Families Return to Church at Glenmary Mission

Posted: 5/11/2016

Yahel and Cristino and their children

At this year’s Easter Vigil Mass at Glenmary’s mission in Rutledge, Tenn., the heart of the story was that four families were in the process of returning to the Catholic Church after not practicing the faith for 10-16 years or more. And a total of 10 baptisms took place. “It’s exciting to reclaim families for Christ,” said their pastor, Father Steve Pawelk. “They are great blessings for the Church.”  

Yahel Salazar, Cristino Ramirez and their three children (daughters Thalia, 10, and Cecilia, 8, and son Ezequiel, 4) are the members of one of those families. Their faith-journey story has occurred in chapters, beginning quite a while before Easter 2016. And the most recent chapters were possible because of their belief and commitment, God’s guidance, and the love and support of Father Steve.   

“I’ve always been a person of faith. But faith is like a little candle,” said Yahel. “You have to make sure it does not die out. My flame was dying, but a retreat I attended in 2014 lit it up more. And my family’s faith has kept getting stronger since we started going to Mass at our Catholic mission.”

Yahel was baptized Catholic as an infant in Mexico but never received other sacraments. She, her parents and her sister attended Catholic church only on major feasts. When 10-year-old Yahel, her mother and her sister came to the United States in 2001, Yahel’s mother decided that the three of them would join and attend another Christian church instead. 

“Later, I went through a period from 2009 to 2014 when I didn’t attend any church,” Yahel said. In 2012 she met Cristino, an inactive Catholic who had come to the U.S. from Mexico in 1999 when he was 15. They dated and eventually began living together with their children as a blended family. Cristino regularly brought up the idea of their going to Mass together, but Yahel wasn’t interested and he never went by himself. He also wanted to marry her, but Yahel thought they were fine the way they were.

Then in 2014, Yahel participated in a retreat at a Catholic parish 100 miles away—an experience that altered the whole direction of their lives. “When I came back, I told Cristino that I realized I had been wrong about many things—and that I believed God wanted us to be more involved in the Church, to get married in the Church, and to make sure our kids became Catholic. My mind and heart were set on these things. Cristino agreed with everything I said and was happy about it.”

Soon, the family started attending Mass twice weekly (one Spanish, one bilingual) at the Rutledge storefront mission near their home—a mission established by Father Steve and other Glenmarians just a few years before.

“As Cristino and I watched other people receive Communion,” she said, “we wanted to receive the bread that represents so much more. But we knew we couldn’t receive it because we had to get things right first.” 

They also introduced themselves and their children to Father Steve. “He was so nice and attentive and wanted to get to know us,” Yahel remarked. “As a priest, he’s wonderful. He’s so patient with all of us and wants to help everybody. When we told him that we wanted to get married and prepare our children to enter the Church, he was really happy for us. He helped us understand what we would need to do.” 

The couple started marriage preparation classes with Father Steve, and Yahel began her RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) classes and her preparation sessions for receiving reconciliation and first Communion. (Cristino had already received both.) Cristino, Yahel and the godparents started preparation classes for the children’s baptisms. And both Thalia and Cecilia began attending religious education and sacramental preparation classes so they could receive baptism, first Communion and confirmation. 

“We have a really good connection with Father Steve,” Yahel added. “It’s really great that God put him in our lives when we were going through this whole change. He has helped motivate us even more.” 

In November 2015, Father Steve presided at Yahel and Cristino’s marriage, and Yahel received her first Communion during that Mass. Someone had suggested they get married in a larger church in another county, but Yahel replied, “Why would we go somewhere else when we have our own church? We are thankful it’s here.” 

Then in March 2016, Thalia and Cecilia received the three sacraments of initiation at Easter Vigil Mass. And the following Saturday, Ezequiel was baptized. Yahel and Cristino are looking forward to their confirmations in May. 

In reflecting on everything that has happened, Yahel said that “watching the excitement in our children’s faces during the ceremonies was just a great experience. So many good things have taken place in our lives during the last year. And we’ve realized that no matter how hard our challenges seem to be, when we turn to God we know he’ll help us. 

“It has been a great blessing that God guided us to the right path. Even though we make some mistakes, we have faith that there is something better ahead.”

This article first appeared in the May 2016 Boost-A-Month Club newsletter.