Surrounded by parishioners, Fr. David Jaspers lights the Easter candle during the Easter vigil at St. Joseph, Salem.
Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
As the sun set April 3, Christians celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. Its no coincidence that this was the night when the Catholic Church across Oregon welcomed about 900 new members people revived via baptism and the other sacraments of initiation.
At the same time, the arrival of new Catholics breathes vitality into the church as a whole.
One of those freshly initiated believers withstood fierce pressure, but endured in her dream to join the community she believes has a clear link to the Savior.
Ashley Mix, 18, was raised in a fervent non-denominational Protestant household in Medford. Her childhood was healthy and happy.
In the fall, she started classes at a Bible college on the island of Kauai. At school, she recalled a Catholic friend in Oregon, a kind and funny boy. She had seen him as an easy mark for conversion to Protestantism.
But as the months moved on, the tables turned. She recalled his questions and statements and the way he lived his life.
Ashley, a thoughtful young woman, started attending Mass on Kauai to explore her longings. The beauty of the liturgy transported her. She found that Catholics worldwide read the same scriptures on the same day. I thought, This is the most beautiful universal thing, she recalls.
She wanted to know more and so began reading Catholic pamphlets and books. When her Bible college classmates found out, they were scandalized.
I was just the heretic of the school, she says.
Each morning, Ashley would says this prayer: Let love and truth prevail.
Two things helped make her decision clear. First came the passage from Matthew in which Jesus says he will build the church upon Peter the rock. Second was a kindly Catholic woman who gave her rides to Mass.
Ashley decided to leave college and return to Oregon to join the RCIA at Sacred Heart Parish in Medford. While the parish welcomed this move, it was a different story at home. Her parents, fearing their daughter was headed to hell, lay down the law halt your move to become Catholic or get out of the house.
Ashley made her choice and began living on friends couches. Members of Sacred Heart provided the girl with food and kindness. She thrived in classes and her confidence in Catholicism broadened.
Ashley now has a job at a local pizza parlor and is living in an apartment with friends. She has opened up communications with her mother, who actually attended the Easter Vigil and saw her daughter profess the Catholic faith.
Gods just really wooed me toward himself in the most incerdible way, Ashley explains.
She is planning on a career in church ministry, perhaps apologetics, and other ministry to Protestants interested in Catholicism.
Stories abound among Oregons new Catholics.
In Astoria, 41-year-old Karl Hellberg was baptized after a long faith trek. A federal agent, he enforcing law on the high seas, he says Catholicism really makes sense to him.
In Albany, Sandra Bessent and Robin Lindahl, sisters, were initiated into the church. Raised Protestant by a mother who had a liking for Catholicism, they decided 40 years later that the universal church is right for them.
At Christ the King Parish in Milwaukie, 42-year-old teacher Brad Wright was baptized during the vigil, which starts in darkness and ends in light and joy.