Marco Pantoja III, 18, center, sits down for dinner with his family March 7, 2021, at their home in Valatie, N.Y. Marco sponsored his family when they were baptized as Catholics during the Easter Vigil. (Credit: Cindy Schultz via The Evangelist via CNS.)

ALBANY, NY — Marco Pantoja III has a room much like any other 18-year-old: a navy blue New England Patriots flag for his favorite NFL team, handfuls of awards from his years playing soccer, and a tiny green sign for Siena College in Loudonville, New York, where he will attend in the fall.

What’s unique is his bulletin board: lined side to side with letters from a mission trip to New York City with his fellow classmates at La Salle Institute in Troy, New York. Resting on top of the board is a gold and brown cross — a sign of his newly found Catholic faith.

Pantoja became a Catholic in 2019, and unbeknown to him, it was a change that would impact not only his life but his entire family.

Looking back, there is a certain serendipity to Pantoja’s conversion — not just because he stumbled upon his Catholicism — but because of the unintended consequences of it.

Inspired by the passion for his faith, Pantoja’s parents, Blair and Marco, and his three younger sisters, Sofia, 16, Elena, 13, and Paulina, 12, also are now joining the Catholic Church.

Sounds like an incredible story, right? Wait, it gets better: At his family’s baptism this Easter, he will be the godparent to all of them.

“I just didn’t realize I had an ability to help people,” Pantoja said, “but I got to see the impact that I did have on everybody else around me.”

“It’s changed my whole attitude,” his father, Marco, told The Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany. “I always thought if you go into any religion you should go 100 percent, and now I understand if you’re doing something to get better, God is always there to forgive you; nobody’s perfect.”

Pantoja has already begun his new role as godparent at this year’s Rite of Election Feb. 21 at the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception in Albany. He served as the sponsor for his family as they entered their names into the Book of the Elect, the last step before their baptism April 3, the Easter Vigil.

Initially, Pantoja wasn’t even sure if he could serve as godparent to his family: “I said I don’t know if we’re allowed to do that,” he laughed.

So, they checked with the experts. Joyce Solimini, associate director of the Office of Lay Ministry and Parish Faith Formation in the Albany Diocese, said “it probably is” rare for Pantoja to fill this role, “but he meets the criteria.

“The criteria for the baptismal godparent is they have to be at least 16 and they have to be fully initiated in the church, which he is,” Solimini added. “It is unusual that he is the son and the godparent, but he does meet all the criteria.

“The only other thing is it is unusual for someone who is newly baptized to take on the role, but in this case, because he had such a strong faith and influence on his family coming into the church, it seemed very appropriate for them to choose him.”

Growing up, Pantoja and his sisters were never strongly influenced by a certain faith. Their mother and father never had a great relationship with religion, and neither wanted to push that same experience on their own children.

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