Ever since 1974, when Al Kresta experienced what he calls "an adult conversion to Christ," he has been on a mission to get the Word out.
He started with personal evangelism and pursued a variety of jobs and efforts to spread the Gospel, becoming one of the leading figures in American Catholic talk radio.
Losing a leg due to an infection could not keep him from his quest; in fact, Mr. Kresta said in an interview this week, the illness actually strengthened his faith.
"The amputation is nothing I want to go through again, but like other situations I've been in, there have been significant positives to it. One of those is that the experience itself, of going through that illness and subsequent amputation, really reawakened in me a strong sense of the mystical union of Christ and his believers, the body of Christ."
Host of Kresta in the Afternoon, a drive-time talk show based in Ann Arbor and broadcast on 120 stations nationwide, Mr. Kresta will speak at a Catholic women's conference in Toledo on March 14. He will return May 28 to speak at a fund-raising banquet for Toledo's Annunciation Radio.
In February, 2003, Mr. Kresta suffered a potentially deadly infection that forced doctors to amputate his left leg. The infection was caused by necrotizing fasciitis, often called flesh-eating bacteria.
The life-threatening attack inspired him to become more serious about his faith, he said.
"I think the outstanding amount of prayer that went out on my behalf buoyed me up. It was palpable during the experience and lasted six months or so afterward. But also, not having a leg means that I can't give free expression to my impulses as I once did. I have to sit still more. I can't just run here, run there. I have to slow my processes to get around and generally that makes me a better writer and a better thinker."
He added humbly that he is "still hoping" it will improve his prayer life.
After his conversion experience while a student at Michigan State University, Mr. Kresta began using his communication skills and his education to tell people about Jesus.
"I had always expected to be somehow involved in missions. It was the only thing I wanted to do," he said. "I was so struck by the truths of Christ's claims and the rational basis for faith that I just wanted to spend my life doing it."
He took graduate level theology courses, ran Christian bookstores, became pastor of a charismatic, independent Protestant church, and was host of a top-rated talk show on Detroit's WMUZ-FM Christian radio.
In 1992, he returned to the Roman Catholic Church in which he had been raised. What was the inspiration to return to the faith of his childhood?
"The questions that were forced on me as a pastor, questions that I couldn't postpone anymore - about the nature of the church, Christ's will for the unity of his people, the nature of the sacraments, what does it mean to have apostolic or teaching authority - those questions eventually forced me to reconsider the Catholic Church and I noticed that the more ancient churches, the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches, had answered these questions in very similar ways," Mr. Kresta said.
"If these two churches answered the questions very differently than the churches that proceeded from the Reformation, there's probably an issue here. So I returned to the Catholic Church in Holy Week, 1992, after I had resigned my pastorate," he said.
Mr. Kresta began working for Tom Monaghan, who made his fortune as founder of Domino's Pizza, and helped launch WDEO-AM (990), the Ann Arbor flagship station of Ave Maria Radio, in 1997.
Over the last dozen years or so, Ave Maria and Mother Angelica's global EWTN radio network have paved the way for a rapid rise in the number of Catholic radio stations.
Today there are nearly 300 members of the Catholic Radio Association, although 50 of those stations have yet to hit the airwaves, said Deacon Michael Learned of Toledo. He is president of Annunciation Radio, which does not have its own station yet but is broadcasting part-time on WTOD-AM (1560).
"It's growing like crazy now," Mr. Learned said of Catholic radio. "People are just hungry for the truth, to know more about their faith. Many of our Catholic brothers and sisters don't know much about their faith but once they get bit by the bug, if you will, and listen to Catholic radio, they are amazed."
Mr. Kresta said that it's the people in the pews who are leading the charge for Catholic radio.
"The growth of it is directly related to Catholic laymen and laywomen getting excited about the Catholic faith and feeling as though they have a stake in getting the message out," he said.
Mr. Kresta's talk show is broadcast from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday on WDEO in Ann Arbor and also is streamed online at avemariaradio.net. In addition to his radio work, he has written two books, Why Do Catholics Genuflect? and Why Do Catholics Care So Much About Sin?
Al Kresta is scheduled speak at 10:30 a.m. March 14 at the Regnum Christi's Women's Convention, Thursday through March 15 at the Crowne Plaza. Author Laraine Bennett will speak at 3 p.m. Friday. Toledo Bishop Leonard Blair will celebrate Mass at 4:30 p.m. March 14. Registration, $250 for the full convention or $125 for two days, including meals, available by calling Veronica Crawford at 419-365-5887.
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