Catholic Utahns share experiences living within LDS community

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Catholic Utah Valley University student Norma Salas has lived in Orem for 16 years and has been asked if she is a member of the Latter-day Saint (LDS) church countless times. To these consistent queries she replies, “Yes, I am. I am a member of the Catholic Church.”

She said this response usually leads to a light-hearted laugh and a discussion of faith.

Catholics make up only about 5 percent of Utah’s population, according to Pew Research. Several Catholic Utahns shared the good and bad of living in a state that is about 55 percent LDS.

Positive experiences

Norma Salas and her family share a meal. Salas’ family is Catholic, and they have lived in Utah for 16 years. From left: Ruben Salas, Norma Salas, Norma Maldonado, Cecilia Salas. (Norma Salas)

Weber State graduate and Catholic Gaby Morales said she cannot think of an experience when she felt like an outsider in Utah. She said she attributes this to her outgoing attitude and interacting with genuine, faithful people.

Morales said her LDS friends would ask her about her beliefs, so she took a serious look at her faith and finding answers.

“That has been the best decision I have made in my entire life,” Morales said. “All that seeking led to my encounter with the living Christ. I would not be the Catholic I am today if I hadn’t moved to Utah as a junior in high school and taken all those questions seriously.”

BYU psychology major and Catholic Kyra Toyama is a member of the BYU Newman Club, a club dedicated to encouraging Catholic students to live their faith. Toyama said she has doctrinal discussions with LDS people, which helps them each recognize their differences, but also strengthen and deepen their understanding of their churches’ doctrine.

“I never push my faith on others, but it’s great to be an ambassador for Christ and to have genuine relationships with my Mormon friends that can help both of us recognize that we are both brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of stereotypes or other predispositions about religious differences,” Toyama said.

Negative experiences

Salas said she feels like people sometimes start to form negative opinions about her after learning she is not LDS.

“Deep down, it can be uncomfortable because it seems like that person is judging if I am a good (or) bad person without really getting to know me,” Salas said.

Vanessa Moffatt, right, and Natalie Bennion stand outside a Catholic church on their way to Easter Mass. Moffatt said she has felt like an outsider when she is not invited to some LDS activities. (Vanessa Moffatt)

Vanessa Moffatt is a Catholic BYU student studying psychology. She said she has felt like an outsider multiple times, such as when she is not invited to ward activities or discussions that revolve around the LDS Church.

“I feel like I need to walk on eggshells because I don’t want to say the wrong thing,” Moffatt said.

Catholic alter server and lector at St. Francis church Will King said he feels like an outsider the most in the dating scene. He said several girls have dumped him because he is Catholic.

“My goal for 2017 is to go on a date, and I have not completed that goal as of yet,” King said.

King said several returned missionaries preached to him while he was a BYU student.

“I met several recent (returned missionaries) with a desire to save another soul that would ask where I served a second after saying ‘hi,’ and when I answered that I didn’t because I’m not LDS, they would launch straight into lessons,” King said.

Suggestions for LDS members

Moffatt said there are several things LDS students have done and can do to help her and other Catholics feel welcome.

“Whenever I wasn’t feeling like an outsider was when people would ask me questions about myself, so I can get more comfortable,” Moffatt said.

Kyra Toyama, front center, poses with members of the BYU Newman Club. The club supports Catholic students in living their faith. Back, from left: Izzat Mukattash, Allison Bellows, Sam Harris, Emmanuelle Verdieu and Nico Montanez. Front, from left: Jhonatan Medri, Kyra Toyama, Victoria Raimondi. (Kyra Toyama)

Salas said friendships should not be influenced by religious differences.

“It is important to still value those friendships and love them for their differences,” Salas said.

BYU law student Sam Harris said LDS BYU students and faculty welcome him to LDS services and activities. Harris also thinks because many of his LDS friends have been a religious minority before, they understand.

“They are particularly attuned to the importance of including all people regardless of their faith,” Harris said. “They are interested in my faith and invite me to learn more about theirs. I have really appreciated this welcoming attitude.”

Overall, Toyama has had a positive experience as a Catholic Utahn living among Latter-day Saints.

“The bottom line is we’re all human and we’re all striving to live Christlike lives. I love that most of my relationships with my friends in Utah are so genuine, and that’s one of the reasons why I moved here,” Toyama said. “I genuinely thrive here, and there’s no place I’d rather be.”

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