|March 26, 2012 • VOL. 50, NO. 6 • Oakland, CA|
New Catholic's journey from China to Walnut Creek, via Mexico City
The Rite of Election drew 1,450 to the Cathedral of Christ the Light, for the announcement of their names, their enrollment in the book and the blessing from the bishop. This is the story of one journey of a soon-to-be Catholic.
In the first year, Sister Dominic Bonnici, OP, who directs the adult faith formation program at St. Mary Parish in Walnut Creek, asked Jara, "What is God like to you?"
"God is like Santa Claus in American culture," Jara recalled replying. "I make a wish. I tell him what I want. Praying is making a wish."
In the second year, she said, "I feel God is looking at me all the time and He knows what I'm doing and I'd better behave myself."
Now, in her third year, as she approaches baptism, confirmation and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil at St. Mary Church in Walnut Creek, Jara sees God in a different light.
"God is a father to me. And he is shaping me, not to what I want. It's what he wants."
Her journey is particularly extraordinary, Sister Dominic said, because Jara, who grew up in China, first learned about God three years ago.
"It is such a grace for me to hear the growth of people's faith," said Sister Dominic. The parish will welcome also people from India, Cuba, the Philippines and America into the church at the Easter Vigil.
Jara is a student at City College of San Francisco who works part time at the Women's Resource Center. Her goal is to transfer to California State University East Bay and study hospitality management.
Her introduction to the Catholic faith came through her husband, Donato. The Jaras met online. Wendy and a friend enjoyed watching Korean drama, and went online to chat with others with similar interests. She was interested in chatting with a Korean on the subject.
Donato Jara happened to be studying international business in Korea. He was looking for Korean friends online. "I didn't know he was American," Wendy Jara said.
During a break from school, he came to China to visit her and her family.
"We fell in love before we met," Wendy Jara said. Three months after their meeting, they were married in China.
"I never thought of meeting a person online and falling in love," she said. Her parents needed to know that their daughter would be safe with a foreigner. He won their hearts and approval.
"He impressed my parents," Jara said. "He's honest, humble, smart. Tall and strong." He wrote a letter in Chinese to her mother. "That really touched my parents," she said. "They're very, very understanding. They could have said no. In the beginning, I said no. I couldn't leave my parents."
The Jaras were married civilly in 2007. A year later, on March 28, 2008, they married in the cathedral of her home city of Guangzhou, which she never left, even for college.
Twenty members of his family and friends came to China for the wedding; 60 came from her side of the family. She knew no Catholics, except one, a bridesmaid, who had just been baptized.
"It was a beautiful cathedral," she said, "but back then, I didn't know anything."
Her introduction to the faith took shape during a trip to Mexico, to meet her husband's grandmother.
In the cathedral in Mexico City, "That was the first time I got something," she said. "Like a little click. The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. My husband told me stories, it was close to Christmas. I felt like it was so powerful. Before that, I doubted. The packed church, with all the people so faithful that really clicked for me."
Her first year in the United States, she said, she followed anywhere where anyone was going. If her mother-in-law was going to the grocery store, for example, Jara went along. "I didn't know where we were going."
One place the Jara Family could be counted on going was to Mass on Sunday.
"I started going to church," Jara said. "Of course, I didn't know what was going on," she said. "At first, interesting," she said, then she started asking, "What am I doing here?"
Her husband introduced her to Sister Dominic, and Jara's inquiry phase in the RCIA program began. "I started my journey," Jara said.
Sister Dominic remembered those first forays in September 2009, when Jara came to classes armed with an electronic Chinese-English translator and a Chinese-English Bible. She was still learning English. "She was so receptive to learning about God," Sister Dominic said. "She said, 'I know there's a God, I can feel him. He protects me.'"
"Three years ago, I felt very helpless and frustrated," Jara said. Now, she said, "I feel so blessed."
It was a big day when Jara said, "Oh, Sister, I'm OK with English." Sister Dominic recalled. "At the beginning, I felt I had something to do," Jara said. "I can learn the story of Jesus."
She found her RCIA instructors, including Sister Dominic and Joan Marsh, to be more than helpful to her. "They're like angels to me," Jara said. "I feel it's something I can care about."
But in the first year, Jara said, "I felt weak in my faith." There were many obstacles lack of a job, trying to get started in school, and homesickness; she was, after all, about 7,000 miles from her parents, and she was their only child.
"Whenever I met something difficult," she said she would ask, "why do I still meet so many challenges in my life? I still felt helpless."
In the second year, Jara decided to end the faith journey. "The only thing I ask you," her husband told her, "is please don't give up."
At the Rite of Welcome, "I felt strong," Jara said. "That's when you see how he loves you. I really feel that I'm going to be faithful."
Later on, she felt her faith growing stronger. "It was so wonderful to be in RCIA. I still have a stressful life, but I can see it in another way. God shapes you like clay. He shapes you to be the person he wants you to be. I feel that's me. All the obstacles that's what God used to shape me. It means he cares about me." The Rite of Election, at the Cathedral of Christ the Light, was a special time for Jara. "I think I will never forget that moment," she said.
The rite came on a busy weekend for the college student, who carries 17 units at City College of San Francisco, and she and her husband are buying their first home. But the night before, she said, she fell asleep, both at peace, and excited.
"The feeling is like you have been in love with someone for three years and now you're going to get married," she said.
Jara is preparing for receiving the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil at St. Mary Church. "I am really, really blessed," she said. "I knew nothing five years ago. I didn't know religion. I'm hoping I never give up. I want to be what God wants me to be."
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