It would have been easy to immerse himself in the world and overlook the growing problems in the Church resulting from the confusion of Vatican II, but Thomas was different. From the age of 22 to 30 he went through an odyssey that came full circle in the transformation that convinced him of the truths of the Catholic Church without a shadow of a doubt. In his eight-year search through reading and traveling, he came to the conclusion that the only answers were in his faith. A voracious reader, he found in these books on the faith a certainty that could not be denied and he yearned to instill this same confidence in all. He had studied politics and world events extensively and came to the startling conclusion that man could not solve the inherent problems in the U.S. and even in the Church without spiritual means. This was in 1967, the same time such Catholic publishing bulwarks as Benziger and Bruce as well as other publishing firms were phasing out their publishing of Catholic materials. The well was drying up and he realized 'that if enough people were living in the state of grace and striving to obey God's Will, then "for the sake of the elect," God would "run interference" for the just in the social and political arena' as Proverbs 21: 1 says, "The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord: withersoever he willl he shall turn it." Thus, Thomas, in his own words, recalls that in July 1967, "I said to Our Lord: 'There must be something that You need done that I can do.'"
He had been in contact with a group of people running a non-profit mail order organization called Christ & Country Books Inc. They were distributing various books, particularly the "15 Promises of the Rosary" and the works of Saint Louis Marie De Montfort. Many people had requested other books that the non-profit group did not have and, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Tom asked the group if they had a problem with him publishing some of those books that people had requested but not available through any source. Of course they gave Tom their blessing and he took the leap. He invested $3,300. of his own money and, on the fiftieth anniversary of the final apparition at Fatima, also the golden anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun - October 13, 1967 - he founded TAN Books in the basement of his parents' home.
Tom's endeavors paralleled another Illinois entrepeneur who invested $500 into publishing his first magazine a decade earlier. It was a publishing enterprise which would become a troubling international trend that greatly diminished respect for women and devalued human sexuality, opening a Pandora's Box regarding morals that are directly adverse to Church teaching. We're speaking of Hugh Hefner who began the Playboy empire in Chicago in the fifties. Tom's plans weren't as grandiose in the eyes of the world, but in God's eyes they far surpassed Hefner's worldly efforts for Nelson sought to publish the best books from other Catholic publishers so that, in opposition to the world, the flesh and the devil, the people would always truly know their faith, morals, and the traditions of the Church in their quest for everlasting life
Tom chose the name TAN Books and Publishers after the initials of his name. Because of his background, he sought to also sell secular books on history, health, politics and other subjects. He is often confused with the famous publishing company out of Nashville, Tennesee that publishes the Catholic Encyclopedia but Thomas says there is no affiliation or relationship with them. He is totally independent in the publishing world and totally dependent on God for direction and survival. Recently, TAN has struggled as apathy set in with many Catholics, but with God's guidance and providence, TAN is surviving for "by their fruits you will know them." For over thirty years TAN has produced a multitude of fruits and hopefully there are enough of the "elect" out there to keep TAN afloat; for as long as there is the hunger for the faith, Thomas will provide the best the Church offers. As the TAN website at www.tanbooks.com attests, "Mr. Nelson has consistently attempted to reach out to more and more souls with the truths of the Catholic Faith in the firm belief that this is the path to salvation and happiness, both in this life and hereafter." He chooses and approves every book published by TAN, many of which are out of print and therefore even more valuable, such as the Douay-Rheims Bible which, due to the reaction by liturgists and publishers in the aftermath of Vatican II, was no longer published. That changed in 1971 when Thomas began publishing this traditional version of Sacred Scripture. It grew even more in demand over the years as more adulterated versions of the Bible were foisted on the faithful by ICEL and rubber-stamped by the United States Bishops Conference. Tom is one of those voices crying in the wilderness, entreating the faithful to wake-up to what is happening with the Word. The TAN website reports that "readers are still requesting copies of a letter sent out by Mr. Nelson in 1985 expounding the vigorous, Catholic, common-sense defense of the accuracy of the Douay-Rheims Bible and St. Jerome's Latin Vulgate vs. all modern Bibles."
