ALBANY, N.Y. — Marco Pantoja III has a room very similar to some other 18-year-old: a navy blue New England Patriots flag for his favorite NFL workforce, handfuls of awards from his years enjoying soccer and a tiny inexperienced signal for Siena School in Loudonville, N.Y., the place he’ll attend within the fall.
What’s distinctive is his bulletin board: lined facet to facet with letters from a mission journey to New York Metropolis together with his fellow classmates at La Salle Institute in Troy, N.Y. Resting on high of the board is a gold and brown cross — an indication of his newly discovered Catholic religion.
Pantoja turned a Catholic in 2019, and unbeknown to him, it was a change that may impression not solely his life however his total household.
Wanting again, there’s a sure serendipity to Pantoja’s conversion — not simply because he stumbled upon his Catholicism — however due to the unintended penalties of it.
Impressed by the eagerness for his religion, Pantoja’s mother and father, Blair and Marco, and his three youthful sisters, Sofia, 16, Elena, 13, and Paulina, 12, additionally are actually becoming a member of the Catholic Church.
And the story will get higher: At his household’s baptism this Easter, he would be the godparent to all of them.
“I simply didn’t notice I had a capability to assist folks,” Pantoja mentioned, “however I acquired to see the impression that I did have on all people else round me.”
“It’s modified my entire angle,” his father, Marco, mentioned. “I at all times thought should you go into any faith it’s best to go 100 per cent, and now I perceive should you’re doing one thing to get higher, God is at all times there to forgive you; no one’s good.”
Pantoja has already begun his new position as godparent at this yr’s Ceremony of Election Feb. 21 on the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception in Albany. He served because the sponsor for his household as they entered their names into the E book of the Elect, the final step earlier than their baptism April 3, the Easter Vigil.
Initially, Pantoja wasn’t even certain if he may function godparent to his household. So, they checked with the specialists. Joyce Solimini, affiliate director of the Workplace of Lay Ministry and Parish Religion Formation within the Albany diocese, mentioned “it in all probability is” uncommon for Pantoja to fill this position, “however he meets the standards.”
Rising up, Pantoja and his sisters have been by no means strongly influenced by a sure religion. Their mom and father by no means had an awesome relationship with faith, and neither wished to push that very same expertise on their very own youngsters.
“I grew up in a Protestant household,” Blair mentioned. “It was very strict, and my husband was a Jehovah’s Witness. We let our youngsters work out what they wished to do as a result of we have been a bit traumatized.”
Nonetheless, there have been little seedlings planted: Blair’s grandmother was raised Catholic and whereas she later left the religion, she continued to supply steering to her grandchildren. And each Marco and his sisters attended Trip Bible Faculty, a summer time camp provided at a close-by parish, St. John the Baptist in Valatie, N.Y.
However issues actually modified when Marco enrolled at La Salle his freshman yr: “I used to be at all times inquisitive about (God), but it surely wasn’t till I went to La Salle … after I began actually excited about it.”
His Scripture trainer — Ted Deeb, campus minister and chair of faith on the faculty — was a giant motivator for his religion and put the teenager in contact with Ruth Ellen Berninger, director of religion formation at St. John the Baptist, when his pupil mentioned he wished to start out attending Mass.
All through his freshman and sophomore yr, Pantoja attended Mass each weekend together with his mother.
“He was so enthusiastic about it, there was no method to not need to get pulled into that,” Blair mentioned. “They have been so accepting and I by no means felt judged or uncomfortable. … Once I walked in, I felt God’s presence instantly.”
Throughout Easter 2019, Pantoja, now nearing the tip of his sophomore yr, was baptized.
After his baptism, the entire Pantoja household began attending church collectively; in spite of everything, they wished to be supportive. It additionally was a break from everybody’s busy schedule. Between work, faculty and sports activities, household time was unfold skinny.
“That was the primary time shortly we had constantly been collectively on the identical time each week,” Pantoja mentioned. “That was very nice. We’d get breakfast after and spend the primary half of the day collectively.”
Firstly of 2020, Blair reached out to Berninger as soon as once more, solely this time, it was to speak about her and her daughters turning into Catholic. Ultimately Pantoja’s dad would come round to the religion.
And now, on the Sundays when sports activities aren’t occurring and work is a bit quieter, everybody tries to carve out a little bit of time to attend Mass collectively, as a household.
“I’m simply actually pleased with my household,” Pantoja mentioned. “For those who informed me a yr in the past this could have occurred, no means would I’ve believed you.”