Family starts anew at Easter Vigil

Four years ago, Cassandra Jimenez accepted the invitation of a friend to attend her local Presbyterian church.

At 26, it was Jimenez’s first encounter with Christianity.

But with the help of her husband, she gravitated to the Catholic faith – and at the Easter Vigil April 15, Cassandra was baptized with her four children, and received the sacraments of confirmation and holy Communion.

As family members gathered in the vestibule of a darkened St. Thomas More Church in Omaha, waiting for Mass to begin, their faces were bathed in the glow of the new fire that would light the Easter candle. The once fidgety children, ages 6 to 9, stood still, seeming to sense the evening’s solemnity.

"It was exciting to be able to do this as a family," Cassandra said after Mass. "The whole ceremony was so beautiful, the candlelight, the songs, I especially loved how the Easter candle was carried down the aisle and kept lit throughout the entire evening."

It was the climax of a journey prompted by the Holy Spirit – when after that first visit to her friend’s church, going to church was all she could think about.

"I kept telling my husband, we need to go to church, but he would go only to a Catholic church," Jimenez said.

Miguel, 31, a cradle-Catholic who immigrated to the United States at age 15, had drifted away from his faith, but was eager to reconnect.

As head of the house, Miguel said he wants his family to draw closer to God.

"I had to go far from my family, from my friends, from my country and my church and I know how it feels to be away from God, it makes me happy to be back in a church community and to have my family there with me," he said.

Born in Ohio, Cassandra said her family moved around a lot and didn’t attend any church. They settled in Council Bluffs, Iowa, when she was 13. Cassandra later moved on her own to south Omaha, where she met and married Miguel.

"Miguel really encouraged me the most, he said, ‘come on let’s do this,’" Cassandra said.

The couple began attending Spanish-language Masses with their four children at several area Catholic churches near their south Omaha home, and ended up at St. Thomas More, where they have remained since last fall.

It wasn’t long before Cassandra approached the pastor, Father Norman Hunke, inquiring about how her family could join the church.

"It’s such a strong, beautiful faith and it gives me strength," she said.

Since she had not attended church, Cassandra was not baptized, nor were their four children – Isabella, 9, Jaqueline, 8, Clayton, 7 and Brandon, 6.

As he watched his wife, then each child receive the sacrament of baptism, Miguel said he felt a mixture of emotions.

"I’m happy, thankful and relieved that this day has finally come. It’s so important for them to have God here," he said pointing to his heart.

In honor of their father’s longstanding devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, shared by many Latino families, the children’s white clothing featured embroidered images of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the front of the girls’ gowns and the back of one of the boys’ suit jacket.

"It’s important for the kids to know this part of their heritage," Cassandra said.

To give the children ample time to learn the faith, the couple, along with Father Hunke, decided to wait to confer the sacraments of reconciliation, first Communion and confirmation.

"I want my kids to grow in the faith in a way that I didn’t have when I was a child," Cassandra said.

Father Hunke agreed.

"We live in a world with so many distractions that draw people away from the faith, and as a journey hopefully these beautiful sacraments – reconciliation, first Communion and confirmation – are highlights along the way that will continue to draw this family even deeper into the faith," he said.

This fall, Cassandra will enroll her children, who attend public school, in religious education classes at St. Thomas More.

"I can’t wait to learn more about God," Isabella said.

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