SEND A WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT TO KEANA!
KEANA SANTOS: RCIA Candidate
Hello, Catholic Community of Pleasanton! My name is Keana Santos. I am a California born and raised, Bay Area native. I currently live in Oakland, but will be moving to Milpitas soon. You may be thinking, why would someone who lives so far decide to join the RCIA program here? Other than me currently being a nanny for a family who lives in Pleasanton, it took me a LONG time to find my way to God, and a community to call home.
I was baptized Catholic as a baby, but I would say my family is what some may call CEO (Christmas and Easter only church-goers), and some don’t even go those days either. My Lola (grandma) was the most impactful person that sparked the light of Catholicism in me - teaching me the prayers, rosary, and many of the hymns, and the only one who would take me to church. But despite my Lola’s teachings, and attending a Christian middle school and Catholic high school, I never really had a desire to seek God. I thought mass was boring and had a hard time trying to stay awake. I never understood and always questioned the “rituals” (sacraments) that Catholics believed. I didn’t see faith as anything more than an extra class I had to study for. After high school, my Lola passed, and God and my faith was put on pause. There was no one in my life who talked about faith or God anymore. It was out of sight, out of mind, and my faith took a pause.
It wasn’t until the start of the pandemic that I reconnected with God. Being alone and isolated was hard on a lot of us, including myself, but I started to feel a calling and need for community and self-development. As I continued to work and myself and look inward, I somehow found myself talking to God more, randomly. I later found a “Jesus Calling” book peeking through my bookshelf, and opened to the devotion of that day. The words spoke to me as if it was God himself, and I devoured every word. The next day I read that day’s devotion, and it continued every day. My boyfriend and I just started dating at that time in a long-distance relationship (through multiple facetime and phone calls), and without me knowing he was Catholic, I asked if at our night calls, we could read the devotions and pray together. My faith and relationship with God (and my partner) grew from there. Later, when churches opened again, we started attending mass at his church together, and once I joined RCIA, he attended mass with me here. I found CCOP and the RCIA program from a Yelp search and after my first dismissal mass, with a homily from Father Mark, I immediately wanted to cry. To this day I can’t tell you why my eyes started to fill with tears, but as I sat there listening to the homily, I felt a sense of peace, love, and joy that let me know I’m where I’m meant to be.
I thought I knew about Catholicism and God; I learned everything I needed to from classes and what my Lola taught me. But every passing Sunday, after every homily and RCIA meeting, I grow more and more in my faith and find new reasons to thank God for leading me here. I’ve realized faith isn’t just something you learn, it’s a continuous intention of work and growth from within. I’m learning that it’s not always a straight line, and that’s okay, sometimes even expected, but your faith will always lead you back to where you belong. Most importantly, I’m learning that this journey isn’t just about me and God, but includes my relationship with everyone. The RCIA team has been so warm, informative, and has done an amazing job creating a safe space for everyone to share their faith journey. And I couldn’t have asked for a better sponsor than Caitlin, who has shown so much compassion and kindness. I’m in such awe of God’s grace, the importance of the sacraments, and the growth I’ve seen in myself, and how I treat and communicate with others. This journey is truly a lifelong process, and I hope that I can continue to grow and learn from it, while also being a light for others - whether becoming a sponsor for someone else, or using my gifts through volunteering, or even just doing something small every day and be a God moment for someone else.
SEND A WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT TO JOE!
JOE DAI: RCIA Elect
I was first exposed to Christianity when I moved to America in 1st grade. My mother taught Chinese at a Catholic school in Buffalo, and she would bring me to the local bible study from time to time. I liked going there because they had good food and games to play. The first Bible I read was a comic version of the New Testament. I was drawn into Jesus’ story by all the cool adventures he went on and the miracles he performed. To me, he was something like a superhero, except people believed that he was real.
