It was April 1999 and in that party,we were all Danes, except one, “the exotic”. I was in the time fashion: military boots, jeans, white blouse,short red hair Nirvana style, but not too grunge. We were dancing and listening to Backstreet Boys music and other groups.
I was a normal and ordinary Danish girl of nineteen. I studied to become aphysiotherapist and lived in my apartment in Copenhagen, independent of my family: a family with several half-brothers, the result of previous relations of my parents, as is usually the case in Denmark. My mother’s husband directed a choir, so I had a very musical childhood, enjoying all the freedoms of the world. I loved rhythmic gymnastics, the faster the better. I played the battery, and I do not know what else I can tell you, except that after meeting the exotic of the party, everything changed.
He was an Erasmus exchange, tall, strong Spanish boy wearing a navy blue shirt. I do not know why Spanish boys like that color so much: when they do not know what to wear, they choose something navy blue.
I started talking to the boy in blue and went for a drink in an Osteport bar. He was nice, funny and he looked to just like every other boy, until one day I asked him what he had done that morning.
“I went to Mass,” He said, and afterwards studied.
Mass!! I was terrified, even if I kept it to myself. I imagined that he was a Catholic because of where he was born, just as I was a Lutheran because I was Danish, but that it was of no consequence.
When I was thirteen I told my mother that I did not want to prepare for confirmation and that I would just go to the party.
I thought that she would answer, as always: “Ah, that’s fine”,because in my house we were not believers and we did not talk about religion. We only went to church at Christmas to listen to the choirs, or for a funeral, because they were customary social obligations, nothing more. However, my mother told me:
“No, Milla, you’d better know why you say no.” If not, you will be ignorant all your life.
At the end I went to classes because some of my gang went and I was confirmed so as to get a new dress, like my friends. And that was the end of my commitment.
But now this boy believed firmly in God and was at the same time – that surprised me – a lot of fun; And he prepared great sangrias. I fell in love with him but with a certain fear, because I thought he would want to impose his religion on me, but he proved by deeds that he respected my feelings. And I was left dumbfounded when he told me he did not want to have sex until marriage. I told myself, “let’s see if he can.” But his behavior confirmed his words.
My friends did not understand: “Why do not you try to live together to see if it works? Knowing yourself is very important.” But he had a different conception of marriage.
“Cars, he explained to me, “are tried, and if you do not like them, you leave them. But a woman is not an object, not a machine for testing. It is not a Kleenex that is used and thrown, and you Milla, know thatbetter than I do: what you want, above all, is to be loved. So, the most decisive thing in a marriage is not to verify what happens when one of the two throws a towel anywhere in the bathroom. There are more important things, don’t you think?”
I agreed and this made me think, because in Denmark things happen like this: you are sixteen or seventeen, you know a boy and you go to live with him. Or you take him to your family home, or those with whom you live – you live with him and he is one more at home. You can have a child with him, and if you like another later, then you leave him. If you feel like it, you get married; if not, you don’t.
How beautiful it would be for love to last a lifetime, but as this does not happen often, at the age of eighty you are alone in a nursing home, where children and grandchildren of your various marriages will occasionally visit you. And that’s really sad.
My mother did not understand either:
“Are you going to marry without having lived together before? Are you crazy?”
But I kept thinking. And I kept chatting with Manuel about this (in English, of course, because he did not know Danishand I did not know Spanish) On Sundays, I went with him – just to accompany him – to an English Mass for foreign students. When we finished, we met with those who had gone to socialize a little. There were some Danes, and there I was, because I knew practically nothing of Christianity. However, I liked that atmosphere that attracted me, not knowing why.
As our relationship became more and more serious and as we came from such different worlds, we talked a lot about these issues. He was a believer and had an idea of marriage, family and the education of children very different from mine: my only reference was what I had seen in my country.
After speaking clearly about the fundamental issues, we saw that we agreed on everything and decided to get married. Nowadays future brides and grooms talk very little about these issues and I think it’s a mistake, because only when they are thoroughly discussed can a mature decision be made. Before the wedding, Manuel and I knew perfectly well what we thought about married life, the use of money, the education we wanted for our children because we had talked a thousand times about it. Of course, we knew each other better than some of our friends who had gone to live together after four nights of partying.
