Raised a Roman Catholic, Ernest Botelho Jr., 33, has always known he wanted to marry a woman who shares his religious faith. He found the perfect match at church six years ago when he met Meghan Souza, 28.
“I saw her giving Communion and the first thing I thought was, ‘Here’s a woman that’s close to my age who doesn’t seem to have an issue staying faithful to God,’” Botelho said. “I was just impressed by her.”
Souza, who along with Botelho is a Eucharistic Minister, felt the same. She found it refreshing to see a young man at Mass.
“I was always told, ‘You’re different because you go to church all the time,’” Souza said. “I saw this young guy coming to church and I thought ‘Wow. That’s awesome.’ It’s not that normal to see people our age that involved in church and it attracted me to him.”
Their mutual love for God is one of the main reasons Botelho decided to pop the big question at the same place they met: Sts. Rose and Clement Parish at 111 Long Street. After finding an immaculate diamond and pairing it with a gold setting, he got down on one knee and asked her to be his bride on April 7, which this year was Divine Mercy Sunday, the Sunday that follows Easter and reminds Catholics to always trust in Jesus and His unfathomable mercy.
“We went up in the first pew to kneel in front of the Divine Mercy image and prayed,” Souza said.
They said the chaplet, or prayer, together. As they got up, Botelho’s plan was to genuflect with Souza, stay down on one knee and propose.
“It sort of happened that way, but she was already turning around and going down the isle,” Botelho said. “I was like, ‘Wait a second!’”
By the time she realized what was happening, Botelho presented the ring. Her answer, of course, was “yes.”
“I was shocked,” Souza said. “I think I blacked out for a second and was like, ‘Is this happening right now?’ I teared up and started shaking uncontrollably.”
They then headed to the Sacristy of the church, where they told Rev. Father Edward Wilson Jr., the parish pastor, who immediately blessed the ring and the couple.
He said while it’s uncommon for couples to get engaged at church, he believes it’s where every love story should begin.
“If God is love, and pure and perfect love, then we need to bring our human love to Him to let Him strengthen and bless it,” said Fr. Wilson. “By seeing them at Mass, it says that they have a deep faith in God, and that faith is a lived faith. They bring God’s pure love to the world through their lives.”
Since proposing, Botelho and Souza have been planning their wedding. It will take place at Sts. Rose and Clement on April 27, 2014, Divine Mercy Sunday. The ceremony is scheduled for 3 p.m., the hour of Jesus’ death on the cross.
The significance of this date runs deep in their hearts, as Botelho’s grandfather passed away on April 27, 2003, which fell on Divine Mercy Sunday that year. The link seemed to get stronger after he met Souza.
The day his grandmother died in 2008, Souza gave Botelho a statue of the Divine Mercy, which he propped beside her hospital bed. He turned the TV on in the room to EWTN, a global Catholic Network, and they were praying the Divine Mercy chaplet soon after she passed. When his great aunt died last year, the same incident occurred just moments following her death.
Botelho also came across an image of the Divine Mercy as he was driving to meet Souza at her favorite Italian restaurant before they became an item. That night, he planned to tell her he had romantic feelings for her and feared she was only interested in him as a friend.
He went to church and prayed before heading to the restaurant. Along the way, he noticed a woman on the side of the road holding a large photo of the Divine Mercy.
“I knew right then that God answered my prayer within minutes,” he said. “That gave me the courage to do what I needed to do.”
After dinner, Botelho confided his feelings to Souza. She was a bit ambiguous, but knew she was beginning to fall in love with him.
“I would pray, ‘If this is your will, God, lead me that way,’” Souza said, pointing out that she frequently prayed to meet a traditional gentleman with old-fashioned values.
Their bond progressed when Botelho started volunteering in the parish gift shop. One of the reasons he decided to volunteer was because he saw her doing it.
“I was asked to work in the gift shop and I thought, ‘This is the perfect opportunity for me to get to know Meghan,’” Botelho said.
They also volunteered at a three-day youth conference, together helping younger parishioners during the program. These days, they still attend the event and serve as volunteers.
As with any relationship though, it was not without its trials. About a year into their relationship, Botelho began having doubts about his future.
“I started to question it,” he said. “I quit my job and was all freaked out about turning 30.”
Souza sensed his apprehension and gave him space. Still, she never lost faith.
One night, as they were watching “Clannad,” an animated Japanese series based on a visual novel, Botelho realized he was thinking too much and overreacting, as the series depicts a young couple that overcomes challenges.
“We related to this couple in the cartoon and it broke me out of my mind set,” Botelho said. “It helped me to see that I can’t imagine life without Meghan. I wouldn’t know what I would do if she wasn’t in my life.”
The experience not only strengthened their bond, but also intensified Souza’s interest in anime, as well as Japanese culture. Botelho’s fascination with Japan started when he was a child. Many of his favorite cartoons, such as the original “Transformers” and “Voltron” were Japanese imports. Additionally, he was a Nintendo fanatic and began taking Judo, a Japanese martial art, when he was 13.
As an adult, he became more interested in the culture and the food. Every Friday evening after work, they go out for Japanese cuisine. They are also learning the language with Rosetta Stone.
“We speak it as often as we can,” Souza said.
While they were thinking about going to Japan for their honeymoon, Souza is afraid to fly. Instead, they are incorporating a Japanese theme as part of their wedding. They drove to Washington, D.C. a few weeks after they got engaged for the annual Sakura Matsuri, or the Cherry Blossom Festival.
“It was awesome,” Botelho said. “I was so glad to be there with her.”
“It was breathtaking,” she said, noting that she set her camera on a timer atop a tripod to take photos of them enjoying the experience. “It was difficult because there were hundreds of people walking along the path, but most people saw what we were doing and stopped.”
But their love for Japan isn’t as intense as their devotion to their religion. They are yet to cohabitate and don’t plan to until after their nuptials.
“Part of my attraction to Ernie is that he loves God above everything else,” Souza said. “Our faith in God is the foundation of our relationship. We don’t want to live life without God.”
Botelho feels the same. Looking at his bride-to-be, he summed up his emotions with just one word: “Daisuki,” which literally means “big love,” or “I love you.”
Jessica Botelho, who wrote this story, is Ernest’s sister.