Though the "T" in TAN stands for Thomas, many swear it stands for "Tradition" for Thomas has assured all that he will always publish only those works that provide solid doctrine which uphold "the rightness of the Catholic traditions and the right of every Catholic to hold on to those traditions as being the vehicle of salvation." He has published over four million copies of St. Louis De Monfort's popular "Secret of the Rosary" and nearly a half million copies of "True Devotion to Mary" as well as over two million of the "Peace Plan from Heaven" imparted by Our Lady of Fatima. He takes pride in his Catholic beliefs and clings to the sacredness of the Tridentine Mass. When one speaks to him, you know he is a man of convictions in love with the faith he was weaned on as he affirms, "It is my desire and objective to see the Church return to her traditions, to see her triumph in the hearts of men and women throughout the world and achieve the predominant influence once more in all aspects of our social, political, and moral lives, and not just in America, but throughout the world."
Though Tom is an orthodox, traditionalist Catholic, he hates labels. He rails when someone calls someone "pre-Vatican II" or a "post-Vatican Catholic." "We are all Catholic," he asserts, "It's the modernists who have attributed those terms to the vocabularly, and modernism is a heresy." There is only one Church that is Roman Catholic and if you belong to that Church, you are a 'Catholic.' You are a Christian in the truest sense. [ed note: Here he is referring to the term 'Christians' as Catholics before the Reformation and not the plethora of sects that sprouted up since who call themselves 'Christian' while renouncing the true faith.] We must realize that and not categorize people by labels for its very simple as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 16: 22, 'If any man loves not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema, Maran Atha'." Tom's dedication, persistence and insistence on spreading the faith as it is meant to be conveyed is translated strongly whenever he speaks. His hope is to continue this crusade for another thirty years if it be God's Will. We suspect it is His Will because this worthy recipient of the honor of being included among the Top 100 Catholics of the Century doesn't carry his faith on his sleeve, but rather in his heart and he always speaks from the heart, a heart bursting with love for the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
On June 9, 1967 Pope Paul VI named him Titular Bishop of Feradi Maggiore and Auxiliary Bishop of Sao Paolo. He was installed on August 26, 1967. In 1974 the Holy Father summoned him to the Vatican where he was appointed Vice President of the Pontifical Commission for the LaityPope John Paul II made him Archbishop and named him Secretary of the Congregation of Bishops which he held until January 3, 1987 when he was assigned the titular See of Vescovia and made Archbishop of Sao Salvador de Bahia, returning to his homeland. A year later he returned to Rome on the occasion of his being named in the Holy Father's Consistory of June 25, 1998 in which he became a cardinal priest and received the titular church of Sts. Boniface and Alexius.
It was back to Brazil immediately after his elevation to the cardinalate where he served as Shepherd of the See of Sao Salvador de Bahia until being recalled by the Pope in 1998 when he was made a cardinal-bishop and given the Suburbicarian See of Sabina-Poggio Mireto and was appointed by the Holy Father as the new Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, a position he presently holds at the age of 74. As head of this Curial Office he oversees the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and coordinates ad limina visits for all the bishops of the world as well as coordinating the office of Military Vicars. In addition to his vast responsibilities as Prefect he serves curial membership in the Second Section of the Secretariat of State as well as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic LIfe and the Congregation for Catholic Education plus the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Council for Culture. It would seem Cardinal Moriera Neves will stay put in Rome for quite some time in his new position overseeing the Bishops.
On this point, the Synod Fathers suggested a range of concrete initiatives to make the Gospel effectively present in the world of social communications: the training of pastoral workers for this task; the support of high-quality production centers; the careful and effective use of satellite and other new technologies; teaching the faithful to be “critical” in their use of the media; joining forces in order to acquire and manage new transmitters and TV and radio networks, as well as coordinating those already in operation. Catholic publications also deserve support and need to develop the excellence sought by all.
