New Converts Drawn to the Faith Through the Real Presence
Easter’s Eucharistic invitation touches hearts.
For college student Jay Mingo, Communion was key to his entering the Church this Easter.
“The Eucharist really has been the driving factor for me in joining the Catholic Church,” he told the Register.
The sophomore at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln will join 37 others at St. Thomas Aquinas Church on campus in becoming Catholic.
Mingo, a native Texan, was baptized as a nondenominational Christian. His father’s side of the family was Catholic; his mother’s was Protestant.
“I remember going to Mass with my grandparents, but not really understanding it,” he recalled to the Register. “I did have a pull towards the Catholic Church, though, from a young age.”
During the 2020 pandemic lockdown, he spent time doing some intensive reading about the Catholic Church. He read materials from Ascension Press and Father Mike Schmitz and Catholic Answers; he explored such questions as praying to the saints and devotion to Mary and confession.
But his key topic was the Eucharist: “I knew the Eucharist was something important, but not something I ever really understood. Was it really the Body and Blood of Christ?”
He remembered praying at a Holy Hour in a small chapel and feeling a sense of “excitement and nervousness,” as he had never before been so close to the Host.
He said he was “moved to tears” and thought, “I really get to see Christ, offering to meet us where we are at, and experience his fullness. It is a beautiful thing and one that most distinguishes Catholicism from the Protestant churches I attended.” In the days before Easter, he anticipated receiving his first Holy Communion and confirmation. “I’m excited and counting down the days.”
A 28-year-old police officer who grew up without religion who is engaged to a Catholic fiancée is becoming Catholic this Easter too.
In marriage-preparation classes, Julian Fidel Martinez of Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Bethesda, Maryland, in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., found himself “quickly drawn” to Catholicism and began studying and attending Mass before deciding to enter the Church.
“The Lord was playing the ‘long game’ with me and waited to introduce me to my future wife to open my heart and mind up to my faith,” he told the Register.
Ahead of the Easter vigil he was excited about receiving his first sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. “I look forward to growing closer to our Father and … receiving the Eucharist.”
These converts are not alone in their newfound faith.
This Easter, many American dioceses are preparing to welcome large numbers of converts to the Catholic faith.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta, for example, which serves 1.2 million Catholics, reported that 1,831 catechumens and candidates will receive sacraments for the first time during the archdiocese’s Easter liturgies. The Archdiocese of Washington, which serves 655,000 Catholics, reported it will welcome 1,000; and the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which serves 518,000, will welcome 501.
In the Archdiocese of New Orleans, children are among the new converts. Ten students at St. Joan of Arc School in LaPlace, Louisiana, are included in the approximately 300 people entering the Church in the archdiocese.
Guadalupe Moreno is among the Atlanta contingent. She is a parishioner at St. Philip Benizi Church in Jonesboro, Georgia, in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. When she was a girl, she was brought to Mass by her mother, but she was never baptized.
In time, both she and her mother stopped attending church.
As Moreno grew into adulthood, she recalled to the Register, she began “craving God” and decided to return to church and receive baptism and the other sacraments this Easter.
Not only is she returning to the Church, she is bringing her family members back with her, including her mother.
As her baptism approached, she said, “I’m excited. For so many years I’ve wanted to be baptized, and now it is going to happen.”
Each convert has a distinctive story about what drew him or her to the Church. Several spoke to the Register ahead of Holy Week.
On his journey to the Catholic Church, Mingo discovered the Rosary.
“I found that it was not a weird practice,” he said, “but one that has been really beneficial in my life.”
He met Max Chapman, a Fellowship of Catholic University Students missionary, at Mass on the Nebraska campus.
Chapman, Mingo’s sponsor, told the Register, “Jay’s a remarkable man, mature beyond his years. He takes seriously the pursuit of truth.”
Lori Balderas of Ventura, California, also has pursued truth. She was received into the Catholic Church nearly a decade ago, when she was age 49. Motivated by the enthusiasm of a new convert, she recently launched a new podcast, Fresh Catholic (FreshCatholic.com), in which she shares the story of her conversion and engages in Catholic evangelization.
Having grown up with no religion, she was first attracted to Christianity decades ago, when she met, ironically, a carpenter. “I had a bad image in my mind as to what Christians were, but he was a beautiful, calm, loving, kind man,” she recalled. “He radiated goodness, and I was drawn to him. I wanted a piece of that guy’s action.”
She became a Christian herself and was able to use her faith to help her work through a major challenge that would soon befall her: While seven months pregnant, she was in a serious car accident that broke her neck and caused the premature birth of her baby. She remains partially disabled and in chronic pain today.
The incident might have left some people bitter toward God, that he would have allowed such a tragedy, but she said, “Being a Christian saved me.”
Her faith, she explained, has helped her to maintain a positive outlook and live a happy, productive life.
