Despite the oddness of the moment when Miracle Joy Anciano received her First Communion, it was a day the 7-year-old and her parents won’t soon forget. There she was in a beautiful white dress, but also a matching facemask. She had prepared for this moment for months.
Miracle Joy sat in a pew with her parents, all of them socially distanced from the other first communicants gathered for Mass on a summer Saturday at Saint Aloysius Parish in Jersey City. When it was her turn to receive the Eucharist for the first time, the priest came to her. The taste surprised her at first. Her parents reassured her and explained that Jesus was present in the host.
“I was happy to receive Jesus with my parents finally,” Miracle Joy said, following a nearly three-month delay. “Soon after, I knelt down and prayed.”
She also received First Reconciliation.
As parishes emerged from the pandemic lockdown last month, similar scenes began to play out across the archdiocese. The faithful were once again experiencing the grace of God through sacraments like first communion, baptism, and marriage.
Miracle Joy’s first communion was a special occasion for her parents, Paul and Stephanie Anciano, who carefully raised their daughter in the Catholic faith, and who weren’t sure if they would be able to have a child at one point.
“We had difficulty conceiving,” Stephanie explained. “I found out I was pregnant after attending a healing Mass months before. My husband and I were surprised and thought it was a miracle that after about one year trying, we were able to conceive. That’s why we called her a miracle, and it was a joy.”
Paul and Stephanie received communion with their daughter on her special day, ending a Eucharistic fast of their own that began in March when parishes were first closed. It was their first time back to church since the coronavirus lockdown eased.
The young family lives in Jersey City and also attends Our Lady of Victories, where Stephanie received her sacraments and attended school when she was a child. She would attend High School at Saint Aloysius, where she is now part of the Catholic Adult Ministry with her husband.
“It’s a youth group for adults,” Stephanie said. “We’re all older now, so we had to change the name from ‘young adults’ to ‘Catholic adults.’ We meet weekly on Fridays on Zoom now with the whole pandemic.”
Miracle Joy also was baptized at Saint Aloysius. Since her First Communion, she’s been attending daily livestream Mass with her mom to learn the responses.
“I feel like Sunday Mass isn’t enough to grasp the whole Mass,” Stephanie said. “The Daily Mass can supplement what she is learning.”
Stephanie was raised Catholic and attributed a Catholic retreat she attended with her brother when she was 13 for igniting her faith and helping her understand what it means to be Catholic.
“It just made me understand why we have to live to know and to love and to serve God,” she said. “It just put me on fire and made me realize how much God loves us.
Paul, who was also raised in the faith by his parents, credits a weekend retreat he attended while in college for awakening something within him when he was 19.
“I was a good kid growing up, but I couldn’t make any connection of God’s love,” he said. “I was fortunate and blessed to be able to experience that retreat and made the connection of the sacrificial love of God. I have a new pair of glasses of how I view life after that.”
Paul proposed to Stephanie at the final Station of the Cross at the College of Saint Elizabeth (now Saint Elizabeth University) in Morris County.
“I thought what better place to propose to Stephanie than a place together of agape love, which is a sacrifice at the cross at Calvary,” he said. “I think that’s what sustains our marriage is having God in the center.”
It’s important to Paul and Stephanie to raise their daughter in the Catholic Faith. In addition to Sunday Mass with her parents, Miracle Joy sometimes attends daily Mass with her grandmother. She has participated in Fatima devotions and vigil adorations and prays the rosary with her parents. Currently, she is enrolled in Hoboken Catholic Academy.
“She was immersed in religion since birth,” Stephanie said. “She might not fully understand it, but she understands now. I just want her to be guided and know that having faith is really important in her life.”
At the end of the day, before Miracle Joy goes to sleep, she says the Angel of God prayer.
“I pray to God for my family,” she said. “I also pray to Him whenever I need help or am worried.”