When Cheree Fraser was young, she would sneak out of the house to go to Sunday Mass.
Even though her family was Catholic, Fraser’s mother wanted her and her twin sister to have the freedom to choose their own religion, so Fraser never received any of the sacraments and she wasn’t encouraged to go to Mass. So she decided to go on her own.
“I was never interested in other religions,” said Fraser, 24. “If anything, I felt left out. I knew so much about Catholicism, but I just couldn’t receive Communion.”
Fraser always kept it in the back of her mind that she would be baptized someday, but it wasn’t until last year, after her twin sister was baptized and a friend also expressed interest in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), that Fraser decided the time was right. Being baptized, she said, would allow her to be a full member of the Church.
“I want to get married in the Church one day,” she said. “I want to be someone’s godmother. I want to receive Communion at Mass. I don’t want to feel left out anymore.”
So in August, she started the RCIA program at Holy Family Church in Glendale, and for the past nine months has attended about three hours of classes per week, studying the Bible and Catholic teachings to prepare her to become a full member of the Church.
Fraser is one of the estimated 1,560 catechumens — 786 adults and 774 children — being baptized in their respective parish’s Easter Vigil liturgy in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles this year. Another 913 baptized candidates will complete their initiation by celebrating the sacraments of confirmation and Eucharist sometime during the Easter season.
“I feel like I’ll be extremely proud of myself and closer to God,” she said of her baptism. “I feel like I would just get more blessings, and just have more positive things come into my life because I did this on my own. It wasn’t handed to me. I had to work for it.”
Sister Rosanne Belpedio, director of the Office of Worship for the archdiocese, said the experiences of catechumens vary. While some, like Fraser, grew up in Catholic families, others are marrying Catholic spouses or have been married to Catholics for years and feel like it’s time to join the family at Mass, she said.
Some young catechumens were raised in non-Catholic households but went to Catholic high schools and decided to convert. There are also Catholics who fell away from the Church, got married and had kids, and later found their way back to the faith and want their older children to be baptized.
Another group, Rosanne said, are children whose families came to the U.S. after fleeing violence or natural disasters in Central America. Their parents left quickly and never had the opportunity to baptize their children until years after settling in the U.S.
“There’s all different varieties of experiences happening,” Rosanne said.
For some catechumens, Catholicism is an entirely new experience.
Uzma Paquillo was born into a Pakistani Muslim family, but she said that growing up, Islam never felt quite right to her. She asked her family questions, but never got the answers she needed, so as a teenager, she stopped practicing her family’s religion.
After she married her husband, a Filipino Catholic, she started learning about Catholicism by talking to his family, and something about the faith made her feel at home.
“It just clicked in me,” said Paquillo, a 37-year-old who works in finance. “It’s like finding comfort in that religion. It all made sense. I felt like this is where I belong.”
But after proclaiming her desire to convert, her husband and in-laws made sure that there wasn’t any family pressure influencing her desire to become part of the Church.
“His first question was, ‘Are you doing it for me? Are you doing it for my family?’ ” said Paquillo. “I said, ‘It has nothing to do with you. I’m doing it for myself.’ ”
In September she started RCIA classes at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Pasadena, which she said has been an exciting journey that has changed her.
“I feel closer to God than I have ever been,” she said. “I pray more. I see more signs that God is around. My thinking has broadened. I feel more at peace with myself.”
For Paquillo, baptism will be the start of a new life.
“It’s a new beginning,” she said.
For Steve Lin, baptism is also a new start, not just for himself — but for his entire family.
Lin, 36, who was born in Taiwan and came to the U.S. at the age of 3, said that he wasn’t raised in a religious household. He had only visited Protestant churches growing up, he said, but only to play basketball or attend other social events with his friends.
But two years ago, Lin met his now-wife, a devout Catholic. Soon after they started dating, he said, he learned some prayers and they started attending Mass together.
“On our first date, I was thinking since she’s so religious I should learn a Catholic prayer,” Lin said. “I knew it was such a big part of her life and I know she does it in Korean, so I taught it to her in English. Then about a month in, I said, ‘Hey, how come you’re never free on Sundays?’ She said, ‘I go to Mass.’ And I said, ‘Can I come along?’ ”
Lin, who works as an importer, had never been to Mass before, but soon, going to the St. Gabriel Korean Catholic Center in Rowland Heights, it became a staple of his weekends.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” he said. “It kind of gave me a little bit more time on Sundays to relax, to take a timeout from the rest of reality, from the rest of life. Mass is one hour on Sunday, it gave me time for a little bit more self-reflection. So I decided, this is good for me, it’s nothing bad, so I’m going to keep going, and I got used to going.”
After Lin and his wife got married and she became pregnant, Lin decided to officially become Catholic so they could raise their son in the Church together. Attending the RCIA program at St. Gabriel Church for the past nine months has been a learning experience for both of them.
Lin said he would often come home from class and tell her what he learned, and would find that even as a lifelong Catholic, the information was new to her, too.
Lin’s 3-month-old son was baptized a few weeks before he will be, and he said that he’s looking forward to building — and leading — a family based on faith.
“I want to teach my son how to pray, how to have a relationship with Christ, and how to read the Bible,” he said. “I hope we learn together as a whole family.”
Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil is an award-winning reporter and graduate of Harvard Divinity School whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, NBCNews.com, Religion News Service, and other publications.
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