”
During his rapid ascent in American politics, he suffered blistering attacks on both his pro-life positions as well as his Catholicism but it hasn’t stopped his meteoric rise.
His impressive record of public service began at the age of 24 when he was appointed head of Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals. Four years later, he was put in charge of one of the state’s university systems. By the age of 30, he was serving in the Bush Administration as an assistant secretary in the Department of health and Human Services. In 2003, at the age of 32, he ran for Governor of Louisiana and lost by a very slight margin to Gov. Kathleen Blanco. In 2007, after a short stint in Congress, when Gov. Blanco did not seek re-election, Jindal ran again and this time he won, becoming the nation’s youngest governor at age 36.
Jindal, who is married to Supriya Jolly and is the father of three children, is an enormously popular governor who has gained national attention and is mentioned by members of both parties as a future presidential candidate.
But when he delivers the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s Message to Congress tonight, many Americans will be seeing him for the first time.
Tonight is considered to be a prime opportunity for him to introduce himself to the public and define himself as both a leader of his party and a potential contender for national office.
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