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Story:Reclaiming the Past

Growing up Latino and Catholic

      Neil Saavedra grew up in Ventura County, the sixth of  seven brothers and sisters ( “We’re Mexican,” he says, in way of explanation.)  

      Born to devout Catholics, his childhood was filled with confessions and communions. But as a teenager, he grew into a typical, rebellious “little punk rocker.”  He loved music, hated school and had a  problem with authority. He saw  too many rules and too much hypocrisy associated with Catholicism and began to want little to do with it.

      An introspective boy, he soon found himself questioning the nature of God altogether. “ I thought, there was probably something out there, but I don’t know if it loves us.”

      By 17, he was “flirting with agnosticism” when he met a girl who would change the course of his life. She was a devout Protestant who talked about her faith openly and introduced him to friends with similar beliefs. He didn’t pay much attention at first. “I was like, whatever floats your boat, but it isn’t for me,” he says of his feelings at the time. Saavedra would engage the believers in debate, mostly to challenge and refute their beliefs. But slowly, he said he realized he was the one who was seeing a distorted version of life, not them.

A well-worn study Bible

      He began challenging himself to discover what and why he believed.

      A friend invited him to his African-American church, and on a whim, Saavedra accepted.

       The energy and closeness to god struck him immediately. When the preacher talked of angels rejoicing over their worship, “It was infectious.” Inside that church Saavedra says he experienced “an awakening.” He studied the Bible and decided God did want a relationship with him after all. And Jesus was the way to that relationship.

      But he also realized Catholicism was not for him – to much pomp and circumstance has overshadowed the beauty of the religion. “I don’t think God would  say, “Gee I would really like it if you wore this outfit.’”

      He still has more serious issues with the faith he can’t reconcile with, including their treatment of homosexuals and the decades-long cover-up of years of sex abuse by its priests But it doesn’t affect the way he feels about followers of the faith. “ I love my Catholic listeners. They’re some of the best people,” he says

Returning to Christianity as a Protestant – and a hit radio show.

      He returned to Christian life a Protestant and embarked on what would become an ongoing study of religious theology and biblical history, which included teaching himself Hebrew  to read the Old Testament in its original form. Saavedra plays down this aspect of his life and feels uncomfortable when complemented on his knowledge. “There are so many people who know so much more than me, for sure,” he says. The closest he comes to bragging is when he reluctantly admits “my study Bible is well worn.”
      While Christianity gave Saavedra someone to be, radio gave him something to do. Radio to me was always sexy as hell,”   he says about his life-long attraction – It’s the only medium left where a host is allowed the time to develop a thought, he says.

       Saavedra’s entry into the radio began at 20, shortly after attending a taping of  the Dennis Prager Show.

      Listening to Prager --a conservative Jew who aligns himself most closely with the Evangelical Christian movement-- speaking on air about theology, religion and politics hit him instantly.  It was different than the ways he had heard religion discussed before. “Religion always seemed like something old people do to cram for a test,” he says.


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