Finding the faith at MIT: One student's journey to baptism

BOSTON -- It was a chance meeting that began Raul Hernandez and Evan Booth's friendship, but it was an intentional search for truth and fellowship that led to them sharing a special milestone this Easter.

Evan entered the Catholic Church, with Raul as his sponsor, on April 8 at the Easter Vigil Mass in the MIT chapel. Both are sophomores at MIT, where Raul has led a Bible study for the past year through the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).

Raul was born in southern Texas to a family with Brazilian and Mexican roots.

"Growing up in that kind of household, Catholicism was always very much at the forefront of everything that we did," he said.

He came to MIT to study mathematics and computer science. When he arrived as a freshman, he received "an incredibly warm welcome" from the FOCUS missionaries there, who hosted popular Bible studies and formed "an integral part of the community."

In January 2022, Raul and Evan both traveled separately to Washington, D.C., to participate in the March for Life with their school's pro-life club. They had not met before, but at the train station, Evan noticed Raul's MIT beanie and approached to ask if he was also a student there.

Raul said that, while it seemed like a random way of meeting, he is "sure God had his way there."

The trip included attending Mass and eucharistic adoration. As they talked and got to know each other, Evan mentioned that he had begun listening to the Bible in a Year podcast. Raul asked Evan if he was Catholic.

"The answer he gave me at the time was, 'It's complicated,'" Raul recalled.

Evan's upbringing had been very different from Raul's. Originally from Oklahoma, he did not grow up with any religious practice or instruction. But after coming to MIT to study aerospace engineering, he was drawn to Christianity. He already had some "philosophical conclusions" about the world, such as the objective reality of good and evil, but he could not justify that belief without taking God into account.

"The particular beliefs of Christians I found to be most in alignment with what seemed to be true to me intuitively," Evan said.

In the spring after their trip, Raul was invited to run his own Bible study with materials provided by FOCUS.

"That's been absolutely wonderful, both through the insights that I gain for myself through preparing the Bible studies, and also being able to share those insights and encounter God and Christ through that and with my peers," Raul said.

He said Evan seemed like a "right and obvious choice" to invite to the Bible study.

"From there, I've seen the beautiful growth and the Holy Spirit working through him, in all the things that he's learning about the faith, all the different ways that he's cultivating the faith in his own life," Raul said.

Evan eventually decided to go through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) through MIT's campus ministry. The classes were conducted by Father Michael Medas, the Catholic chaplain at MIT.

Earlier this year, Evan asked Raul to be his confirmation sponsor.

"Having seen his growth in the past year, and all the things that he's been doing and all the ways he's been pursuing the faith on a deeper level, I was so, so honored that he chose me of all the different people that he's met now in the Catholic community by being such an integral part of it," Raul said.

Andrew Smith, one of the FOCUS missionaries at MIT, said it has been "a great honor and joy to watch these students at MIT walk in discipleship with each other."

"Seeing Evan and others join the Church on Easter is a reminder of the hope we have because of Christ's resurrection," Smith told The Pilot.

One of Raul's friends was an altar server at the Easter Vigil Mass. He later said that Raul looked like "an incredibly proud father" at the moment of Evan's baptism.

"I very much felt just like that. I was so very proud of him and so happy for him," Raul said.

When asked what advice he would give to other seekers, Evan emphasized the importance of having an open mind.

"I think most people who are not Christians have a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be so," he said.

His advice, he said, would be to "leave those at the door."

Raul acknowledged that it can be "very overwhelming at times, especially if the person is brand new to the faith, to see the richness and the wealth of knowledge and tradition and everything that Catholicism has."

He said he thinks fellowship is "an incredibly important aspect of the faith."

"I think incorporating yourself into a community where you're able to grow with each other is crucial. It's crucial, of course, in the sense of allowing you to grow and deepen the faith, but also the joys that come along with having that kind of friendship, it's immeasurable," he said.