Family of converts drawn by the Virgin Mary, the liturgy
Friday, Apr. 14, 2017
IC photo/Marie Mischel
The Odulio family, from left, Amoz, Rico, Heidi and Omri, will be baptized into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil.
SALT LAKE CITY – A family of four who will enter the Church at Easter has accompanied each other on their journey to Catholicism, all while taking different paths to the faith.
This year in the Diocese of Salt Lake City there were 273 catechumens and 153 candidates, according to the Office of Liturgy.
Rico Odulio was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Philippines, which is considered the most Catholic country in Asia. He was baptized Catholic, but his family converted to the LDS Church when he was about 8; his father was one of the first LDS bishops in the country and served as a stake president, he said. Nevertheless, Rico continued to attend Catholic school because of the quality of education it offered.
Growing up in two churches was difficult, he said; his Catholic friends teased him because of his faith, and “you have to make a stand for what you think is right. … I actually learned the Mormon faith, I think, better than most people my age because I had to constantly defend it.”
He met his wife at the Church Educational Institute, at a class for college students. Both Rico and Heidi served missions to Cebu in the Philippines, but two years apart. Although Heidi’s father was Catholic, the family was LDS, she said. When she returned from her mission, she and Rico married in the Mormon church. They had two sons, and Heidi did as her mother had, calling the family to prayer and insisting on family home evenings, she said, while Rico served as a counselor in the bishopric, among other callings in the LDS Church.
Then, in 1998, Rico left the LDS Church, although he still believed in God and read books on theology. “It was like I was trying to supply myself with spiritual guidance,” he said.
The family moved to the United States in 2001; Heidi had come two years earlier, joining her sisters in Utah. She continued to take their sons to the LDS Church, while Rico avoided organized religion. Then he read about the Battle of Lepanto, which occurred on Oct. 7, 1571. In that naval engagement, the Catholic fleet of the Holy League defeated ships of the Ottoman Empire, and Pope Pius V credited the victory to the Blessed Virgin Mary, because he had asked the faithful to pray the rosary and ask for her intercession in the battle.
Although Rico remembered from his Catholic school days that October was the month of Mary, “I had no idea why we were doing the rosary every October,” he said, adding that he had always had a Protestant view of the Blessed Mother – “She was there, but she didn’t make an impression. To me she was just another of those Catholic superstitions.”
Reading about the Battle of Lepanto, however, “At that moment it connected, and I said, ‘You know what? I have to go to church,’” he said. “So I stood up and said, ‘I will go to church.’”
Meanwhile, both of their sons, Amoz and Omri, had become indifferent to religion and eventually stopped practicing. When Rico began to attend Mass, he invited them to join him.
“I never really pictured my father as a religious man,” Omri said, so that invitation to Mass surprised him, and he and his brother joined their father at the Latin Mass at St. Martin de Porres Parish to see what attracted him to the faith.
Then Rico returned to the Philippines for work, and the boys drifted into agnosticism.
The turning point of the family’s faith journey was the 2014 vehicle accident that nearly claimed Omri’s life, they said.
Omri remembers very little about the accident, he said, although he does recall waking up, covered in blood, while firefighters were trying to cut him out of the vehicle. A paramedic was gripping his hand, “saying, ‘Hang in there. Hang in there.’ And for me, that was when I realized, ‘I’m dying,’” Omri said. Then he felt as though he fell asleep, and “I wasn’t expecting to wake up from that.”
But he did awake in the hospital, and one of the first things he saw was a YouTube video his father sent of guitarist Michael Lucarelli playing in the Cathedral of the Madeleine. The beauty of the church struck him, and he was amazed it was in Salt Lake City, he said.
After he was healed enough to leave the hospital, Omri asked Amoz to drive him to Mass at the cathedral.
“That was the first time that I walked through the cathedral doors, and the liturgy was really something,” he said, recalling that the music and smell of incense particularly struck him. “Ever since then I’ve been hooked.”
In 2015, Rico returned again from the Philippines, and asked his sons to accompany him on the Aug. 15 procession at St. Mary of the Assumption Parish, which goes from the old church in downtown Park City to the newer church on White Pine Canyon Road.
Something mystical happened during the procession, Omri said, because “that was the day I decided I was becoming Catholic.”
He attributes that decision to the influence of the Blessed Virgin Mary, he said, and shortly thereafter he and his father and brother joined the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults at the Cathedral of the Madeleine.
For Amoz, the journey to the Catholic faith has been more intellectual than his brother’s; he enjoys learning about history and Church facts like apostolic succession, he said. “When you learn about those things … you have an obligation or duty to share it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Heidi began to read the material that her husband sent her, although she continued to belong to the LDS Church, “and I prayed hard, and I said, ‘I want family unity, and I want to find the truth,’” she said.
Finally, after much prayer and many doubts, “I felt the Spirit, and after I prayed hard, I received the answers,” she said, so she joined the rest of the family at RCIA classes.
The family will enter the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil at the Cathedral of the Madeleine. At the same time, Rico’s and Heidi’s marriage will be convalidated.
While Amoz said he is looking forward to being washed clean of sin through baptism, the others are yearning in particular to partake of the Eucharist, Heidi said.
For Omri, having served as a sacristan for almost two years at the cathedral, “sitting there so close, and being so exposed to the Eucharist, has amplified the hunger even more,” he said. “So that fact that it’s coming in mere days – it almost doesn’t seem real.”