An Interview with Ann Ammar
Gordon: When and why did you join Holy Angels Parish?
Ann: We moved into Woodbury, New Jersey when I was seven years old and in the second grade. My father was a vascular surgeon and established his private medical practice at the Underwood Memorial Hospital in this small, lovely, and typical American town founded in the 1600s and situated across the Delaware River from the City of Philadelphia. My parents originate from Norway (my mother was a first generation immigrant) and Germany, (my father’s family came to America in the early 1700’s as farmers and settled in Pennsylvania). Below is the photo of my Norwegian grandfather leading the singing praise hymns to the Lord by all my Norwegian cousins in the traditional Lutheran Church in my mother’s farming village of Ekne, Norway on my baptism in 1962. I’m the little toddler on the right side running around the church.
Thus, our family’s spiritual history is Protestant from the time of the Reformation. I was baptized in 1962 as a toddler in my mother’s traditional Lutheran church on a visit to my devout Lutheran Norwegian farming grandparents. When my parents moved into Woodbury in 1967 they became members of the First Presbyterian Church at Woodbury, as they were told it was a “nice” church with a good pastor. While growing up in Woodbury, I was active with the Presbyterian Church in their youth activities, singing in the church choir, and studying piano and organ under the church music director. Although I had attended Sunday school, and went to church services on Sunday where I would usually sing in the choir, and even though I had been Confirmed in the Presbyterian Church at age 13, I did not really know Jesus and I did not have living and active faith. Church for me was social, -a community and musical experience. Music touched me deep in my soul, and although my heart rose in joy when I sang the hymns, I did not specifically lift my heart to the Lord or knowingly sing to God and Jesus in worship, love and Adoration. When I recited the Apostles Creed, I did not understand the words that I was saying. Despite my church life, I was spiritually ignorant and blind, and did not have “ears to hear or eyes to perceive” the Gospel at that time in my life. St Patrick’s Church was the only Catholic church in our town of Woodbury when I was growing up and still is the only Catholic church in the town. Many of my classmates from elementary and high school attended CCD, and CYO at St. Patrick’s. I remember some classmates coming to school on Ash Wednesday with the sign of the cross traced in ashes on their forehead. I did not understand what this sign meant. I did not have a hunger to know why they did this act and so I never inquired about their faith, and furthermore, none of my Catholic classmates ever spoke to me about their Church or shared their Catholic Christian faith with me, and so I remained ignorant. I left Woodbury at age 17 after my high school graduation to pursue my education and I moved to New York City to attend New York University. By then I was an agnostic, totally focused on worldly and secular pursuits. I was a very lost sheep, but I did not even know it! During my university years I was not exposed to any witness of the Christian or Catholic faith by anyone at any time. My New York City experience was secular, hedonistic, humanistic, and worldly and I was exposed to many sinful and evil persons, places and things leading me further and further away from God.
I graduated from NYU and then moved to London to continue my studies, earning an MBA in international business. I began my international banking career in Philadelphia when I returned to America in 1983, married my husband in 1985, whom I had met in London during my graduate studies, and moved with him to Madrid, Spain in 1991 to open an office for the bank as my successful career advanced. During all these years I was spiritually dead, and not looking for God, and my husband was a self-proclaimed atheist despite having been brought up in a devout Muslim family in a Palestinian village in Israel. Upon returning to America from Madrid, due to my promotion to head up the Southern European Region of the International Division for CoreStates Bank, we started a family, and our two daughters were born in 1995 and 1997, respectively. It was during this period from 1994 through 1998 while I was still working at the bank and traveling for business through Southern Europe that the Lord pursued me mightily to come to Him in faith, beginning with His mysterious call to my heart and soul during a routine business trip to Italy in 1994.