I began to read a few books on Catholicism myself and I spoke with Richard Hayward, an English priest who put me in touch with a Swedish girl from Opus Dei who had been a Lutheran, whom I asked what I should expect in my life as the wife of a Catholic. During that process, I was not pressured at any moment: neither by Manuel, nor by his family – a believing and practicing family – nor by the priest nor by that girl.
Like most people in my country, I am very independent and only do what I am convinced of. By my liberal education, I liked that respect on the part of everyone. Manuel never told me, nor even suggested to me: “Milla, to marry me it would be good for you to become Catholic.” Never.
We were married on July 11, 2003 and in November we went to live in Munich, where Ana, our eldest daughter, was born. He had to travel a lot for work reasons, and I, as the child grew up, felt isolated, because we did not know anyone there, except for couples who met once a month to talk about the teachings of the Church. As they spoke in German, neither Manuel nor I understood much of what they said; but what little I understood I liked.
I remembered the Swedish girl from Copenhagen and through her I got in touch with some Opus Dei women in Germany.
I was not looking for faith: I just wanted to know more people in Munich. I was introduced to a mother with whom I made friends. She gave me some very good advice: sheencouraged me to love Manuel as he was, with his virtues and defects, without getting obsessed with the defects and without scolding him for petty things. She told me to trust him and find special time for the two of us; and that when more children came, not to relegate him to a second place in my heart.
“Because he will take care of you, spoil Ana and your future children, she told me; and you run the risk of not caring and pampering him and care for everything he needs.”
I was introduced to a priest, Dr. Irrgang, who at first only asked about my problems as a young mother: I was the one who asked him to explain some points of faith. And so, taking one step after another, I decided to become a Catholic. I made my first communion and confirmation on June 26, 2005 at the Theatinerkirche in Munich, a beautiful church.
My family thought that I had become Catholic for convenience and not as the result of my own decision. Until they saw with their own eyes that this had not been “a solution of convenience”, but a personal commitment and that my faith is not like those snow boots that you take off when the good weather arrives: it is my life. Now my mother is beginning to ask me questions: “What does the Pope say about …?”
From many examples I have seen, I have concluded that to go with a boy to live as a trial, shortly after having met, is crazy; and not the opposite. Many, as soon as the first difficulty arises, separate. And sometimes there is a child in between. And what happens to that child? Has anyone thought about him, his life and his suffering? Unfortunately, nowadays to divorce takes less time than buying a new washing machine. Another madness.
My mother has gone back to being alone, because her new husband has gone with another woman. And both I and my children, although they are small, are witnesses to her pain, that is also our pain.
In addition, it is very difficult to explain some things to children at certain ages. They do not understand. You have to put yourself under their skin: someone comes from your family to spend a few days and introduces you to his wife or her husband; And on the next visit he appears with another person …
All this is very hard, it hurts. And sometimes, your family does not understand that you want to educate your children in a different way, and that you do not want them to witness certain things, and that you have the right to do so! Because children suffer. I have lived it and I have suffered it in my own flesh: these are not theories. There is no life without pain, which reaches us all one way or another, but there are some lifestyles that lead to joy and others to sadness. And my personal experience is that faith leads to happiness.
It is curious: many people turn away from the cross of Christ in search of happiness, when full happiness is found in Christ. Joy is born of sacrifice, of love, of giving oneself. There are some words of St Josemaría on which I have meditated a lot: “Joy has its roots in the form of a cross.” I do not like those words because they are poetic. I appreciate poetry, but I am, as a good Danish woman, a practical woman. I like those words because they are true.
(When I translated her testimony, and sent it to Camilla by e-mail to approve it, as I did with the rest of the witnesses, I was surprised that it took herb a long time to answer. Finally, I received an email that explained her tardiness: “I had just had a new child! The seventh. : On congratulating her she answered me:-“Thank you very much. Manuel and I are very happy, but now, with seven children at home… we are a little busier!”
Camilla Hecquet Nielsen
Provisional Translation of pp. 269-275 “Cálido Veinto del Norte¨, by José Miguel Cejas, ISBN 9788432146022