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New Catholics: ‘The Church gives me energy’

By Paula Doyle
March 21st, 2008
The Tidings (www.the-tidings.com)

LOS ANGELES, CA (The Tidings) - More than 1,200 heretofore unbaptized adults and children in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles will receive the sacraments of initiation — baptism, confirmation and Eucharist — at the Easter Vigil March 22 in their respective parishes.

Nationally, they join tens of thousands of the Elect who, after months of spiritual formation in parish initiation processes, are becoming Catholic. Their spiritual journeys include the more intense examinations of conscience during the Rites of the Scrutinies during the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent, and will be highlighted by their initiation this weekend.

Just a few days before their formal reception into the church, two of these new Catholics individually met with The Tidings to share their inspiring journeys of faith.

‘Life-changing experience’

Nobuo Honda, 37, didn’t have a faith tradition growing up in Pasadena. God was “out there” somewhere.

About five years ago, he prayed for the first time in his life. His prayer began, “If you truly are there…” After a few weeks, he noticed he had a different mental outlook. “All of a sudden things just started going right for me.”

He had already decided to switch careers from his job in inventory control for a company to nursing. While attending school at L.A. County College of Nursing, he met a fellow classmate, a Catholic woman who shared his interest in running marathons. They both participated in the 2006 half-marathon in Long Beach and the 2007 Los Angeles Marathon.

Intrigued by the Catholic tradition of Midnight Mass, he asked his running friend if she would take him to Christmas Eve services at her parish: St. Dominic in Eagle Rock. “I felt calm and at peace,” during the liturgy, he said.

Eventually, he decided to take formal Catholic instruction through the RCIA which he started last fall. “It’s been a life-changing experience. I came from nothing to where I am now: I can just feel God is always around me,” said Honda, who started a new nursing job at St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.

A highlight of his RCIA experience, besides studying the Bible and sharing life stories with four adult candidates in the program, was attending the Feb. 10 Rite of Election ceremony at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

“I just saw how many more people there are like me who are also becoming Catholic,” said Honda, who says catechesis will be a life-long learning experience. He’s really looking forward to receiving the sacraments of initiation: baptism [by immersion], Eucharist and confirmation, at the Easter Vigil service.

“It’s comforting knowing I’ll be with God the rest of my life,” said Honda. His running partner, who has since become his fiancé, will be in the congregation. They will enter into the sacrament of matrimony at St. Dominic Aug. 2.

“I feel God guiding me,” Honda observed.

‘More even-keeled’

Self-described San Fernando “Valley Girl” Jeni Brooks says the seeds of her conversion were planted at the tender age of three when a babysitter took her to an Ash Wednesday service.

“I just remember being at the church,” she recalls, “receiving the ashes and going back to her home [where] I stared at the mirror just looking at the ashes all day. I think from that point on, I was Catholic. I know it sounds silly. I didn’t act on it right away, but there was always some fascination.”

Growing up in a family of faith, Brooks attended a non-denominational Christian grammar school with her younger sister. Her mom was baptized, but her father wasn’t, and Brooks became upset when hearing in fourth grade that unbaptized people don’t go to heaven.

When going through instruction for Protestant baptism at a Presbyterian youth group, she opted not to be baptized, partly since she didn’t believe that her loving father, and unbaptized people everywhere, would never attain heaven. She stopped attending church for a few years and moved to Northern California after marrying in her early twenties.

The marriage didn’t work out, and Brooks returned to Southern California. “Catholicism was always running through my mind.” One day Brooks, who works as a skin care aesthetician at a beauty salon, happened to met the youth minister from St. Euphrasia who was redeeming a facial gift certificate.

“How we got on the [Catholic] subject, I have no idea,” says Brooks. The ensuing conversation eventually led to her enrollment in St. Euphrasia’s RCIA process last spring. “It was the best thing I ever did. It explained everything [about] how the Church came down through the centuries and opened my eyes to all the saints,” said Brooks, who has an Our Lady of Guadalupe candle beside her work station.

“The Church gives me energy,” said Brooks, 37. “I’m much more even-keeled and confident in myself as a person. Things roll off of me easier” due to increased self-acceptance. “God’s about love, that’s what it boils down to,” said Brooks. “RCIA reiterated that and [affirmed] that my feelings weren’t wrong.”

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