Business people should be encouraged to provide economic support for quality products promoting human and Christian values. (278) But a program as vast as this is far beyond the resources of the individual particular Churches of the American continent. Therefore, the Synod Fathers proposed an inter-American coordination of current activities in the field of social communications, aimed at fostering mutual awareness and coordination of current projects in the field. (279)
This must be borne in mind especially with regard to the sisters and brothers of the Churches and Ecclesial Communities separated from the Catholic Church, long-established in some regions. The bonds of true though imperfect communion which, according to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, (281) these communities already have with the Catholic Church must enlighten the attitudes of the Church and her members towards them. (282) These attitudes, however, must not be such that they weaken the firm conviction that only in the Catholic Church is found the fullness of the means of salvation established by Jesus Christ. (283)
The success of proselytism by sects and new religious groups in America cannot be ignored. It demands of the Church on the continent a thorough study, to be carried out in each nation and at the international level, to ascertain why many Catholics leave the Church. Pastoral policies will have to be revised, so that each particular Church can offer the faithful more personalized religious care, strengthen the structures of communion and mission, make the most of the evangelizing possibilities of a purified popular religiosity, and thus give new life to every Catholic's faith in Jesus Christ, through prayer and meditation upon the word of God, suitably explained. (284) No one can deny the urgency of prompt evangelizing efforts aimed at those segments of the People of God most exposed to proselytism by the sects: immigrants, neighborhoods on the outskirts of the cities or rural towns with no regular presence of a priest and therefore marked by widespread religious ignorance, families of simple people suffering from material difficulties of various kinds. From this point of view too, base-communities, movements, family groups and other forms of association in which it is easier to build interpersonal bonds of mutual support, both spiritual and economic, have shown themselves to be very helpful.
Moreover, as some of the Synod Fathers indicated, it is necessary to ask whether a pastoral strategy directed almost exclusively to meeting people's material needs has not in the end left their hunger for God unsatisfied, making them vulnerable to anything which claims to be of spiritual benefit. Hence, “it is indispensable that all remain united to Christ by means of a joyful and transforming kerygma, especially in liturgical preaching”. (285) A Church which fervently lives the spiritual and contemplative dimension, and which gives herself generously to the service of charity, will be an ever more eloquent witness to God for men and women searching for meaning in their lives. (286) To this end, it is more necessary than ever for all the faithful to move from a faith of habit, sustained perhaps by social context alone, to a faith which is conscious and personally lived. The renewal of faith will always be the best way to lead others to the Truth that is Christ.
For the response to the challenge of the sects to be effective, there is a need for an appropriate coordination of initiatives among dioceses, aimed at bringing about a more effective cooperation through shared projects which will produce better results. (287)
This obliges the Church in America to be involved in the mission ad gentes. (288) The program of a new evangelization on the American continent, to which many pastoral projects are directed, cannot be restricted to revitalizing the faith of regular believers, but must strive as well to proclaim Christ where he is not known.
Likewise, the particular Churches in America are called to extend their missionary efforts beyond the bounds of the continent. They cannot keep for themselves the immense riches of their Christian heritage. They must take this heritage to the whole world and share it with those who do not yet know it. Here it is a question of many millions of men and women who, without faith, suffer the most serious kind of poverty. Faced with this poverty, it would be a mistake not to encourage an evangelizing effort beyond the continent with the excuse that there is still much to do in America or to wait until the Church in America reaches the point, basically utopian, of full maturity.
With the hope that the American continent, in accordance with its Christian vitality, will play its part in the great task of the mission ad gentes, I make my own the practical proposals presented by the Synod Fathers: “to maintain a greater cooperation between sister Churches; to send missionaries (priests, religious and lay faithful) within the continent and abroad; to strengthen or create missionary institutes; to encourage the missionary dimension of consecrated and contemplative life; to give greater impetus to mission promotion, training and organization”. (289) I am sure that the pastoral zeal of the Bishops and of the sons and daughters of the Church throughout America will devise concrete plans, also at the international level, to implement with great dynamism and creativity these missionary proposals. IN THIS COMING WEEKEND's ISSUE: Installment twenty-five - CONCLUSION The Importance of Catechesis