Mindy Irwin and Leticia Jijón agree that, today, God is the compass that leads their lives. For many years, that was not the case; it was a chain of circumstances (and people) that led them to such conclusion. On the other hand, Socorro “Suki” Lagman always knew she had God in her life after being raised in the Philippines by a mother who attended daily Mass and prayed the Rosary daily. But she has always been eager to learn more about her relationship with God. “The more you know, the more you hunger for more,” she told The Tidings.Lagman and Irwin were among the group of Master Catechists who received their certificates during a special Sept. 15 ceremony at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Jijón was the recipient of an Advanced Bible Studies certificate.‘God wanted a relationship with me’Born in Sherman, Texas, Mindy Irwin lost her mother at the age of five, and at that age the family stopped attending church. Together with her three siblings, she was baptized in the Episcopalian Church. Her mother was a convert to that denomination; her father Jack Larripa was a non-practicing Catholic.Not knowing who God really was, Mindy vividly recalls the times when growing up she saw this “eye in the sky,” and how she was “always attracted to the Catholic faith.”While in elementary school, she had neighbors who attended Catholic Church. With a smile, she remembers how in second grade she made her “first confession,” or what she thought to be a confession. But actually becoming Catholic was not something Mindy seriously considered until she was a teenager, visiting Mexico as an exchange student. She was astounded by the beautiful, historic church, and impressed by the deep-rooted faith of the people. With a friend she would attend church in the small picturesque town of Taxco, where they were staying for their exchange program.And she was awestruck when she saw women literally crawling towards the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe the day they visited the Basilica in Mexico City.By then, her family had moved to Los Angeles, where she would continue attending Spanish Mass upon her return from Mexico. Yes, she wanted to practice the Spanish learned in Mexico, but the music was also appealing to her. Music was the connection with her late mother, who had been a church choir member.In the summer of her high school senior year she met her future husband Terry Irwin, a Catholic, who attended Mass every Sunday at Our Lady of Lourdes in Northridge. When they decided to marry she agreed on getting married in “his church.” She also agreed to baptize and raise their children in the Catholic faith, but for the most part she remained hesitant to attend church with the family. Then in 1991 the family moved to Kennesaw, Georgia, and there “God literally brought me to my knees,” said Mindy. Loneliness had crept in; she was a stranger in a new city, raising small children, with no friends or family. Her own father and her father-in-law had just passed away and there was a “lot of stuff going on” in the family.It was a Sunday when her oldest son made his First Communion at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Kennesaw. At the end of the Mass the pastor talked about the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults for “those parents he’d noticed who didn’t come up to the front with their children” — like Mindy. “He cared,” she said. “He really cared about us. He planted a small seed.”“Little by little” she felt drawn to Mass, but still with no feeling of belonging, until one day she got on her knees, alone in her bedroom, and asked God to “help her with her sadness.”From that day on, change arrived. “I just knew it here in my heart,” she said. “Some people say it’s God’s grace.”She started attending Mass regularly and getting involved in Church. “Somewhere along the line, I understood that God was a relational guy who wanted a relationship with me.”She opted to attend RCIA, “just to learn more about the Catholic Church, but wasn’t interested in joining.” Things changed, however, as she became involved in the process, and on a Pentecost Sunday she was confirmed. Today her husband credits her for pulling him deeper into the Church and she works part time as St. Kateri Tekakwitha’s (Santa Clarita) director of religious education for children, where she tries to “engage” those parents who have been away from the Church, but are dragging their feet.Following in her mother’s footsteps, she sings in the choir. “Music is a place of prayer for me,” she said, and her husband is similarly drawn — so much so, in fact, that Mindy and Terry have been accepted as candidates for diaconate formation.‘Be courageous in proclaiming the Word’Leticia Jijón is equally amazed by her family’s spiritual path. Hers was a challenging upbringing as the youngest of 11 children growing up in Acapulco; her alcoholic father passed away when she was four and her widowed mother, who never remarried, worked day and night to provide for the large family.Lacking attention and love at home, Leticia sought refuge with other relatives — who eventually abused her before she was a teenager. That led to a disordered life, where “nothing mattered more than partying and having boyfriends.”Although her family did not regularly practice their Catholic faith, Leticia’s mother made sure she was baptized in the Catholic Church and that she made her First Communion. “And that was it,” said Leticia. For years, she never visited a church.She did, however, get pregnant, had an abortion, then got pregnant a second time and decided to have her child. At 17 she became the mother of a healthy daughter whom her mother and older sister helped raise while she worked as a store clerk. Then a longtime friend asked her to marry him and offered to adopt the child and help raise her.After much consideration, Leticia agreed. That also meant a move to Los Angeles, and life in the U.S. was not easy at the beginning, with no extended family of her own. But after several years and the birth of a son, the couple finally settled.Life was flourishing financially and the couple attended Mass with their children every Sunday, although “Church was just the place to hang out with the kids,” Leticia admitted. “We never could remember anything the priest said, we always sat in the back.”The spiritual breakthrough came years after a nearly fatal accident suffered by her husband, who worked in construction, which took several years of recovery. Their relationship faltered.During that time she was invited to a Christmas event at St. Bernard Church in Bellflower. That led to participating in a prayer group — and then the couple attended a marriage retreat.