Her conversion to Catholicism was sparked by a visit to a Catholic church in Canada. “I felt God was pulling me in there; it felt so rich and warm,” she recalled. “Christ is really there in the tabernacle.”
She began attending a Catholic church in Ventura and began catechesis to learn more about the Catholic faith. Today, she is a practicing Catholic still passionate about her faith and works at her parish, Our Lady of the Assumption, as its wedding coordinator. She is eager to share the story of her conversion and declared, “My life is so much more beautiful and rich because I am Catholic.”
‘Hearts Speaks to Heart’
Barbara Heil lives with her husband on a family farm near Des Moines, Iowa. She grew up with no religion, converted to evangelical Christianity and became a missionary who visited 65 countries. A decade ago, she converted to Catholicism. Now, she is a Catholic speaker and heads the lay Catholic apostolate From His Heart Ministries (FromHisHeart.com).
Heil first became interested in Christianity in college, attracted by the example of friends.
While attending a Christian gathering, she recalled, “I felt the love of Jesus, and he opened my heart.”
She married an evangelical Christian husband, and they joined a missionary church based in Virginia. Despite having four children, the pair traveled the world, preaching and building churches, schools and clinics. She recalled going to remote regions in such countries as Papua New Guinea, Ethiopia, Nepal and India. She brought Bibles to the underground church in China; the night the Berlin Wall came down her husband was on hand to enter East Germany to preach the word of God.
“We prayed about where to go and placed our lives in God’s hands,” she recalled.
While in Bible school, she was taught to be anti-Catholic and to see Catholics as people who needed to be converted, but many Catholics she met in the field seemed just as committed to Christ as she was.
Additionally, a friend introduced her to the writings of St. Teresa of Ávila.
She was later exposed to the Catholic evangelization organization Coming Home Network and the writings of such Catholic converts from evangelical Christianity as Thomas Howard, the author of Evangelical Is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament.
And, when she attended a Philadelphia Catholic charismatic event and saw a Host in a monstrance, she knew she was home. “I felt Jesus’ presence. With the eyes of my heart I could see Jesus standing in front of me in a Catholic church. My heart was trembling.”
She continued her catechesis and came to believe that the Catholic Church was Christ’s Church. She received Holy Communion for the first time a decade ago, at the time Pope Francis was elected to the papacy.
“I felt Jesus speaking to me in my heart. He said, ‘Take all of me.’ It was so powerful.”
Coming Back Home
At St. Catherine Church in Columbia, Tennessee, pastor Father Dan Reehil is welcoming new Catholics this Easter: six baptized from another denomination and one unbaptized entering the Church. As a “revert” to the Catholic faith, having returned after being away from the Church for two decades, the stories of the new Catholics resonate with him.
Born into an observant Catholic family that lived on Long Island, New York, at age 10, he was sexually abused by a priest and resolved never to go to church again.
Speaking of the abuse, he told the Register, “These are very difficult things to wrap your mind around, as they are coming from someone representing God. It is so damaging. My way of coping was to shut down the Church.”
He opted instead to pursue a life of wealth and eventually took a job as a banker on Wall Street in Manhattan. Although financially successful, he was unhappy. He went to Medjugorje and had a conversion experience and returned to the active practice of his faith: “I went from being an angry and bitter person to one who was completely set free. I was able to live a happy and normal life again.”
Just as a bad priest had led him to leave the Church, he met many good priests who led him back to Mass and into the priesthood. In Manhattan, he joined the Wall Street Young Catholics Association and eventually left banking. Then he spent five years as a contemplative monk.
During a Holy Hour, he spoke to the Lord about his experience of being abused. “I said to Jesus, ‘Some of the worst hurt I’ve received has been at the hands of your priests.’ And he responded, ‘I’m so sorry, but you must know the greatest gifts and blessings you have received have been from the hands of priests as well: baptism, Holy Communion, so many confessions …’”
He continued, “These things are priceless and restore our soul to God.”
He described the experience as a “turning point” in his life, saying, “I forgave that priest, although I don’t know what was wrong in his life that would lead him to do that to me. But I needed to focus on the priests who have done so much good in my life.”
He was invited by Bishop David Choby (1947-2017) to become a priest of the Diocese of Nashville, where he was ordained in 2014. He said he has tried to be a good model of the priesthood, noting that there were six vocations that came in seven years at his previous parish assignment.
“The priest has to demonstrate that he has a normal life, although not that of a family man,” he explained.
“He’s not just in the church praying all day, but can go out for an ice cream or play Frisbee.”
He also stressed that the priest’s life is not just one of being a good shepherd, but also one in which he must be a “lamb of sacrifice” for his congregation.
This could mean rising each day at 5am to pray for his people or doing his best to say “Yes” to requests “and not hiding behind his desk and saying he’s too busy.”
He concluded, “The priesthood is not about us, but the people. We have to be willing to lay down our lives for our parishes.”