By Lora Williamson
He hadn’t slept in days and after storming Saddam Hussein’s palace in Baghdad and securing the area; he could finally rest. In 2003, Eric Williamson, a United States Marine, was one of the first soldiers to set foot in Iraq. His eyes were still burning from the Copenhagen tobacco he would rub into his eyes to stay awake and alert. Eventually, they found Saddam Hussein’s enormous bed and dragged the mattress up to the roof so they could sleep under the snipers for the next month.
Previously, while in Kuwait, he remembered his superiors saying, “Some of you won’t come home,” so he got ashes for Ash Wednesday from the Chaplin. In his small Louisiana town known for Duck Dynasty, he knew ashes represented something Catholics did, but he did not know the meaning behind it.
In 2005, he had a motorcycle accident that required multiple surgeries and painkillers. Like many soldiers, the doctors pumped him up on painkillers and other medications to the tune of over ten pills a day. He felt horrible and wasn’t getting better, so he stopped cold turkey but was still in severe pain. Extreme withdrawals started, and he was unprepared for what was about to happen. He was now addicted to painkillers and alcohol to numb the pain. Although he believed in God, he was not looking to God to help him in his daily life.
The transition to civilian life was difficult. His work qualifications included being a trained killer, blowing things up in the desert, and being an expert marksman. He was haunted by the question, “Who am I as a civilian?” To quiet the voices and questions, he drank and partied more.
Deep down, he thought about turning his life around. He met a woman who told him to go to the Catholic church in San Diego. She said he should have the priest there pray for him and he would give him some food. So he did. Who doesn’t want beans and a blessing? The priest prayed for him and suddenly he felt the most incredible high he had ever experienced. He knew it was the power of God. His desire for drinking and drugs was gone; for a few days, which was a miracle. Now was the time to go back to Louisiana. Eventually, he fully conquered his addictions and moved to Florida to start the next chapter of his life.
He started attending a Protestant church and learned the Bible. They made him get baptized a third time because they believed baptism was only valid if done in their church. They taught him church history from the time of Christ. The teacher pointed out that the Catholic Church was first and then other churches broke off from there. This denomination started in the 1800s in America. At the same time, this denomination believes that the Catholic Church suppressed the real church, and it went underground and was restored in America by Christians after 1800 years. This seemed strange to Eric, and he began to do more research. Where was the history of this or writings from those who went underground? He never heard anti-Catholic rhetoric before, so it piqued his interest.
After teaching with teens in the church, he wondered what authority he had to teach. Teachers get judged more harshly, and he did not want to teach wrong information. Since Protestants have many different ways of interpreting the same scripture, he started reading the Catholic blogs, since Catholics always had the same answers.
In October 2020, Eric started dating a girl who was a Traditional Catholic. Slowly, she introduced him to online Catholic speakers, exorcists, and priests. Finally, he asked to go to mass to see for himself. Little did he know, his girlfriend was doing a Miraculous Medal Novena for him and asked Mary to make herself real to him. His first mass was a Traditional Latin, High Mass.
As soon as he walked in, he felt like he was seeing everything he had read in the Old Testament. There was an altar, the priest like Aaron, incense, bells, the holy of holies, and the asperges. The priest was even wearing purple and gold like priests in the Bible. At the end of mass, he wondered why Jesus would ever throw all of this away just to have a guy with a nice haircut and fancy suit preach the gospel. Eric said, “If hearing the gospel is all we have to do, then why go to church?”
When he returned to his Protestant church, he felt anxiety. It felt like a spiritual attack. He was craving the quiet peacefulness of mass where he could hear God. They started attending mass together on Sundays and even daily mass. It was very hard for Eric to not receive communion knowing it was the true body of Christ. Many times during communion, he would see colors around people after receiving. He felt like he was separated from everyone else around him that had received. It was such a strong feeling of separation. He wanted to leave the church when communion started. As he learned more about Catholic teachings, it all came together, but he still couldn’t figure out the rosary due to mental fog from his physical illness over the last year.
One night, he had a dream about Mary and she allowed him to ask one question. He asked her, “What did you do between heaven and earth?” She didn’t answer and then another man in the dream asked Mary, “What do you do?” Eric reaffirmed the question to Mary and she answered, “I help people.” After that dream, he knew the rosary was real and made it his mission to learn it. Since he was still sick, it was hard for him to remember the prayers. Soon, he had another dream where he was praying the rosary and messing it up. He got very frustrated, and it seemed overwhelming. Mary showed up, and she took his hand that had the rosary in it and wrapped her hand around his. He couldn’t see her face, but he recognized her voice from his first dream. He said that she shared his pain for a few minutes and told him to say the part he knew. So he said the Hail Mary prayer. She encouraged him by saying, “Yes, that’s it.” When he woke up, he was still saying the Hail Mary and soon after was saying the rosary every day with no problem. He even did the Marian consecration.
Eric started meeting with his girlfriend’s priest and before he knew it, he was meeting monthly and sometimes weekly for private instruction to become Catholic. Nine months later, he became Catholic before the Easter Vigil in the Latin Rite. Three months after that, their priest married them in the Latin Rite with full knowledge of what the sacrament represents. Eric loves sharing his conversion story with anyone who will listen!