Heidi Sierras has been selected to represent North America and be baptized, confirmed, and receive first Communion from Pope Benedict XVI at the Easter Vigil in Rome.
Sierras didn’t grow up with any particular faith background. Marriage first introduced her to the Catholic Church. Now, after 2 1/2 years of Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults preparation, the Ceres, Calif., mother of four will enter the Church during the Easter Vigil at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. She recently spoke with Register senior writer Tim Drake about her anticipation for the trip and what led her to the Church.
When did you first learn that you would be going to Rome to be baptized, confirmed, and receive first Communion from Pope Benedict XVI?
I learned that just a few days before Easter last year, before I was to get baptized and confirmed and receive first Communion at the Easter Vigil. The woman who heads up the RCIA program called me and said they had an opportunity to send someone to Rome. They asked if I would take the opportunity. I said, “How could I say No?” So I said Yes.
Was it tough to wait to enter the Church?
I started the RCIA program in August 2006. It’s normally a one-year program. At Easter 2007, I hadn’t been in the program long enough to come into the Church. I was supposed to be baptized in 2008, but one of the requirements to be baptized by Pope Benedict XVI is that you have to be in the RCIA program for a full two years. I’ve been in now for 2 1/2 years.
How did you get this opportunity?
My sponsor has been to Rome several times. She has gotten to know some of the nuns at the Vatican. She knows a nun who knows a nun who heads that department and asked how one gets someone from one’s parish to represent their country at St. Peter’s for the Easter Vigil reception into the Church. The nun got back to her and told her how to do it. Apparently, you petition for it. Any parish in the country can apply, and if that parish is accepted, then the parish can send someone.
Did you grow up with any particular faith background?
My parents were not religious. They were divorced when I was about 6 or 7 years old. I have two other sisters. We grew up with our mother and saw our dad as often as we could. My mother sometimes took us to different churches when she was invited by friends to attend. That’s how I was introduced to God and religion, but I didn’t have anything real stable growing up.
How did you come to a position of faith?
As I got older, it made sense to me that there was a God. I always liked science. For me, when you look at the human body and how amazing it is, it made sense that we were created by God rather than the idea that we just came about. I went with friends, but never found a religion or a church that I was comfortable with.
When did you first consider the Catholic Church?
When I first got married to my husband, Daniel, in 1997. He had been Catholic all his life. I would attend Mass with him. In the beginning of our marriage, we went to church a lot, and I would ask him questions about why Catholics did the things that they did. He was able to answer most of the questions I had, but eventually, he said, “Why don’t you go to RCIA and look into it? They would be able to answer your questions much better than I could.”
Had you ever been to a Catholic church prior to going with your husband?
I had been to one with my mom when I was younger, but she got upset by something the nun was teaching during a Sunday school class. She was turned away from the Catholic Church because of that.
Were there any doctrinal hurdles that you had to overcome?
Because I didn’t have a particular religious background, the doctrinal things weren’t difficult for me to overcome. One thing I had a hard time with was the Church’s teaching on birth control. I thought it was okay to use birth control. I had never heard of natural family planning. I don’t think my husband knew much about it either.
We looked into NFP and took a class. It’s amazing. It brings you together as a couple.
The idea of Jesus being present in the Eucharist was hard for me to understand at first. I thought that if he was really present in the Eucharist that you should be able to feel his presence. I didn’t at the time.
It was my sister, who isn’t religious, who helped me realize that Jesus is really present. She had attended the Catholic Church for one of our children’s sacraments — either baptism or first Communion — and she described this sense of presence whenever she walks into a Catholic church. She said that when you walk into the church, there’s a feeling as if someone has died. Even my sister could sense that.
John Chapter 6 also helped me. There, Jesus says, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life within,” and many of his disciples left him because of that.
Finally, I used to be pro-abortion because I had a sister who had a couple of abortions. I felt that was her choice. The more I looked into it, the more I could see how the abortions affected her. Now, I’m absolutely pro-life. There is no circumstance where you should take the life of a child. It’s not just the life of a child, but the effects it has on the mother, too.
Did you have any issues with the Church’s teaching on Mary?
I didn’t have a problem with Mary. It made sense to honor our mother. We didn’t start that; Jesus did.
Describe how you feel knowing you’ll be receiving three sacraments from the Pope.
It’s hard to describe how I feel. I feel very honored and amazed. It’s hard to put into words how incredible this will be.
My husband and two older children (my son, who is 11, and daughter, who is 9) will be traveling to Rome as well, and will receive Communion from the Pope. My daughter was to receive her first Communion in May. They allowed her to receive first Communion beforehand so that she could receive from Pope Benedict, as well.
In addition, there will be 30 other people from our parish, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Modesto, Calif., going to Rome, and the priest, as well. Because our priest will be gone for the Easter Vigil, our bishop is coming to our parish to baptize those who are coming into the Church. There will be 35 people coming into the Church. So, in some ways, everyone is going to benefit from us traveling to Rome.
How long will you be in Rome?
From April 2 and returning on the 13th. Benefactors from the parish are helping fund my family’s trip to Rome. We’ll be staying at a convent there.
What will your confirmation name be?
My birthday is Oct. 4. I didn’t know anything about the saints, but now I understand that my patron is St. Francis of Assisi. When I learned more about him and his way with animals, it seemed appropriate. I’ve always loved animals and now work with them as a registered veterinary technician. So, my confirmation name will be Francis.
Tim Drake is based
in St. Joseph, Minnesota.