Two years later, I returned to China. I became skeptical of religion because in Chinese tradition, we were taught to believe what you see and not what you hear. But I’d pray from time to time, and sometimes my prayers were answered. Over time, I began to drift away from the idea of God and Jesus. I was too busy with schoolwork to explore deeper into my faith. But looking back, God was always with me. After missing out on almost two years of progress due to living in the US, I caught up with the rigorous Chinese education system and even rose to the top of my class.
In 6th grade, I moved to Munich, Germany. I attended an intensive course to learn basic German so I could transfer to a normal school. There, I experienced blatant racism for the first time from fellow immigrant classmates. They constantly mocked me for my looks and harassed me for no reason other than the fact I was Chinese. I would sometimes go home with an empty stomach because a racist kid stole my lunch money. I was relieved when I finally finished the course, but my German was still broken. After transferring to a new school, I didn’t talk to anyone and stayed quiet for the first couple of months for fear that people would judge me or be racist towards me. I blamed God for putting me through hell and labeled myself as an atheist.
As my German got better over time, I began to make new friends who judged me not on my background but on the content of my character. I felt happy with them, and the trauma from my past began to fade away. Yet right when I thought life had finally returned to normal, my father told me we were going to America. I was excited to return to the country that marked the beginning of my Journey to the West, but also sad that I had lost all my friends again.
I entered the US in a depressed state. I couldn’t appreciate Pleasanton because of how much I missed Munich. To make matters worse, just a few months after freshman year started, the school was closed because of COVID. I felt lost, for I had no friends and no purpose. During the summer of 2020, a series of riots and lootings took place nationwide, and the line between evil and good began to blur. Eventually, the chaos reached nearby areas like Oakland and San Francisco. When the world stopped making sense, I decided to give God a second chance.
I visited a Chinese Christian church with my mother, and was greatly inspired by their teachings. They taught me that love was the solution to all the violence and suffering going on. I began to understand that being Christian was more than receiving
communion and going to church, but improving the world around us. That’s when it hit me: God put me through all the suffering for a reason - so that I could put an end to it. The pain was not a curse, but a blessing, for it allowed me to see the injustices, to which many choose to turn a blind eye. God tested me like he did with Jesus, and instead of surrendering to the devil, we both made it out of the desert.
I felt a desire to dedicate myself to Jesus, my Lord and Savior. I began doing research on the branches of Christianity, and then remembered that a girl whom I liked in Germany had suggested that I follow Catholicism. I reached out to CCOP to learn more about the Catholic faith, and found that its tolerance for all people reflects what I believe in.
Through self-reflection in RCIA discussions and confirmation classes, I began to recognize all the things God gave me that I took for granted. My loving parents, who were always by my side as we traveled from country to country; especially my mother, who supported me selflessly throughout my faith journey. My intelligence, which allows me to not struggle academically no matter which country I live in. My sense of morality, which helps me to stay away from the wrong people and make the right choice in the face of temptation.
Today, I apply God’s gifts to me in my school and personal life. I’ve started a campaign to extend lunchtime and benefit all students, and planned interactive events for immigrant students like me to feel welcome on campus. There was a quote from the confirmation retreat that spoke out to me: there are two most important days in your life: the day you’re born, and the day you find out why. Now I know why I was brought to this Earth: to help others, as God has helped me.
SEND A WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT TO MIAO!
ZHENGZHI MIAO: RCIA Elect
Hi CCOP, my name is Zhengzhi Miao, but most call me Miao as it is easier to pronounce and also a way to honor my ancestors. I come from China where ancestor worship is prevalent among Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. My first knowledge of Christianity was from my grandmother who used to take me to a house church when I was a preschooler. Christianity was back on my mind when I graduated from high school and thought of reading the Bible to find the wisdom in it and how the faith has brought so many people together. It seems no coincidence that thirty years later my high-school-age son sought to be baptized as Christian.
