Monday, March 6, 2023
Marlene Quaroni - Florida Catholic
Photography: MARLENE QUARONI | FC
MIAMI | Leyannis Rodriguez, 32 and pregnant with her first child, started a long journey last July that would lead her to the Catholic Church.
"Our Lady had a plan for her," said Zully Mar Vidal, coordinator of St. Mark Church's RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program, where Rodriguez has been learning about the Catholic faith.
Rodriguez was one of 453 catechumens from 61 parishes who signed Books of the Elect during two Rite of Election ceremonies at St. Mary Cathedral. The Rite of Election takes place on the first Sunday of Lent, this year Feb. 26, 2023. Rodriguez and the other catechumens will receive the sacraments of baptism, Communion and confirmation at their churches during the Easter Vigil, April 8.
Those who have been baptized in any Christian faith are called candidates and they will receive Communion and/or confirmation.
Rodriguez arrived in the United States August 20, 2022 after an arduous journey from Camaguey, Cuba. She initially stayed with a relative in Miami, however that was not working well for her. In desperation, she contacted Hermanos de la Calle (Street Brothers), a non-profit, faith-based organization that helps the homeless. They referred her to Mater Filius (Mother and Child) a Catholic non-profit in Broward that helps pregnant women in need. Mater Filius provides housing, clothing, food and coordinates medical appointments.
"I left my hometown because I wanted a better life for my baby," said Rodriguez, who carried her two-month-old son, Aaron, to the Rite of Election ceremony. "The situation in Cuba is very bad. There's not enough food and other necessities."
Rodriguez's stay at Mater Filius, and visits to St. Mark Parish in Southwest Ranches, opened her eyes to the Catholic faith. She said she always believed in God, but religion was frowned on in Cuba.
"Leyannis is thirsty to learn about the Catholic faith," said Sandra Raffe, Spanish RCIA catechist at St. Mark. "She fell in love with the faith. In addition to receiving three sacraments April 8, her son, Aaron, will be baptized. Through his mother’s example, Aaron will eventually be receiving the other sacraments
Anthony Michael Quinones, 13, was another of the catechumens at the Rite of Election. He lives with his grandparents, Eileen and Sam Quinones, in Cooper City. His grandmother helps with the religious education program at St. Maximilian Kolbe Church in Pembroke Pines. His grandparents’ good friends, Rita and Abner Garcia, agreed to be the teenager's sponsors.
"Back in 1978, we were friends with Eileen and Sam," said Rita Garcia. "We all attended Our Lady of Fatima Church in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. However, Sam hadn't received the sacraments. When Sam chose to be initiated into the church, my husband and I were his sponsors. We live in Melbourne, Florida, now and drove down for the ceremony."
Catechumen Lazaro Vilanova was a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now a parishioner at St. Boniface in Pembroke Pines, he came to the ceremony with his sponsor, Herbert Nin. Vilanova said he would go to Mass and other Catholic events with his wife. This led him to question whether he really knew Jesus Christ and whether his faith was the true faith.
“I noticed how she suffered since she couldn’t receive the Eucharist because of our civil union,” he said. “Seeing her faith motivated me to take the step. However, I understand that God is the one who called me. My wife was ‘the angel’ that God used to call me.”
Archbishop Thomas Wenski told the catechumens that Lent is a time of final preparation for their initiation into the Catholic Church.
“As the day of baptism draws near, a day on which your conversion, turning to God and away from sin is solemnized, remain steadfast in prayer and know that your Catholic brothers and sisters are praying for you, and awaiting your entry into the Church with great joy. Remember the words spoken in the Scriptures and repeated so often by Pope John Paul II: Be not afraid. Don’t be afraid to walk through life as a friend of God.”