GREEN BAY — At age 23, Rudy Hernandez is on fire for his faith and leading other Hispanic youth in Green Bay to Jesus. But it wasn’t always that way.
As a teenager in Eagle Pass, Texas, drugs and alcohol were all he worshipped. “I wasn’t in a good situation,” he said. “I didn’t believe in God. I was just confused about faith and making poor decisions.”
In addition to alcohol, he used cocaine and marijuana. “Anything that got me away (from reality) — pills, spray paint, paint thinner,” said Hernandez.
On Dec. 28, 2012, his father, Rodolfo, died, leaving him and his mother, Juanita, at home. “When my dad passed away, it was another level into darkness,” said Hernandez. Every day for four months, he got drunk or high to escape his sadness, he said.
“One day in April, I woke up and I was sober. I was washing my face and saw myself in the mirror and that’s when it hit me. This is not me,” said Hernandez.
Although his mother was a devoted Catholic, Hernandez did not share her faith. But that day, he said he asked God for help.
“I call it ‘my promise day,’” said Hernandez. “I prayed, ‘Lord take me out of this darkness. I promise you I am going to dedicate myself to help the young people not go through what I’m going through.’ Every day I look back to that day because that was really a start to new life.”
In addition to losing his father, his mother had lost ownership of their house. Hernandez decided that starting over meant leaving Texas.
“My parents were going to buy me a car with income tax money, so I had a couple hundred dollars,” said Hernandez. “That day I saw myself in the mirror, I went to my mom and I said, ‘Do you want to go to Green Bay?’ She was like, ‘Not without you.’ I said, ‘Buy the tickets right now. Let’s get out of here.”
His sister, Veronica Cortez, was living in Green Bay and active at St. Willebrord Parish. She and her husband welcomed them into their home.
Hernandez said his first month in Green Bay was the most difficult. “I would call it my rehab because I didn’t come out of the room at all. I quit (drugs) cold turkey and it was super hard,” he said. “I was in that room, sometimes I was screaming, pulling my hair, but something in me said, ‘I want to change.’”
When he finally overcame his withdrawals, he decided to attend Mass with his mother and sister.
“My mom would always ask me (to go to Mass) and after I said no, she would make her little sad face,” he said. “I said, ‘I will give it a shot.’ That’s the day the youth group was waiting for me and everything changed.”
Hernandez was invited to attend a Cristo Vivo youth gathering after Mass. Cristo Vivo (Christ Alive) is the young adult ministry at St. Willebrord. “Veronica had already talked to them and they were there for me after Mass,” he said.
Hernandez began attending Cristo Vivo meetings and gradually opened his life to God, he said.
“What really got me into the youth group was having fun. I remember when we were laughing, cracking up, having a blast and I would say to myself, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I’m having so much fun and I don’t have to be worrying about being chased by police for underage drinking. I don’t have to worry about being attacked by some other gangs,’” he said.
“At the same time, they would introduce talks and they would talk to me about Jesus and the church. Little by little, it kept going into me, until I finally made the decision.”
That decision was to enter fully into the Catholic Church. He took his first Communion and was confirmed in April 2015. He also started to take leadership roles with Cristo Vivo.
“Eventually it built up to giving my testimony,” he said. “That’s when I realized that our wounds are our greatest treasures and that we can make (ourselves) new with Jesus Christ.”
Since then, Hernandez has been on a mission to introduce Jesus to others. He joined St. Philip the Apostle Parish and began teaching religious education to high school students at St. Philip.
“It came to a point where I was so on fire that I wanted to come and help other communities,” he said. “I started talking at St. Philip and I started helping with middle school and high school youth groups. Just recently, I made the decision to say, ‘You know what? I want to start a new adventure.’”
Hernandez started “Guerros de Dios” (Warriors of God), which includes a mentorship program for Hispanic youth and outreach to Hispanic young adults.
“This is not part of a certain parish. This is more of myself,” he said.
“When I started the ministry, I wanted to make sure that I am in alignment with my diocese. I want to make sure that we are 100 percent Catholic. … Before I can go and ask for recognition, I have to show proof. It’s time to get our hands dirty right now.”
Using a rosary and a dried rose petal, Hernandez shares the story of his ministry.
“I like to go around and tell everybody that we are beautiful roses and it’s crazy because, when we are beautiful roses, everybody wants us,” he said. “We smell good. Everybody wants to take pictures with us. They love us.
“But for many reasons we start dying. Other people start mistreating us. We completely die out like this (petal) right here. Nobody wants to take pictures with us anymore. We smell bad,” he continued.
“So my message really is to be made new with Jesus Christ. Our wounds are our greatest treasures. If you are willing to be a warrior of God, which means to really surrender to God and let him fight your battle, you’ll be formed into something new like this rosary that I made with rose petals,” said Hernandez.
He learned to make the rose petal rosary by watching YouTube videos.
“I’m trying to go out there (and introduce others to Jesus) because that’s what they did to me once,” said Hernandez. “I can’t believe God loves me even though I did what I did and offended him. I thought I was a piece of garbage, like this (rose petal), something dead. The Lord made me new, like this rosary, so I want to go out there to those people who consider themselves dead roses and let them know they could be made new.”
Hernandez invites Hispanic young adults to learn more about his ministry on Facebook at Guerreros De Dios Ministries.