Over the years my interest in religion had been jumping between Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Islam, and Ancestor Worship. But Christianity seems to have stayed with me longer, although my feelings for it ebb and flow. I was more interested in Christianity in college and even wrote my senior thesis on its origins and early spread in Roman Empire. My next exploration into Christianity started when I left Beijing in 2011 to teach Chinese as a guest teacher in two Catholic schools in Buffalo, New York. Following “When in Rome, do as Romans do”, I visited a nearby Catholic church blindly a couple of times and even lined up for the Eucharist without knowing the prerequisites. I also followed example to make offerings just to show appreciation for the church services, but going to church was like going to the theater at that time as I felt disconnected. Later on I got to know a Bible study group and a Chinese Christian worship group where I found a sense of belonging but I had never made up my mind to get baptized. This exposure to Christianity stopped when I moved back to China in 2013.
In early spring of 2017 my family moved to Munich Germany, a place that resembles Buffalo in many aspects, especially with all the Catholic churches. Many of the public holidays are arranged according to Catholic traditions. I also remember burning candles in the church for my maternal grandfather who passed away shortly after we arrived in Germany and my paternal grandfather who passed away in 2018 when we could not attend their funerals. Church is the place for souls of sorrow and for peace of mind. On the many trips we made in Europe, Catholic churches were must-visit places.
In the fall of 2019, we moved from Munich to Pleasanton. My son, a then 9th grader, deeply felt the need for a faith to guide his life and better connect with his friends. This feeling became stronger when the lockdown started in the spring of 2020 and his trip back to Munich in the summer vacation became impossible because of the pandemic. A friend then introduced us to a Chinese Christian church in Pleasanton where in-person worship resumed. My son was eager to be recognized as Christian.
My son thought of attending a Catholic church as he was amazed by the rich tradition and culture that make up Catholicism. He found CCOP after some researches and sent an email inquiry. He soon received a warm reply from Father Mark who happened to be from Buffalo, the place that left my family with so many fond memories. Father Mark referred my son to Matt Gray, and here we are! Matt introduced my son to Lien-Thi’s Confirmation class, and I was welcomed into the RCIA program. I enjoy learning about Catholic faith with knowledgeable, warm-hearted and open-minded RCIA team members through Sunday dismissals, Monday evening meetings, and well-planned Saturday retreats. RCIA has become a close family where to share thoughts, prayers and God moments. I cannot thank my RCIA family enough for all the quality time together. I also deeply appreciate the opportunity of attending the in-person masses first at the chapel of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church and then at St. Augustine Church, where heavenly peace and harmony is found. Although it is my son’s choice to join CCOP, it is our choice to stay, and now I am trying to bring his father, my husband, to CCOP.
Through well over one year’s participation in various church activities, and getting to know more ministries of the church, I felt deeply grateful for CCOP where there are many people who come out to help raise the children spiritually. As a saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I have good reason to believe that CCOP is the right village for the wellbeing of my son. I can feel all the blessings and honor that CCOP brings. Wearing a simple mask with the logo of CCOP, my son and I have been greeted warmly by other CCOP members we later got to know. Robert Strawn recognized the CCOP mask my son wore and invited him and his classmates to attend an annual event hold by Angel Flight West at Byron Airport, an eye-opening experience for both the kids and us parents who drove them to the airport. Some recognized that mask and started to talk to me when I worked for a student lunch program. When volunteering at CCOP’s Kids Against Hunger event, my son and I happened to be on the same team with Anne Marie Gallagher who made the food packing activity enjoyable and lively. We became immediate friends. She also volunteers to be our sponsor on our faith journey, together with Sue Yu. In return, I would love to give back to CCOP through volunteering as lector, usher, or greeter, or working for other educational programs such as Vocational Bible School. I will also be glad to stay on the RCIA team to better understand and share Catholic faith.
The Catholic Community of Pleasanton
St. Augustine Church
3999 Bernal Avenue
Pleasanton, CA 94566
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church
4001 Stoneridge Drive
Pleasanton, CA 94588
Faith Formation Office
3999 Bernal Avenue
Pleasanton, CA 94566
"To know Christ better,
live as He calls us to live,
and make Him better known."
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