Nanette Levin, Special to The Catholic Virginian

March 31 was a milestone for Erick Alexander (“Alex”) Hernandez, as he was baptized, confirmed and received the Eucharist during the Easter Vigil at St. Gerard Parish, Roanoke. A 16-year-old 11th grader at William Byrd High School, he has enjoyed the journey.

“It’s overwhelming and exciting too – I just can’t believe how fast time flies,” said Hernandez. “I’ve just always felt like I should have been baptized long ago. I was never really introduced to it, going to church, when I was growing up. One day I decided to go and it just felt good going to church and everything.”

In addition to participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, he attended Life Teen sessions and the NET confirmation retreat.

Hernandez came to St. Gerard in the summer of 2016 when he was 14 years old. His stepmother, Yolanda Cruz, whom he refers to as mom, registered him for Christian formation. Maria Morales, coordinator of religious education, took him under her wing to help him understand and appreciate the baptism decision from what she interpreted as an initial obedient response. He never missed a class, she said.

Last Thanksgiving, Hernandez participated in a charity event that delivered meals to needy families. “That felt good,” he said. “Giving to people that are less fortunate than other people. I liked seeing the smiles on people’s faces and it felt good making their Thanksgiving a little better.”

According to Morales, Hernandez I eager to participate.

“Even though he wasn’t very talkative to the other young people, when we mentioned doing the service during Thanksgiving, he was there and he came the Saturday morning,” she said. “He came and his dad (Jesus) helped also. That was very interesting for me that (Alex) really wanted to help. He didn’t have to come; he has consistently come in.”

It was Morales who approached Hernandez about being baptized.

“He said, ‘Yeah, I want to do this,’” she said. “He’s very reserved, but in the last month or so, we met every week . . . he’s always coming to me with things that are happening to him because no one was asking him, ‘Tell me good news.’”

One of Hernandez’s passions is building car engines. He was accepted into the program at the Arnold R. Burton Technology Center where he now competes on the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow team.

“It was exciting when I got the letter and it said I was accepted,” Hernandez said. “I had to take a test and I guess I passed the test. It’s always been a thing that I liked to do. I’ve always been interested in cars and I’ve always felt I could do something with it.”

Hernandez has plans to do more with the parish.

“I’m a hands-on person,” he said. “If there’s anything I can help with around the church she (Morales) said she would let me know.”