( Further below I will share my testimony for it was the beginning of my journey towards full Conversion to Jesus Christ and into Christ’s One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church). But first I will return to the question of why I have returned after 40 years to my hometown of Woodbury and am now attending St. Patrick’s Church, one of the three churches that were merged to form Holy Angels Parish. I started coming back to Woodbury from Israel where I was living with my husband and two daughters during 2008-2011, in order to assist my parents and sister who had become very ill during the time we were living abroad. Since I was by then a Catholic convert, I began to attend Saint Patrick’s Church every time I came home to the USA. Because of the increasing complexity of my father, mother and sister’s illnesses, and simultaneous trial we were going through to find a cure for my youngest daughter’s years’ long, chronic and life- threatening depression, my husband and I decided we should return to America to seek better treatment for her. Then, in 2014, I moved to Woodbury without my husband and youngest daughter, in order to live with my parents and sister who were suffering tremendously and could not care for themselves. My mother was battling late stage ovarian cancer, my sister who had been living with my parents was dying of liver failure due to alcohol addiction and my father was deteriorating rapidly from Alzheimer’s disease. After my sister passed away, and we were finally able to relocate my father to an assisted-living facility for Alzheimer’s patients, my husband and youngest daughter joined me in Woodbury so we could live together as a family, helping my mother until she finally succumbed to her disease in 2016. After the death of my mother, my husband and I decided to remain and settle in my family home in Woodbury, and it is then when I formally joined St. Patrick’s Church. We have been living in Woodbury for the past few years, and during this time St. Patrick’s Church was merged with two other local churches forming the new Holy Angel’s Parish. I was not involved with the merger process in anyway, so I cannot really speak about it. I understand that it was due to financial reasons that the merger was necessary. I love our parish! There are a group of very devout, pious, deeply spiritual Catholics who attend daily Mass, and adore our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and whose worship and devotion to our Lord keeps the Holy Spirit present and moving amongst us. We have had new priests assigned to our parish, due to the retirement of Monsignor, and due to serious illnesses of several other of our priests. We are blessed with two holy priests from Africa who have recently been assigned to our parish.
It feels good to be home in my childhood town, after forty years away, and I can only say with Saint Augustine, “too late have I loved Thee”! How I wish I had had living faith in our Lord Jesus Christ during my childhood and had known the truth about the holy Eucharist and the holy Catholic Faith and had received Him in holy Communion at Saint Patrick’s during my childhood!
Gordon: You have a fascinating background as a former international banker, who, after visiting Assisi, had a life-transforming experience. Could you share this with our readers?
Ann: I would like now to pick up where I left off above, in my personal history, when I was still working for Corestates Bank and traveling to Southern Europe as Regional Manager, and to share with you details about one extraordinary life-changing day I experienced on a business trip to in Italy in 1994 when the Spirit of God came upon me mightily in the holy town of Assisi and thus, transformed my life forever! I was a 34 year – old, ambitious Vice President who had successfully opened an office for Corestates in Madrid, Spain. I had built up the market successfully to such a point where my proposal to open a representative office on the Peninsula was heartily approved by senior management. After three years of success in managing the Madrid Office, I was offered a promotion to Regional Manager of Southern Europe, which included responsibility for Spain and Portugal, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Israel and the other countries surrounding the Mediterranean basin. It seemed I had everything going for me. I had been married 10 years at that time, was very well paid, and after this lucrative overseas ex-patriot assignment for several years had returned to a more senior position at the bank with further upward success looking promising. On the surface of things, it appeared that my life was very good and that I was lacking for nothing, but I would soon discover by no attempt of my own that I was utterly poor and empty in all that truly mattered! I was scheduled for another routine trip to Italy, accompanied by my colleague, a young woman who reported to me, and who was one of the country managers for Italy. She had arranged the entire itinerary for our Italian trip and one of our appointments was with a bank in the town of Perugia. It was scheduled as a brief courtesy call to show our appreciation to the international division manager for all the business that he and his bank conducted with ours. Our arranged agenda was to spend about half an hour having a coffee with the manager and then continuing on the rest of our business trip to Rome.
I had never met the head of the international division at this bank, so I was unknown to him, and he had no knowledge of my agnosticism. My colleague had told him nothing personal about me regarding matters of faith and religion, as these topics were unrelated to our business purposes. When we arrived at the bank that morning, I discovered that the bank manager spoke no English.
