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Becoming Catholic

2018 Conversion Story as seen in the Hawaii Catholic Herald
March 23, 2018

By Tatum Vayavananda
Special to the Herald

My faith journey started about 12 years ago at a U.S. Marine Corps boot camp when a Holy Bible was given to me as part of my standard issue. Though I read it throughout my time there, I had no clue as to how it would affect me over the next 12 years.

My upbringing was the furthest thing from Christianity. I was raised Theravada Buddhist — a sect of Buddhism that is very regimented and strict — until I was about 17. I even served as a novice monk when I was younger, living in a temple, meditating for three hours a day, fasting every day.

Though my parents raised me this way, I would only find out recently that, spiritually, I was blind. When I started reading the Bible, it was simply out of boredom. It took a couple of years for me to realize that it was not just a book, but more of a mirror, full of deeply flawed characters like myself in precarious narratives who either were doomed or who found their way through radical belief in God through humility and suffering.

I started noticing that these threads of the Bible were woven into the tapestry of my own life, and it called me to continue down the Christian path.

I’ve been to many Christian churches in different states and countries, but it wasn’t until I got to St. Philomena Church in Honolulu that it became clear that I needed to start the process to walk with God. I chose to start the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults because I wanted to start my journey on the right path. After visiting many different churches, many different denominations, I found the same thing over and over; they did not have the conviction that Catholics do, the conviction that I seek.

Jesus was perfect and sacrificed himself for us and God has given us the tools we need to walk the path. On my own path to faith, I kept finding that other denominations were more flexible in their interpretations. I often found that they sought to make the Bible fit their lives, and not what we must do to have our lives fit the Bible, the Word of God.

It seemed that other denominations picked and chose what they wanted to believe, keeping only those beliefs that were most convenient to them.

When I was looking for a church, I initially had a long list to check out. St. Philomena was first on the list. After attending a service and meeting a parishioner, Aaron, who greeted me with a warm aloha, I threw the list away. I knew I was in the right place for me to grow in my relationship with God.

Although I had been going to St. Philomena for about six months before I signed up for RCIA last March, it wasn’t until I was deep into the program that I felt a deeper connection to the parish, and feel the warm aloha the community gave my fiancé and me. I am so glad I did RCIA, because otherwise I would have just gone for the worship services and left, without the chance to feel intimately the dedicated community that surrounds the parish.

I feel so blessed that I have found the St. Philomena community and the catechists and candidates who have helped me along this journey. As I approach the day I will be baptized, I thank God for the opportunity that he has given me to grow a solid and humble foundation for my new life as a Catholic.

Tatum Vayavananda (legal name Chokechai Vayavananda), a catechumen at St. Philomena Parish, Salt Lake, Oahu, is a 30-year-old federal employee who moved to Oahu from Washington, D.C., in 2016. He is engaged to Meghan E. Slavick. He will receive the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil, March 31, at his parish.