Last week during mass, the priest said something that resonated deeply with me: “Easter is a time that kindles the faith of Christians and gives us pause. It gives us a reason to intentional reflect on why we are Christians.” 

This was sort of startling to hear — I had missed a few weeks of mass during the Easter season and had been reflecting on my faith for weeks. This, along with a number of in-depth discussions with a close friend about what faith means in our lives resonated with me. It was even more difficult to ask myself what role faith has taken in my life. 

For as long as I can remember, I have loved my faith. Catholicism has always been a large part of my life. It was a joy to go with my mom to either the Spanish or English-spoken masses, because I felt I was discovering a part of her world that was very near to her heart. It wasn’t until much later that I understood the depth of her connection to our faith or why I got chills every time I heard the choir singing songs about the resurrection of Jesus Christ in Spanish. 

My mom was born in Panama, a country in which around 70 percent of the population practices Catholicism. Catholic faith is almost inseparable from Hispanic culture, and it was no different for my family. 

My grandmother would take her to mass and taught her what it meant to be a Catholic woman. Very quickly, my mom’s faith became an integral part of her life. As a teenager, she would pray before every big test she had and eventually she graduated as the valedictorian of her class in nursing school, which she attributes equally to both her intellect and faith, including God in her successes.

Remembering her own mother’s guidance, my mom began to discuss religion with me from an early age. She took me to mass and let me ask questions about the moral lessons that were discussed. She made it a point to teach me that even outside of Church, God is present everywhere at all times. 

I began to see God in the simplest things in life, like my mother’s warm smile, the weed-like flowers that bloomed in our yard, the taste of the wild blackberries that grew in my grandparents’ garden, everything beautiful in the world. Catholicism was beautiful in my eyes, something untouchable and wonderful.  She made it special for me. 

Unfortunately, my understanding of the church began to crumble around me year by year as I became more aware of the church’s scandals. 

As a child who was enamored with the idea of my faith, it was hard for me to learn about the atrocities committed by my church. It was heartbreaking to learn that while I was excited to attend mass with my mother, so many others were experiencing the greatest trauma of their lives in a similar setting. Learning some priests allegedly abused their power made me feel the churches I had grown to love were no longer safe.

I wondered if the others around me during mass knew, and if they did, why did they keep coming back? Why was it that only my faith in the clergy shattered? Why couldn’t I listen to their homilies the same way anymore, but everyone else could? 

Going to mass began to make me feel sick to my stomach. I couldn’t handle the idea of abuse being dismissed by millions of people. I was a teenager who was disgusted with the idea that sometimes, bad people get away with bad things. Sometimes they even have people who help them hide it and others who condone their actions. 

I had grown up watching movies in which the bad guy always loses — it was hard to face the reality that sometimes villains are allowed to continue terrorizing the community. Even worse, it was hard to face the reality that sometimes those villains were expected to continue providing moral guidance for a large community of people even after they abused their power.

It was my mom who began to guide me back to my faith. She shared with me she had gone through the same thing. While she didn’t agree with many actions taken by the Catholic Church, she still viewed Catholicism as a part of her roots. It shaped her in the same way it shaped me. No matter how much I may disagree with the church, I have to admit to myself Catholicism is a part of me. My experience of the world has been framed in the context of my faith.

My understanding of my own internal conflict has deepened as I’ve become more educated about the inner workings of the Catholic Church. In recent years, Pope Francis has spoken out against the abuse committed by members of the clergy. While his words are powerful, action is far more valuable when children’s lives are at stake.

Despite confusion and pain surrounding this topic, it is clear amid this destruction, all of us, including non-Catholics, must look to Pope Francis and hold him accountable for amending the church’s Code of Cannon Law that has hidden and allowed these terrible acts to go unpunished, protecting the church’s reputation. 

Ultimately, we must face the truth that the Vatican’s law was created to protect the church’s reputation first, rather than seeking justice for those who were harmed.

While the shrouding  of investigations of sexual assault in mystery  and internal handlings were also meant to protect the faith of Catholics, and hopefully protect the trust so many of us have with our own priests, the internal handling just hasn’t been enough. Many children are still suffering because of the inaction the Vatican.

Inevitably this is difficult for Catholics. How do we go about reconciling our beliefs of love and our desire as a congregation to protect those who cannot advocate for themselves with the atrocities being hidden by our moral guides?

This is a difficult question to answer. We can continue to acknowledge the injustice that takes place in our own church and demand action be taken to protect the congregation. Faith is an unbreakable bond that we will stand by for eternity. While our faith is held, we must continue to recognize that within that faith it is important that we seek to protect the individual people, the children, who have suffered or currently are suffering at the hands of people in power in the church. 

I will continue to view inaction by the church critically, but I have also decided it is detrimental to myself to let the atrocities committed within the institution sway me from the faith I grew up enamored with. I do not want to give up the faith I loved and what my mom had taught me; even outside of church, God is present everywhere at all times. My faith is reliant on love, and my love for others is what encourages me to view my own church critically to ensure those who need protection the most will receive it.

Faith plays a major role in the lives of all people, regardless of whether or not that faith be Christianity. But then so does pain, trauma, and fear. In the end, what we do with both of those things define the context in which we live our lives.

Despite failures, my church has taught me this love. Indeed, as the priest suggested, Easter is a time of reflection and kindling our faith, which has and will continue to slowly lead me back from fear and apathy to peace and righteous anger to seek to protect those in need.

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