After a brief introduction, he proceeded to cup his hand under my elbow and gently lead me away, with my colleague following, through the halls of the bank and then down into the garage where he encouraged us to get into his car. Not speaking any Italian, I was not able to converse with him and did not understand what was happening. He began to drive us to a destination, and when we arrived we found ourselves at Assisi, the holy pilgrimage town of Saint Francis of Assisi. We wondered why he would bring us there without discussing these plans with us in advance. We had scheduled a standard international corporate bank appointment and had not arranged any time for sightseeing. Furthermore, we had plans to drive on to Rome that morning. No amount of explaining our desires to the banker moved him to bring us back to the bank. After about an hour with the Italian banker leading us through the holy sites of Assisi, we gave up our protestations and yielded to his agenda, and let go of our need to control the day’s events.
Not being Catholic, and not even a practicing or believing Christian I had no idea what Assisi meant, except that it was the name of the town from where Saint Francis came. I knew practically nothing about St. Francis except that I often saw his statue adorning gardens because he was associated with birds. At first, the banker took us to the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli a little distance outside of the main town of Assisi where after he took us to visit the other famous shrines. In the Church, he pointed out the holy icons and paintings, and I did not have a clue as to what they signified and thus, did not know how to appreciate their spiritual importance. Then, he motioned to me to go inside the Porziuncola (the little chapel which name means “small portion of land” which belonged to the Order of Saint Benedict of Monte Subasio), which is thought to have been erected under Pope Liberius in the mid- 4th century by hermits from the Valley of Josaphat in Jerusalem, who had brought relics from the grave of the Blessed Virgin to Assisi. The chapel became known as the Chapel of Our Lady of the Valley of Josaphat or the Chapel of the Angels because of the relics brought from the site where Mary’s Assumption into heaven accompanied by angels occurred. Furthermore, it also derives its name from the witness of many persons over the centuries claimed to hear the singing of angels inside!
After St Francis returned from a pilgrimage Rome, he had a vision of Christ on the way, who said to him, ‘Francis can’t you see that My house is falling into ruin, Go and rebuild it!” Francis, not yet understanding that the Lord was speaking to him about reforming the entire Catholic Church, Francis took the words of Jesus at face value and began restoring several local ruined churches, among them the Porziuncola, the little chapel of St Mary of the Angels. Afterwards, Francis built himself a small hut near the Chapel of Our Lady of the Angels and was soon joined by other followers. It was here that Francis founded the Franciscans.
I entered timidly into the chapel as I did not know what to do in such a holy space. There were devout pilgrims kneeling in prayer on the wooden pews along the sides of the chapel. I didn’t consider kneeling down to pray as I did not know God, nor even how to pray, as I had not said prayers since I was a young child, and even then, I seldom prayed. I stopped and remained still in the middle of the aisle facing the altar. I simply stood there alone in the aisle without being aware of any thoughts. It was there that a mysterious Presence came upon me. I felt a wonderful sense of Peace and Love and Light flood my soul, – a place I did not know even existed within me. I realized that I was in the Presence of a Person who personally knew me, loved me, and cared about me. I did not hear any Voice nor see any Face. My experience was a mystical sensation in my innermost being. I had an immediate understanding that this Person was God Almighty who created me and knew me and was revealing Himself to me that He exists and loves and cares for me. I was forever changed by this brief but sublime Encounter.
On two other specific occasions during that marvelous and mysterious day, the Spirit of God came upon me again and continued to call me to Himself. When finally, the banker took us back to his car, he gave me as a gift the Prayer of St Francis and quite curiously he asked me in his poor and broken English, “are you different?” I did not know how to answer his mysterious question, but tears welled up in my eyes and when I looked at him I saw that he too had wet eyes. I saw him only one time after that day, six months later in Milan, on another business trip at a bank event, where this mysterious banker simply gave me a hug and offered me another gift – a print rolled up like a scroll of St Francis with his arms raised to heaven in praise to God.
I never saw the banker again, but his name if you translate it into English means “soldier of the Cross”. This gentle banker was surely an instrument of the Holy Spirit in my life. When I see him again one day in Heaven I will thank him for his faithful obedience to the promptings, inspirations and nudges of the Holy Spirit which forever changed the direction of my life. I continued seeking the Lord of Assisi with all my heart, mind soul and strength in the years to follow and our loving Triune God ultimately let Himself be found by me, – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and each One of the Divine Persons individually and distinctly revealed themselves to me. I left everything to love, follow and serve the one True Triune God of St Francis and the Christians and who is the only Living God of all humanity.
