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‘Now we can be together with Jesus'

By Nancy Rosebush Schertzing | Photography by Rey Del Rio | May 2019

‘Now we can be together with Jesus'

Joaquin's first Communion brought his dad home

Joaquin Escutia wears a Captain America t-shirt as he watches cartoons in his living room. His mom, Raquel, and dad, Gregorio, sit nearby working on their laptops as their son enjoys his first day of spring break. When his little brother, Gabriel, comes home from daycare, Joaquin’s family will be together – just the way he likes it.

“Dad was the only one in the family who couldn’t take Communion,” he remembers. “My teacher told me that there was a wall between Jesus and me. Every time you sin, rocks get added and the wall gets bigger. Then when you do reconciliation, the wall comes down and you can be with Jesus.

“I was feeling like the wall was getting bigger and bigger. When I went to reconciliation I said, ‘My dad is on the other side of the wall.’ But now, he can be with Jesus and me too!”

Gregorio shifts a bit in his seat. “I’m not one for words,” he says simply. “I think that’s one thing my dad left with me – The Machismo Way. But I can say that my son inspired me to find a way to restore my relationship with Jesus that had faded from my life.

“As a child, my mother was Baptist and my father Catholic. I was baptized Catholic, but my faith home was a little Baptist church where my grandfather was a preacher. I loved going to Bible school every Sunday! Sometimes my grandfather gave the lesson. Always, I was surrounded by my mother, aunts and uncles. Jesus was so real to me!

“Then when I was 12, Grandpa came out of church after a service and collapsed on the sidewalk from a massive heart attack. After our patriarch was gone, Mom and I didn’t attend church very often. My aunts and uncles dispersed to other churches, and that part of my life just kind of washed out.

“My father often told me ‘Mijo [my son], come to Mass with me,’ but I didn’t take him up on it very often. Even when we moved to Mexico, where his family was all Catholic, my faith life just kind of faded. Work and school and friends became my priority. Except for Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving, I didn’t go to church much.

“At 18, I decided to move back from Mexico to get a job and live near my mother’s family again. My school transcripts from Mexico didn’t count toward a degree here, so I earned my GED and took a few classes at Lansing Community College. Eventually I built my career as a construction and gas operator for  Consumers Energy. I met and married Raquel in a ceremony at City Hall, and we built a great life together.

“We had Joaquin and welcomed Gabriel first as an infant foster child and now as our son. I even started attending Mass at Cristo Rey with Raquel and my father after he and Mom moved back. Like my father, I always went to church just to go to Mass then be on my way – kind of like a job.

“But one day Joaquin came home from second grade at St. Mary School [Charlotte] so excited to make his First Holy Communion and reconciliation. The books and stories he shared …  I don’t know how to describe it. They just lit something inside me, something that helped me remember the joy I felt as a young boy in love with Jesus.

“Those memories and that feeling just rushed, overwhelming me. Oh my gosh, I remember it still! I decided to enroll in RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) so Joaquin and I could join fully in the Mass at the same time.

“Attending classes and learning more about my faith, I realized I had been seeing in gray. Through RCIA, I gained clarity and could see things in color again. It felt really emotional, having the spirit of Christ with me along this path. When Joaquin made his first Communion and I was confirmed at Easter Vigil, it was one of the best things in my life. When Gabriel was baptized the following Sunday, I felt so blessed.

“Having someone there inspires you … I saw that in my son going through his first Communion process. Watching him and attending my own classes helped me evolve as a person and have a better spiritual life. I feel a lot more connected with Joaquin. I’d like him to remember we did this together.

“Unfortunately, my dad wasn’t able to celebrate with us. He died in a car accident last year while he and Mom were traveling in Mexico. He was never one for watching us play Little League or do sports – more like go to work and make sure we were all fed and loved. Dinners and vacations were how he showed us he loved us. And he and Mom gave us the gift of family in their 45 years of marriage.

“I already said Dad left me with the Machismo Way, so I don’t show emotion easily. But I think a lot when I’m driving for work, and sometimes I feel a little tear inside me looking for release. I say little prayers, and sometimes that tear finds its way out.”

Still in his Captain America shirt, Joaquin smiles. “If I were to make a super hero, I’d say Dad is Flash. He doesn’t run fast, but he thinks fast. When he managed to make his reconciliation and Communion, he actually got up to me. Now we can all be together with Jesus!”

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