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Distinct roads lead young lives to faith

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SAN DIEGO – Easter, the celebration of Jesus Christ’s victory over death, naturally evokes thoughts of renewal, rebirth and newness of life.

Nowhere is this more poignant than in the lives of the individuals preparing to receive the sacraments of initiation at the upcoming Easter Vigil. They are catechumens, people who have never been baptized, and candidates, people who have been baptized in a non-Catholic denomination and will be entering into full communion with the Catholic Church. Around 650 of them participated in the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion on Feb. 20 and 21.

One of them was Kyle Li, 19, who spent much of his life identifying as an agnostic.

Born in Shenzhen, China, he lived there for 15 years before his family moved to the United States, where they settled in Illinois. Li, who didn’t ascribe to any faith tradition, was enrolled at Peoria Notre Dame High School, where Catholicism was part of everyday life.

Li recalls that, on his first day there, he attended a Mass celebrated for the freshmen. He was so unfamiliar with Catholicism at the time, he said, that this was the first time he had even heard the word “Mass.”

He quickly grew accustomed to the routine of school Masses, prayers at the start of each school day, and class retreats. When he joined the school’s swim team, his teammates would attend Mass before their meets and he would accompany them.

Despite that, he said, “I didn’t really think about converting to Catholicism.”

He felt inclined to maintain the status quo – until the COVID-19 pandemic upended life as he knew it. Distance learning and social distancing in his final months of high school spelled the end of his school Mass attendance. He came to realize that Mass and Catholic prayer had become a part of his life – and suddenly it was gone. For the first time, he began to think that maybe he really did want to be Catholic.

Li first reached out to a Catholic parish in Arkansas, where he was finishing his senior year remotely. After moving to San Diego to begin his studies at University of California, San Diego, where he is majoring in mechanical engineering, he got plugged into the Newman Center there.

He has been attending weekly Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) classes ever since, primarily through Zoom because of the pandemic. He feels that he has “never been so near to God” as he is now thanks to the RCIA process. And, as an extrovert who has felt his world shrink as a result of the pandemic, the weekly meetings have afforded him a sense of community with new friends and a forum where he can share his thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment.

Kevyn Delgado, 18, is a catechumen at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Chula Vista.

A Chula Vista native, Delgado was raised in a family that identified as Christian but looked askance at the Catholic Church.

Though it was never explained to him exactly why Catholics were to be avoided, he said, “I was afraid to get close to Catholic churches … I felt like they were just forbidden to me.”

At age 15, he accepted his Catholic girlfriend’s invitation to accompany her on her youth group’s trip to Six Flags Magic Mountain.

Delgado, who has never been baptized, said he is curious by nature and was intrigued by the idea of seeing what Catholicism was actually like.

After a fun day of amusement park rides came a Mass followed by Eucharistic adoration.

At the time, Delgado hadn’t a clue what the white object exposed in the golden monstrance was. But, as the others knelt in prayerful silence and worship music played, he felt something that he had never experienced at any of the Christian services he had attended. Tears even welled in his eyes.

When it was all over, he approached his girlfriend and the youth group leaders for answers.

“I don’t know what it was, but I felt different. What was it?” he remembers asking them.

Delgado said he knows that people can trick themselves into feeling certain things, if they have been told in advance what will happen. But the fact that he felt what he did, with no advance preparation, has convinced him that his spiritual experience was genuine.

In the months that followed, Delgado kept asking questions and attended Mass from time to time with his girlfriend and her parents.

Within a year of the “eye-opener” at the amusement park, he said, he felt committed to becoming Catholic. However, as a 17-year-old, he would need a parent’s signature to sign up for RCIA. Because that “wasn’t going to happen,” he said, he waited until his 18th birthday in July and began attending classes in August.

He isn’t even Catholic yet, but Delgado said, “I feel part of a community that understands me and that will be there if I need any help.”

Information about the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) process is found on the page sdcatholicdisciples.net.

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