31 Dec From Saigon to Surfing and Beyond
The Unlikely Saga of Church Militant’s Christine Niles
She was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1974, one year before the city fell to the Communists. Her family had been wealthy and respected; her father a successful civil engineer and chairman of a bank. When the Communists came, they took everything.
Fast forward to today, and Christine Niles is a familiar face to many. She anchors Headlines, the daily news round-up, at Church Militant, the Michigan-based news operation that has become the bane of some bishops’ palaces.
Christine’s personal story is a fascinating one, not least because her eventful life has taken her to three continents and to some of the world’s pre-eminent places of learning – along the way becoming a protestant and finally a Catholic. How and why and when this all happened is the subject of Christine’s frank interview with REGINA here:
REGINA: Tell us about your earliest years.
Christine: In 1976, in the middle of pursuing a medical career, my father realized our family had no future in communist Vietnam. Our French citizenship (passed down through my mother’s late father, who had been a French colonel stationed in Vietnam) allowed us to get on a plane and leave for France. My father struggled there for a few years before he came to Florida to start his own civil engineering firm.
REGINA: And how did that go?
Christine: We struggled, but my father was able to put three children through college, all of whom now have our own successful careers. I wound up studying for a master’s degree in theology at Oxford University, followed by a law degree from Notre Dame Law School. I went on to become a judicial law clerk on the Supreme Court of Indiana. I could have pursued a career in law, but decided not to in order to stay home with my children.
REGINA: Your family is Catholic?
Christine: I was raised in a culturally Catholic home where the Faith was only nominally practiced. (I wasn’t even baptized until I was 16 years old.) At age 17, after hearing about Jesus at a surfers’ Bible study led by a Protestant, I left the Catholic faith to become a Protestant. It would be 11 years before I returned to the Catholic faith, in my last year at Notre Dame Law School.
REGINA: What brought you to the Faith?
Christine: My return to the Faith was the result of a confluence of factors: 11 years going from one Protestant denomination to another led me to the conviction that Christ could not have come to earth to establish such doctrinal anarchy. I was also deeply convinced that abortion and divorce and remarriage were wrong; I recognized that the Catholic Church alone stood like a bulwark through 2,000 years, never compromising on these teachings. The same could not be said about Protestantism. Finally, the constant and faithful witness of devout Catholic professors and friends through my three years of law school had a powerful impact on my perception of Catholicism; I suffered at the time from deep prejudices based on Protestant misconceptions. I also credit the prayers of some of these faculty and friends who were actively praying for my conversion.
REGINA: What would you tell people who have doubts?
Christine: The power of the sacraments are real. They change your life. Saint Therese of Lisieux said, “All is grace.” My experience coming back to the Faith made that crystal clear. There were a number of difficulties I struggled with before my return to the Faith; when I started accessing the sacraments of penance and the Holy Eucharist, Our Lord simply took many of them away, or so greatly reduced their power that they were no longer a struggle for me. The sacraments of the Catholic Church are life-changing, and life-giving.
REGINA: How does your faith inform your life as a mother?
Christine: The Catholic faith informs everything I think, say and do as a mother. I take seriously the charge of the saints that the eternal welfare of the parents depends on the eternal welfare of the children; in other words, if I fail to bring my children to Heaven through my laxity, then I should fear for my eternal soul.
REGINA: Is this a challenge?
Christine: I’m a single mother, which presents its own challenges. Eleven years into my civil marriage, pregnant with my fourth child, I realized that my marriage was null and void, as I had married in a Protestant service without a dispensation from the bishop. As an uninformed Catholic at the time of my vows, I had no idea of any of this, of course, and it was only some years after my return to the Faith that this was all made clear to me. Immediately on the realization of my circumstances, we lived chastely as brother and sister, and attempted to work through various difficulties before any attempt to convalidate the union. It was an extremely difficult time, but after many months of prayer and effort, along with the counsel and guidance of a faithful FSSP priest, it became clear that convalidation was not a possibility.
REGINA: Wow. And today?
Christine: Although single motherhood is not the ideal and presents challenges daily, Our Lord is faithful, and never abandons His children who turn to Him in their need. One of my favorite phrases is Deus providebit — God provides. Sometimes you have to be taken to the precipice in order to understand and believe that, but it’s true — God does provide.
REGINA: How did you come to work for CM?
Christine: I wrote a paper for ChurchMilitant.com analyzing Bp. Robert Barron’s “Catholicism” series in Fall of 2013. Michael Voris was happy enough with the research and writing that I received an invitation in April 2014 to come visit the studio. The invitation was rather out of the blue, and I was happily caught off guard by it. I’d been a big supporter of the apostolate for a few years, and knew some of the staff. I arrived to Detroit on June 15, 2014 — I would realize later it was the 10-year anniversary of the death of Michael’s mother, Anne, to whom he credits his return to the Faith and the start of his apostolate. A few days later I was hired. It was an auspicious beginning to a wonderful time as part of this apostolate.
REGINA: What difference do you think CM is making?
Christine: We receive hundreds of emails from people from all over the world telling us how our apostolate has helped them convert from Protestantism to the Catholic faith, or how it’s helped lukewarm Catholics recapture their fire and zeal for the Faith, or how it encourages faithful Catholics not to feel so alone in their fight for truth. I believe the reason we are constantly under attack by Satan is because we help snatch so many souls away from him.
REGINA: How do you feel about your job?
Christine: I never forget what a gift my work is. I get to do what I love, and help save souls at the same time. I remember within a few days of my arrival in 2014, I was sitting in a meeting with Michael and the news team, and was hit with the strong and certain sense that this, right here, right then, was exactly where I was supposed to be and nowhere else. That sense has never left me.
REGINA: What’s the hardest part of your job?
Christine: The most challenging aspect of my work is not allowing distractions to cloud my purpose. Distractions can be anything, from critics’ attacks, to momentary difficulties at the studio, to lack of support from the hierarchy, to discouragement from seeing lack of results. All of these really are just that — distractions — and at the end of the day I always try to have an attitude of thankfulness for everything, whether they be joys or trials.
REGINA: To borrow a phrase from the business world, what value does CM add?
Christine: From the beginning, Michael Voris’ only desire for this apostolate has been to spread the Faith and save souls. Everything we do here is geared toward that end. Michael’s 20 years of experience in secular media and his journalistic expertise (he’s won four Emmies for his investigative journalism) bring a unique aspect to this apostolate in that he’s able to bring those talents to bear in exposing corruption within the Church that has damaged the Faith.
REGINA: Obviously this ruffles some feathers, episcopal and otherwise.
Christine: We sometimes get criticized for going after the bishops, but our critics fail to realize that we do so in order to shine the disinfecting light of day on clerical corruption in order to bring about reform. The faithful deserve to know how their Church is being led. We also highlight the good that faithful bishops are doing, and have personally been thanked and encouraged by such bishops for the work we do.
REGINA: Is it true that the staff of CM prays in a chapel?
Christine: Michael has said that the most important thing we do at this apostolate takes place in our chapel. Without prayer, we have nothing, and we cannot do the work we do. Our prayer life is everything; it starts our day, it punctuates our day throughout (we gather at noon to pray the Angelus as well as at 3 p.m. to pray the Divine Mercy chaplet), and prayer ends our day. Prayer is everything. It reminds us of our total dependence on God, and gives us the opportunity to thank Him for the great gift of being able to work to advance His Kingdom.
Several photos by Nina Jurewicz