I was born in Belle, Antiequio, Colombia, on June 22, 1942. I first went to school in the Institute Manuel Jose Caicido taught by the Christian Brothers, an order whose work is teaching children. Here I studied six years. After this, I studied in the school of the Salesian Fathers for five years. My last year of high school, I studied with the Dominican Fathers in Bogota, the capital of Colombia.
Climbing the Ecclesiastical Ladder
On December 8th, I received the habit of the Dominican Order. On that day, I began my Novitiate year. I wore the white robe and black cape of the novitiate. My head was shaved, leaving just a fringe of hair. For that year, I was studying the constitutional laws, customs, obligations, and privileges of the religious life in the Roman Catholic Church.
It was a year of hard work. The restrictive regimen forbade communication outsiders. We were never allowed to eat meat, except on certain holidays. Every Friday we had to fast. Daily, we prayed and sang the Psalms in Latin. Every day we began in silence and remained so, except for prayer and singing, until 12:30. On Sunday, we had to confess our sins before our classmates and our superiors. Often, offenders were made to lie in the doorway where brother priests would walk over their prostrate forms.
Then I made a promise to remain in the order for three years. Immediately I began my philosophical studies. During three years, I spent my time studying metaphysics, cosmology, psychology, methodology, Greek, Hebrew, and the history of philosophy.
Afterwards, I made my solemn vows, and then I began my theological studies. In that year, 1961, I met the most progressive thinkers of the Roman Catholic Church. At the end of the year I received my first order, and it was another step up the ecclesiastical ladder.
In the second year of theological studies, I received two more orders, or grades, of the Catholic clergy. In the third year, I studied dogma, history and the Trinity, and I received the first of the major orders, that of sub-deacon. The last year, I studied moral law and pastoral duties and was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest.
The Living Word of God
But the Lord called me to a new way, and I would like to tell you something of what happened within me while I was preparing these many years. I read a speech about the Bible that was written by Donoso Cortez, a Spanish writer, in which he spoke of the greatness of the Bible and of its contribution to world literature. He concluded with a paragraph in which he spoke of the Bible as the Book of God for men. I understood then the importance of the Bible as a Book for salvation.
In our home we had a beautiful Bible in which we noted marriages, deaths, and births; a Bible that was a silent witness to the activities of our home, and a witness that never spoke to us because we were never taught to read it. As I began to read some parts, many doubts were created within me, and I wanted to resolve them. I believed that I should get closer to those who lived what the Bible taught. Thus, I went to a Protestant Christian friend from whom I bought a Bible and with whom I had many discussions. I took a correspondence course, but there were many questions still unresolved.
Once, when attending a Protestant young-people’s meeting, I became surprised at the knowledge these people had of the Bible. On my birthday, my Protestant friend gave me a Scripture bookmark with the text of John 3:16 on it, the text which became the key of my life: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
I had gone to the seminary, thinking that in this way I could give myself to the Lord. I had chosen one of the most noble of the orders of the Church because of its theologians, preachers, and its service in the defense of the Catholic faith (the order of Thomas Aquinas and also the order of the Inquisition). But I found no peace in the seminary.
Always, the Lord kept before me this text of John 3:16. I began to wonder why I was in the monastery if the Lord could completely save me. All the practices of the monastery and the Church were extra, and not needed, if salvation were by faith. I tried to search for the practices of the Church in the Gospels, and one doubt grew into another doubt.
The Way of Faith
From my second year of study, I was accustomed to reading the New Testament in Greek. Certain translations in Romans and Galatians seemed very strange to me. The way of faith seemed to be the security for the Christian. But when I asked my professor of exegesis regarding these doubts, he answered me in the words of St. John Chrysostom, “The more I read of Paul, the less do I understand.” My doubts became so great that they created night about me. I did not believe at this time in the resurrection of Jesus because I had Bultmann as my leading authority.
Through further study of the Scriptures, I was taken out of these doubts. First Corinthians 15:14 held the answer for me: “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” The resurrection of Christ became the greatest historical fact of my life. I was already an Evangelical at heart. I did not believe in the ritual of the Roman Church, although I was still in it. Then I began to believe that all my life was a lie. I was living a life of which I did not now believe.
So one afternoon I went to visit an Evangelical pastor. It was during my first vacation at home in seven years. We studied the Word of God together, especially the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, the faith chapter. I asked him, “If I believe this, then what do I have to do?” We prayed together and I received Jesus Christ as my personal and all-sufficient Savior and Lord. Now I was a new man.
“Our Family has Never Had a Murderer, a Thief, a Prostitute, or a Protestant”
After this, many problems came, especially concerning my family. For a Catholic family to have a priest in the family is better that to give a golden altar to the church. My father said, “In two hundred years, the Santamaria family has never had a murderer, a thief, a prostitute, or a Protestant – you are the first one.” I had to give up a precious family of six members for the Gospel’s sake, but I gained a family of thousands, true believers in Jesus.
Roman Catholic authorities tried to put me in jail, but many born-again missionaries and believers stood with me, and the Lord delivered me miraculously. I had to leave Colombia, but the Lord provided for my needs and opened the way for me to study His Word at a Bible seminary.
He has now burdened my heart for the Spanish people, and I am working as a missionary under The Conversion Center, seeking to bring the light of the Gospel to darkened Spanish hearts. I need your prayers daily that many Spanish people might find peace in Jesus. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).