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‘The feeling like you’re entering into a community is wonderful’

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SAN DIEGO — A large and diverse group will enter the Catholic Church this Easter.

This includes 398 catechumens, those who have never been baptized, and 770 candidates, those who are baptized but have yet to receive their First Communion or confirmation, from about 68 parishes and other Catholic communities.

Among them will be John Raymond, who had been “nothing, as far as religion went,” when he married his cradle Catholic wife, Sharen, at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Vista back in 1965. At that same parish, almost six decades later, the 75-year-old is preparing to receive the sacraments of initiation: baptism, First Communion and confirmation.

Raymond, who is the owner of Raymond Property Management and has worked in the real estate industry for about two decades, has followed a circuitous route to Catholicism. After his wife turned away from her Catholic faith, he followed her into “born-again” Christianity and went on to become a Protestant pastor.

Later, after the death of the couple’s youngest son in 2003, Raymond came to see Christianity as “just one of many ways to God” and turned to Eastern religion for life’s answers.

But, last summer, everything changed.

Raymond, who dedicates time every morning to studying topics that interest him, felt a strange urging one day to delve into the “Catechism of the Catholic Church.” (A friend’s son had been ordained to the Catholic priesthood the previous day.) He watched three online videos about the Catechism, which “connected all the dots” for him, leaving him convinced that the Catholic Church was the Church that Jesus founded.

Raymond said he had been saddened by the disunity he had encountered in the Protestant world.

“Every (Protestant) church believes something different,” he said, contrasting this with the “solidity” of Catholic doctrine.

“With the Catholic Church, there’s no guessing,” he said. “It’s been the truth … since the time of Jesus, when the Apostles walked with Him and they talked with Him.”

Because no proof could be shown that he had been baptized with a valid formula, Raymond entered the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) process as a catechumen. His wife has been attending classes alongside him, having decided to return to the Church of her youth.

In his new spiritual home, Raymond said he hopes to be “a vessel” of the Holy Spirit to help bring others into the Church.

Morgan Arguello, a 44-year-old wedding planner, is also a catechumen at St. Francis of Assisi Parish. She was raised by Methodist parents, but never baptized. As a teenager, she was an active member of a nondenominational youth group.

Arguello first felt drawn to the Catholic Church about four years ago in the midst of a conversation with her then fiancé, now husband, Wayne, who is Catholic. He had mentioned matter-of-factly that the Catholic Church dates back to the first century.

For Arguello, who had gone her whole life thinking of Catholicism as “an offshoot from Christianity,” rather than the original Christian faith, this was an eye-opener.

“As soon as I heard that, I knew I had to convert,” she said.

In these final days of preparation for becoming Catholic, Arguello said it’s “so wonderful to feel something that I haven’t felt my whole life.” She explained that she feels she had been “missing out on a huge portion of love.”

Describing the RCIA process as “significantly more fun” than she had anticipated, Arguello said one of the highlights has been the bonds she formed with her godparent and classmates.

“The feeling like you’re entering into a community is just so wonderful,” she said, “and I feel like, if you don’t have that, you don’t even know what you’re missing out on.”

Tara Garza, a 33-year-old stay-at-home mom, was baptized in the Episcopal Church. Currently attending RCIA classes at St. Patrick Parish in Carlsbad, she will receive the sacrament of confirmation at the upcoming Easter Vigil; at the same Mass, her 3-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter will be baptized, and her 14-year-old daughter will receive her First Communion.

Garza describes her religious background as “a little bit all over the place.” She attended both Episcopal services and Catholic Masses in her youth, as well as nondenominational churches during her teenage years. However, if asked, she always identified as Catholic.

As a married mother with three children and a fourth who has passed away, there came a point when Garza began to feel “guilty” and “ashamed” about not attending Mass and not raising her children in “a more God-based home.”

In 2020, during a “really dark time” for her family, she turned to the Church for solace. She attended Mass for the first time in many years with her husband, who is a baptized Catholic, and their children.

“I realized that it’s something I had been missing for so long,” said Garza, who shared that the entire family “loved it.”

Later, an invitation to serve as godmother to her nephew provided “the push I needed” to sign up for RCIA. Only after receiving the sacrament of confirmation will she be eligible to serve as a godparent.

Before she began attending RCIA, Garza said she hadn’t realized how much she “craved” her faith and how much she wanted to deepen her knowledge of it.

“I look forward to continuing to learn. … I just want to grow and become closer to God, in the hope that I can also bring my children closer (to Him).”

Max Sonnier, a catechumen, developed an interest in the Bible during his college years.

“I was searching for reality and meaning in life, and it became very clear the more I studied the Bible that I could find it within,” said Sonnier, a 27-year-old software engineer who had been agnostic for about a decade.

Around Christmas of 2021, he looked out of his window and, seeing a beautiful Catholic church nearby, decided to “give it a try” and “see what was inside.”

Curiosity led to conversion.

“The first day I was in the church, I felt God and I felt light,” he said. “I did not need to second-guess or question the situation – I knew He was present – and, from there, I realized God was present in Catholicism. This led to my decision to convert and join an RCIA program.”

Today, Sonnier finds himself at a crossroads on his faith journey. Desiring to dedicate his life as much as possible to serving God, he is considering whether he might be called to the priesthood.

“Whatever God has planned for me,” he said, “I have a lot of love for Him.”

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