Gordon: Your Battle Cry is an extraordinary publication, and the title also reflects a challenge that many of us may not often reflect upon. Could you comment on some of the reasons why you chose this title?
Ann: The Battle Cry apostolate came directly from the Lord. I would never have considered beginning such a ministry on my own. The Lord gave me the name, “The Battle Cry” and confirmed His selection of this name through another Catholic who serves Him. Initially I was very reluctant to begin this ministry, because it involved transparently exposing my inner life and making myself vulnerable by sharing intimate words from the Lord that I receive in prayer.
However, the Lord continue to reassure me that this was His will, and that this was not only for my benefit, but also for the benefit of many souls who do not yet know and love Him, in order to draw them to salvation through repentance from sin and receiving of the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus. These words from the Lord are also for all Christians who do know and love their Lord yet, He desires to draw them into a deeper and more intimate relationship in order to prepare and strengthen them spiritually for much more difficult times that will be coming in the Church and the world as the evil spirit of apostasy, heresy, immorality, violence, and callous cold-heartedness increases in power and influence.
I believe that the Lord chose the name “The Battle Cry” in order to alert His Church and anyone of goodwill in the world who will read His words, to the urgency of the need for sincere contrition and deeper repentance, and a profound conversion of heart, through increased prayer, deeper trust and stronger faith in God and faithful obedience, service and living our lives in the light of His Holy and perfect Will.
I was prepared for the transition to share such intimate words and inspirations from the Lord through years of obedience to writing my personal faith testimonials in the first blog that the Lord asked me to write beginning in 2010. This first blog is .Walking with our Lord.
Readers can go to this site where I share many personal testimonials of my journey of conversion and walking with Jesus in increasing faith living in America and in the Holy Land. Each of the testimonials are true and reveal many miracles and wonders that our Lord has done in our intimate relationship and which he desires to have with all His beloved children. I wrote each of the accounts after the Holy Spirit revealed the story that He specifically desired that I share publically on the blog.
Gordon: You are also a popular Songwriter & Composer Based on your experience, how can music be a helpful evangelization resource?
Ann: As I shared above in my personal history, ever since childhood, I had a special love for music, singing in the church and school choirs, and studying piano and organ, and composing songs as a teenager, and playing in two bands, and even during my university years in New York City, managing a new wave band, and aspiring to a music career. For reasons I do not fully understand, but in reflecting back over the years, it would seem that the Lord had other plans for my life before He would stir up the gift of music He gave me and fulfill the desire of my heart.
Despite the earlier path towards music, while at NYU I found myself pursuing a major in history, and then, going on to study for my Master’s in international business in London and returning to the US to start a career in international banking. It wasn’t until after I returned home from living in the Holy Land, in 2011, that the Lord opened the floodgates of inspiration, and began sharing from His heart to mine both lyrics and melodies, which I diligently struggled and worked to annotate as musical scores.
I have composed a little more than 100 compositions over the past few years of songs and choral works that are in various stages of development. I never studied music theory or composition, so I had to teach myself how to score and arrange music. This has at times so frustrated me that I have become discouraged. I cannot accomplish all that my heart desires as I do not have the technical training and skill required. However, the Lord in His goodness has brought other Catholics to assist me in developing some of my simpler pieces into more advanced works as orchestral scores, and also to produce professional recordings in the studio of some of my songs and those that I have cowritten with them.
There is a story that I have yet to write and post on the Walking With Our Lord blog that I am still meditating upon. I had a miraculous encounter with someone, “Tony”, who prophesied to me about my music mission. When I get discouraged and begin to doubt this beautiful gift the Lord has given to me, and the music mission which He has inspired, I recall the encounter with the mysterious and angelic? “Tony” and try hold his amazing words of encouragement and counsel deep in my heart. I haven’t been working too much over the last six months on the Lord’s music, so I must get back to work! Saint Augustine once said, “He who sings, prays twice!” Music is the international language of the soul, and reaches deep into the hearts of all people, and thus music can be a very effective and sweet form of evangelization and sharing with others the love and truth of God who is the Divine Author and Composer of Music!