More Than 1,500 Prepare To Enter Church At Easter
Published: March 8, 2007
DULUTH—Clear skies and warm temperatures offered the first glimpses of spring Feb. 24 and 25—appropriate weather for those taking the final steps toward a new springtime in their faith at four separate Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion ceremonies held throughout the archdiocese.
Over the span of the two days, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory greeted approximately 457 catechumens and approximately 769 candidates gathered at one of the four parishes where the ceremonies took place: St. Oliver Plunkett Church, Snellville; St. Joseph Church, Marietta; St. Philip Benizi Church, Jonesboro; and St. Benedict Church in Duluth.
Father Theodore Book, director of the archdiocesan Office of Divine Worship, said that he estimates an additional 300-500 catechumens and candidates either did not pre-register for the Rite of Election or were unable to attend but will also be coming into the church at Easter.
At St. Benedict Church, catechumens (those who will receive all of the sacraments of initiation, including baptism, at the Easter Vigil) and candidates (those who are baptized Christians and will receive the sacraments of confirmation and Eucharist) gathered with their godparents and sponsors, creating standing room only in the expansive church. Young and old, black, white, Hispanic and Asian, representing every background and demographic, made up the crowd for the multicultural service, during which the candidates and catechumens made their final intentions toward becoming Catholic.
Cantors Janis Griffin and Sam Hagan, accompanied by a large choir, led the congregation in singing “Amazing Grace,” followed by a welcoming and opening prayer from Archbishop Gregory. Readings, prayers and music for the Mass were offered in several languages, including English and Spanish.
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory spoke of the joy he felt in welcoming the soon-to-be Catholics. He encouraged them to be diligent in prayer during Lent.
“Lent is a time when the Tempter confronts us in the desert of our prayer and fasting. Like Christ, we are all invited to ponder all those things that we lack and for which we long,” he said. “Yet, in the desert, Christ who knew hunger and loneliness was able to focus on the supremacy of God over every other need or yearning.”
As the church welcomes the catechumens and candidates, its faithful must also be vigilant in prayer for those journeying toward the Catholic faith, the archbishop said.
“We all want you to know how joyfully we receive you. We choose you and promise to journey with you during these few weeks before the great celebration of Easter,” he said. “Christ Himself has sanctified these days through His own glorious example of fidelity of Truth. We are called to do nothing less.”
Though Lent is a time of temptation, the archbishop said, Christ is always there in time of need.
“We realize that when we are joined in Faith that Christ is in our midst and we are completely safe in Him. The Rite of Election is the celebration of the impending growth of the Church and of the unity of all those who belong to Christ and are thus safe from the tricks of the one who works best alone—and in the desert,” the archbishop said. “Let us take great comfort in being sisters and brothers to the Christ who has dismissed the Tempter from all those He calls His own.”
After the homily, the parish directors of the Rite of Christian Initiation read aloud the names of their catechumens, who came forward along with their godparents. Some came holding hands with their godchildren or offering a supportive arm around their shoulders, as they stood behind the catechumens, to offer their support on their respective faith journeys toward Easter and beyond. The candidates then stood in their places with their sponsors as their names were read.
At a reception following the service, catechumens and candidates greeted each other with hugs and handshakes, many of them discussing their journey toward the Catholic Church.
John Ryan, 27, a candidate from the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, is a former Presbyterian deacon who is originally from Omaha, Neb., a heavily Catholic city. He said he had always been drawn to the ceremonial aspect of the Catholic Church, and attended his first Mass at Christ the King on Pentecost, during which the archbishop confirmed hundreds of teenagers. He knew immediately that he had found his home. At the ceremony, he said he found further confirmation of his calling to Catholicism.
“It was cool to see the different communities come together and to see how diverse the church really is,” he said.
His sponsor, Matt Barba, is a cradle Catholic, who said he has received a new appreciation for his faith.
“Through John, I am relearning the faith just by walking with him on this path,” he said. “Today was a highlight for me.”
At the rite held at St. Oliver Plunkett, Megan Giardina stood proudly with her fiancé, Travis Baum, a candidate from St. Oliver Plunkett, whom she is sponsoring. Sponsoring Baum has been an experience that has brought the couple closer together, Giardina said.
“It’s been so special to me,” she said, adding that the Rite of Election was especially moving. “I thought it was amazing to see everyone who will be coming into the church.”
Giardina said that her fiancé is excited about becoming Catholic and that they feel this is an important step toward their marriage.
“This has brought us closer together spiritually, and it’s a good foundation for us for our marriage and for us to raise children in the future,” she said.
Mary Louise Howell took a longer path than some to find the Catholic Church. The 67-year-old catechumen from St. Lawrence Church in Lawrenceville was raised in the Baptist Church but never fully felt a part of the church.
In 2004, both her 36-year-old daughter and her husband of 47 years died of cancer. Her grief led her to the Catholic Church, she said. Her other daughter had converted to Catholicism when she married, and Howell said she was drawn to the “pageantry” of the church.
Going through the initiation process, she said, has made her “accept people for what they are. It’s made me less judgmental and less impatient.”
At the beginning of her journey, Howell was asked by St. Lawrence pastor, Father Al Jowdy, what she hoped to receive from the process.
“I told him that what I wanted was friendship and spiritual love, and I feel like I’ve absolutely gotten that,” she said.
After the rite at St. Benedict, Daniel Whitman, a catechumen from St. Benedict, excitedly hugged people around him. A native of Mobile, Ala., Whitman grew up in a family that was “not really church-going.” He was married in the Baptist Church and said he spent many years searching for his spiritual home, attending churches of various denominations.
“I just never felt like I was where I was supposed to be. There was always something missing,” he said, adding that he attended small churches as well as mega-churches where he felt like he “was just in a seminar in a huge building.”
“It’s like I always believed in Jesus, but I never had the full playbook.”
A Catholic co-worker invited him to attend her church in Alabama.
“For the first time ever I could really feel the energy, and I felt like that was where I was supposed to be,” Whitman said.
After moving to Atlanta two years ago, he continued to attend other churches in his search but was again drawn to the Catholic Church.
“All the signs pointed toward the Catholic Church,” he said.
Whitman, 41, said he feels a special connection to the season of Lent.
“I feel like I’m finally coming home. Christ spent 40 days in the desert, and I spent 40 years lost until I got the call to come home.”