A visitor to the home of Maria Cayetano will be greeted first by an outdoor statue of the Blessed Mother. The statue was put there by the previous residents, but when it was time to move, the statue could not be loosened from the ground, so it stayed behind. Now, the Blessed Mother stands protectively by the Cayetano family garden, where Maria’s husband, Rene, grows tomatoes, herbs, and quelites, a slender Mexican green.
Maria has lived in Ocean City for 15 years and is the mother of two young sons, Eric and Luis. She was born in Acapulco, Mexico, where her grandmother helped to raise her. “My grandmother was the person who began to include me in the church,” she said, making sure that Maria was baptized, took First Communion and was confirmed. “She is the one who prepared us,” Maria said.
When asked what it means to her to be a Catholic, Maria points back toward the beginnings of the Church in time. “This is the church that Jesus founded,” she said. “It is the church that he left for us on earth.” Those connections are always fresh for her when she attends Mass. When she is in church, Maria feels the presence of Christ. “He is there with us,” she said, “and when I take the Eucharist, my heart is racing one hundred miles an hour.”
For the first seven years that Maria lived in Ocean City, she was separated from regular church attendance. “When I first came to Ocean City,” Maria explained, “I did not know that there was a Hispanic Mass.” She described the period of time she spent away from the church as “a bit bad.” When she learned about the Mass offered in Spanish, she resumed attending. Church became as familiar as home, where she could be with other children of God. “As I heard again the word of God and what He wants,” she said, “I was able to change how I was thinking about certain things in my life.” Her situation improved.
Soon after joining St. Damien Parish, Maria learned that she had a role to play in church. A lector was needed. “So I was invited to get closer and participate,” she explained. She took a course one weekend that helped to prepare her for her role and she began reading Scripture for the congregation. Recently, other obligations required her to take a temporary break from being a lector. But, she vowed, “I am going to come back.” What is Maria’s favorite part of the Scripture? “Psalm 23,” she answered. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures. “When someone is in a difficult situation,” she reflected, this psalm “makes you feel like you are not alone.”
Maria also serves as a godmother for the two children of a close friend in Ocean City. One afternoon, she sat with one of those godchildren and explained how it is the godparent’s role “to lead you toward the better road.” Should something happen to the parents, a godparent “has to show you that you have to keep going on the right path, despite such a tragedy.” How would Maria’s goddaughter describe her? “Trustworthy and easy to talk to” was the response. “She makes you feel very respected.”
A crucifix and a poster image of the mother of Jesus hang in Maria’s living room, mixed in with wedding photos and other family photos. Maria pointed out how the poster of the Blessed Mother resembled a photograph. It was framed “like a family picture” because “Mary and Jesus are like family,” she explained. Maria said that she often wakes up in the morning with her head filled with all the tasks and chores she must do that day, but when she walks past these images, she pauses and says, “Oh, God, thank you for this day, thank you that I woke up alive.”