The following comes from a February 22 story on three apologists by Jim Graves in Catholic World Report.
A dozen years ago, an injury forced Jesse Romero to retire early from his job as a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy. He decided to begin a career as a full-time lay Catholic evangelist. Romero speaks publicly and through a variety of communications media to promote the timeless teachings of the Church.
Romero is bilingual, and can communicate with ease to both English and Spanish-speaking audiences. He also preaches the Faith with vigor; “I don’t merely teach the Bible, I preach the Bible,” he says. “And, I do it with a passionate power.”
Although the Faith permeates his life today, Romero was once a self-described “secular humanist” who had little interest in religion.
Romero, 49, was born in San Fernando, a suburb of Los Angeles. A first-generation Mexican-American, he grew up in the most violent and crime-ridden community in the region. Romero remembers as a teen seeing police-tape strung up at homicide scenes throughout his neighborhood. A fatalistic humor developed in his family, he says. “We’d sit at home and wonder who was going to get killed over the weekend,” he recalls. “It’s what we knew. We thought it was normal.”
Much of the violence in Latino communities in the United States, Romero believes, is due to a lack of identity among Mexican-American youth. Family in Mexico looked down on him as a “half-breed” and not truly Mexican, while in America he was considered a “wetback” and not really American. This lack of identity can draw Mexican-American youth to “Brown Power” movements such as MEChA, which Romero describes as anti-white and racist.
His conversion to Catholicism opened up new possibilities. “The first-generation Mexican-American wonders ‘Who am I?’ When I found out that I was a child of God, with God as my father and Jesus as my brother, the scales fell from my eyes. I was liberated. I realized I was made for heaven,” Romero said.
Although his family was culturally Catholic and he went to Catholic schools, Romero and his brothers were never interested in growing in their Faith; he says their only interest was in martial arts, which became his “pseudo-religion.”
Martial arts did keep the Romero boys out of trouble. “God used the martial arts to take my brothers and me out of the barrio during our wild teen years,” Romero explained. “It taught us respect, discipline, and mind control. While other kids in the neighborhood were doing drugs, drinking beer, listening to music, and being promiscuous with women, we’d be preparing for our next karate tournament.”
Romero did attend Mass to keep the family happy, but he saw the Catholic faith merely as a “women’s religion.”
In his 20s, Romero underwent a conversion. His parents attended a Cursillo weekend to revitalize their struggling marriage. The weekend had a profound influence on them. His dad, who had been an alcoholic and absentee father, stopped drinking and started reading the Bible. His parents joined the Legion of Mary and a charismatic prayer group. Friends would come over to pray.
Romero remembered, “It showed me that someone not practicing the Faith could turn on a dime. My parents have been living a vibrant Catholic Faith for over 30 years now.”
At age 21, Romero joined the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Putting criminals in jail appealed to him, and his martial arts skills seemed well-suited to law enforcement.
Five years later, a fellow officer and Evangelical Christian, Paul Clay, asked Romero about his relationship with Christ. He encouraged him to study the Bible. Romero did, and his attitude toward the Catholic Faith changed: “I remember looking at a picture of the Sacred Heart, crying, and telling Jesus, ‘I want to know you like Paul Clay,’” he said (Clay would later become Catholic through Romero’s influence).
Romero gave up drinking and swearing. To the surprise and delight of his wife, he started praying.
His pastor suggested he attend a Catholic Answers seminar led by apologist Karl Keating. In 30 hours of seminars, he learned more than he had in all his years in Catholic schools, Romero said. He told his wife, “I’m home. Jesus started the Catholic Church and we’re going to the Catholic Church for the rest of our lives.”
When he wasn’t on duty, Romero began volunteering at his parish, Santa Rosa Catholic Church in San Fernando, teaching Bible studies and Confirmation classes. As a police officer, martial arts expert, and athlete, he was well respected in the community.
“I loved it. People told me that when I taught from the Bible, I preached with conviction,” he noted. “To God be the glory, but I brought energy to the parish.”
Terry Barber of St. Joseph Communications learned of Romero’s story and asked to make an audio recording of it for national distribution. Today, Romero records a weekly SIRIUS Satellite Radio program with Barber, Reasons for Faith.
“Jesse has been an amazing partner on Catholic radio, because of his knowledge and love of the Catholic faith,” Barber said.
St. Joseph Communications distributed 10,000 cassette tapes of Romero’s story, and invitations for him to speak to Catholic groups soon came in from all over the country.
A hip injury at age 37 ended his career with law enforcement. In an exit interview, Romero said, “I want to be a preacher.”
Today, Romero hosts a radio apologetics program, leads Bible studies, offers individual counseling and spiritual direction, and does a weekly podcast. He also keynotes at Catholic conferences. Twice monthly he offers a Bible study in Hollywood for those in the entertainment industry.
Romero’s pet project at the moment is the establishment of a new School of Evangelization to train others to share the Catholic Faith as he does. He wants to open it under the auspices of the Archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose Gomez. “I want to create an army of soldiers for Christ to go out and be missionaries,” Romero said.
“I’m writing my eulogy right now,” he said. “When I’m gone, I want my kids and friends to say, ‘That guy loved Jesus and his Church.’”
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