By Allan warren → http://www.allanwarren.com [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

By Allan warren → http://www.allanwarren.com [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Alec Guinness, who played Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, had an out of the ordinary experience that prompted him to convert to Catholicism.

Star Wars is considered to be one of the most successful film franchises of all time. Even after decades from its original episode release, many young and young at hearts are still hooked with anything that is associated with it from movies, television series, cartoons, up to games, toys and character costumes. With the upcoming release of the long awaited Episode VII this week, it’s would be interesting to get to know the man behind the original Obi-Wan Kenobi character from a religious perspective.

Sir Alec Guinness is a multi-awarded British actor born on April 2, 1914. The young Alec was raised without a father and had to live in poverty. Guinness’ career revolved around acting which was shortly set aside when he served the Royal Navy during World War II. He has portrayed numerous theatrical, film and television roles but was most remembered as Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Many did not know that just like most individuals, Guinness took years and even decades to find his “true” religion. It’s been said that he had to jump from one religion to another (Presbyterian, Marxism, Buddhism, including atheism) just to experience what a particular religion offers.

Living in a majority Anglican society, he gained interest with Anglicanism especially during his service to the Royal Navy. An experience that added to that interest was the personal encounter with an Anglican priest who taught him the correct way to portray his religious role for the theatrical play Hamlet.

But from 1956 until the day he died at age 86, Guinness converted and remained devoted to the Catholic religion. Among the reasons why the actor eventually committed himself to Catholicism include a moving and spiritual experience in France and a first-hand experience of miracle from God.

Alec Guinness 1954 Father Brown.

Alec Guinness 1954 Father Brown.

In his 1954 film Father Brown, Guinness portrayed the role of a Catholic priest. During one of the shoots in the streets of Burgundy, France and while wearing his priest costume, a young French boy convinced that he was actually a priest started chatting and grabbing him for a walk. Though he could not understand French, he was amazed by the candidness of the child and his high regard for a priest or religious authority.

Guinness described his experience during that moment saying that:

“Continuing my walk, I reflected that a Church that could inspire such confidence in a child, making priests, even when unknown, so easily approachable, could not be as scheming or as creepy as so often made out. I began to shake off my long-taught, long-absorbed prejudices.”

What eventually made him decide to convert into a full-pledged Catholic in 1956 was a miracle and “personal encounter” with God. His only child Matthew contracted polio at the age of 11 and was at risk of dying. Guinness began visiting a Catholic church to pray and accordingly made a deal with God to let his family join the church if Matthew survives.

Definitely his prayers were answered and his son recovered from the illness. After converting to Catholicism in 1956, his wife followed a year later. His son also joined the church and was sent to a Jesuit school.

Perhaps, one of the controversies that Guinness had to face was the issue on homosexuality. In 1946, he was accused of committing homosexual acts in a public area. But according to the actor, he had successfully battled such homosexual inclination by following the teachings of the Church, by being close to Christ and with the help of pastoral encouragements.

In one of his final publications before he died of liver cancer in 2000, Sir Alec Guinness wrote his regret of not finding the Catholic Church early on:

“If I have one regret… it would be that I didn’t take the decision to become a Catholic in my early twenties. That would have sorted out a lot of my life and sweetened it.”

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