“Suddenly I felt I was hungry and thirsty for God,” Leticia said. “I wanted to learn more about him.”The couple enrolled in the Basic Bible program. After having a third baby, they decided she would move on to the Advanced Bible studies, while he took care of the child. He is preparing to join the program this year.Two weeks ago Leticia started teaching a basic Bible study course at St. Bernard, where her husband is a choir member. The family has moved and serve at another parish, but still want to give back to the church where many welcoming people showed them what God’s love meant. Based on her past, and supported by St. Bernard’s pastor, Father Michael Ume, Leticia founded the pro-life ministry. And every Sunday she staffs an information booth at the parish.“Catechism,” she asserted, “is about being courageous in proclaiming the Word of God, regardless of where you’re at.”‘A lot of WOW moments’“[Catechism] is about enhancing our skills and deepening our faith to be able to be receptive enough to share our faith with others,” said Lagman, an RCIA volunteer coordinator and a 61-year-old mother of two adult sons at St. Martha in Valinda.Teaching catechism has been part of her life since her high school years, when she attended an all-girls Catholic high school in her native Philippines, where the curriculum included having the students teach catechism in public schools. She did the same while attending a Catholic college.When moving to West Covina with her former husband and their son in 1989, she continued volunteering as a lector and then as a catechist at St. Martha. Her involvement increased her desire to enhance her skills and get more information and formation in the faith. After finishing the Bible program, she continued with the Master Catechist program.She recalls her years teaching catechism in the Philippines, and realizes now that she was “too young to absorb” much of what she taught. Today, “I am more “mature and discerning.” Everything she learns about the Catholic faith has “more meaning, such as the Eucharist, the Mass. There have been a lot of WOW moments!”‘Called and grateful’On Sept. 15, on the day they received their certification, several recipients at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels spoke with reverence and joy about their journeys, and their inspirations to become teachers of the faith.“From a young age I always knew I wanted to help people,” said Jennifer Ayon of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Rosehill) in East Los Angeles, a rehabilitative counselor who works with special needs children. “It comes from my family and parents — a family of catechists. So it is something really in my heart and I carry that with me every day knowing that I can give motivation and plant a seed of love in people’s hearts.” The new Master Catechist senses that her grandmother Francisca Garcia is speaking to her in a special way. “I was raised Catholic and I come from a Catholic home,” said Jennifer. “I was always raised to spread the Good News of Jesus. My grandmother built those values in me and she reminded me that I needed to spread the love of Jesus in my heart to others.” Fellow Master Catechist Hanora “Nola” Ching, accompanied by her four children, was excited (as were they) about having completed the formation program. “It is a huge honor and it’s been a lot of hard work to get here,” she said. “I never saw the end of the journey, so today seems like a wonderful privilege. I feel very called and grateful to be here.”A member of St. James the Less and Holy Redeemer parishes in La Crescenta-Montrose, Nola taught at St. Ignatius School in Highland Park for 11 years and also helped out at St. James the Less School before she “retired.” Now she is part of her parish’s adult faith formation group. “Personally,” she said, “this program brought me a lot more depth and knowledge to my faith. It has brought more certainty and a deepening of my knowledge. And so now I go on loving and serving.”Mary Lina Mejia of Santa Rosa Church in San Fernando just completed three years of study in the School of Pastoral Ministry, which she said has given her “a confidence that I can serve God. I don’t have to be a scholar to ignite the love of God in my students. My whole heart’s desire is to evangelize — it is a way of awakening the sleeping Catholic.” While she believes she is “blessed to be in a parish that is primarily Spanish speaking,” she is grateful that she can reach out to the English-speaking Catholic; in fact, she teaches in English at Santa Rosa. “We don’t have a lot in English speakers, and this has given me an opportunity to do that and make a difference.” The Office of Religious Education staff was justifiably proud to confer certification on so many catechists in various ministries. Before the ceremony began, Lourdes Gonzalez-Rubio, a devoted and long-time member of the ORE staff, recalled serving for 14 years as a volunteer, where her tasks included translating newsletters for Msgrs. John Barry and Lloyd Torgerson, both former directors of the ORE.“I did it because there was nothing for Hispanics,” she smiled. “I love to do it. It is my vocation. My call.”She now coordinates advanced catechetical formation in Spanish, and she talked about her great love of working for 28 years in teacher preparation and its importance. “I don’t have the words enough to describe it,” she admitted with a smile. “God has allowed me to work with so many people, and they have been influenced to grow and inspired to become teachers. I have seen hundreds, thousands through the years who are dedicated and take basic formation all over the archdiocese. Many do not realize how far these people come for classes. They say they have to come because they want to help young people and adults. They say, ‘I want to do this.’”{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0927/catechist/{/gallery}