Michael Cardona, then known as Madhavananda das Babaji, was enjoying life as a Hindu guru in India in 2018, when he sensed Jesus calling him.

Christ showed him the suffering he had caused by leading thousands of Christians to renounce their faith, he said.

“He told me, you can come back to me if you go west, leave India as soon as possible, and help poor, sick, and homeless people with your own hands.”

Today, Cardona, 66, lives and works in the Emmanuel Baptist Rescue Mission on Skid Row in Los Angeles. He entered the Catholic Church at the 2024 Easter Vigil.

At the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Caterina Krai, the director of sacramental life, had welcomed him. She has seen many dramatic journeys of conversion — from Islam, atheism, dark occultism, and even a homeless teenager who faithfully rode his bicycle to Order of Christian Initiation of Adults (OCIA) sessions. Cardona stood out as much for his humility and graciousness as for his radical change of faith.

“He was a bright light even when he was suffering greatly,” she said. “He was a great example of perseverance, hope, and God’s merciful love.”

Cardona (left), in 2013, from his time as a Hindu guru in India. (Michael Cardona)

Born near Philadelphia, he was baptized and raised Methodist. In the 1970s he joined the Jesus Movement. Baptized again in the Delaware River, he became an assistant pastor in a Christian commune in New York City, where he slept on the floor in imitation of Jesus.

Then law enforcement showed up to investigate the group’s leader for financial fraud, he said. Disillusioned, Cardona sought other paths to God, including the Hare Krishnas and Russian Orthodox Christianity. He kept moving east — geographically and spiritually.

Enthralled by encounters with Hindu gurus, he followed them. As a former evangelical pastor, his testimony was in demand. He moved to England, becoming a globe-trotting guru who led Christians into Hinduism. He spent seven years in Hong Kong before settling in India in 2013.

Five years later, he said, Jesus called him, showing him his sins so graphically that Cardona wept for three days and asked God why he didn’t just let him die.

He heard a voice in his heart reply, “It’s because I love you.”

That is when, Cardona said, Jesus told him to go west and serve the poor.

Back in Pennsylvania, he fell in with missionaries who lived in a motorhome, traveling with them across the south. But when he was sent to meet their leader in Australia, he realized he had joined another corrupt ministry.

Flat broke, Cardona contacted a former Hindu disciple in Hong Kong, who booked him a flight to Los Angeles.

“I didn’t have a penny in any currency and a Mexican cleaning lady gave me bus fare to come downtown so I could sign up for food stamps,” he said.

A street preacher directed him to the Emmanuel Baptist Rescue Mission, which is run by some of its residents. Cardona served as director until his health declined.

He began to reread the early Church Fathers, who he had encountered decades earlier in Russian Orthodoxy. But this time he was drawn west. What he read made him love and trust in Mary and long for the Eucharist.

“I found myself awash in God’s love and [Mary’s] sweet love and assurance. That was when I knew I had to become Catholic,” he said.