By MARY ANNE CASTRANIO, Staff Writer | Published marzo 16, 2006 | Available In English
The first weekend in the season of Lent, already marked by the brilliant sunshine of the approaching spring, was further adorned by the happiness shining on the faces of the more than 1,300 people taking their final steps toward becoming Catholic by participating in the 25th annual Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion in parishes around the archdiocese.
As the spiritual leader of the archdiocese, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory presided at the liturgies, held at four different locations and times over the weekend, on Saturday, March 4, at St. Brigid Church, Alpharetta, Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta, and St. Catherine of Siena Church, Kennesaw, and on Sunday, March 5, at St. Matthew Church, Tyrone.
This particular liturgy, traditionally celebrated by the church worldwide over this first weekend in Lent, consists of two main parts: the Rite of Election for the catechumens—those preparing for baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist—and the Call to Continuing Conversion for the candidates—those who have already been baptized and who seek to be brought into full communion with the Catholic Church through confirmation and Eucharist.
Representing 102 parishes and missions, over 400 catechumens, 900 candidates, their godparents and sponsors, and friends and family attended the rites and exulted in this next step of their journeys to becoming full members in the Catholic community in North Georgia.
At Holy Spirit Church, an excited crowd filled the sanctuary on Saturday afternoon, amidst the soft light of the glowing stained glass windows.
Noting the diversity of those gathered, Archbishop Gregory began his homily with stirring words linking the momentous responsibility of becoming an American citizen with the joy and responsibility of joining Christ’s community.
“Similar ceremonies to this one occur in cities across the United States of America throughout the course of the year,” he said. “In civic celebrations, people who are not members declare their desire and intent to become members. The United States of America is one of the nations of the world that continually welcomes new people to share in the heritage of America. We receive new Americans in festive and private ceremonies in which they declare themselves a part of this nation of freedom. With thick accents and faces that reflect the rich expanse of humanity, people become Americans by declaring their yearning before legal representatives of our government designated to accept their desire and intentions. They do so realizing that the freedom and the privilege of being Americans also means that they accept the responsibility of helping America fulfill its great promise as free and noble people.”
Archbishop Gregory challenged the candidates and catechumens by defining the responsibility of Catholicism. “To become a Catholic at this moment in time is to add your name to the long list of people who have professed faith in this ancient heritage of believers. To become a Catholic today is to identify yourself with a people whose religious heritage and traditions stretch back to the very apostolic community itself. To become a Catholic today is to join a community of people who are often misunderstood and even criticized because of our belief in the dignity of all human life at each and every stage of its development, in justice and compassion for the poor and immigrant, in the pursuit of diplomacy and dialogue before the assignment of weapons. To become a Catholic in today’s world is to be identified with people who hold to customs and a legacy that are not always politically correct or popular. To become a Catholic today is to be identified with people who are often sinful and in need of mercy and forgiveness. If you wish to add your name to that list, then you bring us greater hope today than that for which we can ever offer thanks.”
During the ceremony, which included the Liturgy of the Word in English and Spanish, the celebration of election began as representatives from each parish came to the podium and read aloud the names of the catechumens from the parish’s Book of the Elect. The catechumens, along with their sponsors, stood up as they heard their names called. Each Book of the Elect was then presented to Archbishop Gregory for recognition, and he held each book high for all to see.
The act of reading the names, said Archbishop Gregory in his homily, added “splendor to this celebration. Each name increases the happiness of this moment. But each name is contained in and enriched by the name of Christ whose people we all are and whose dignity we all share.”
After an affirmation of the catechumens by the assembly, Archbishop Gregory declared them to be among the Elect of God.
The liturgy then continued with the celebration of the Call to Continuing Conversion. The candidates, whose names are among the Elect because of their baptism, stood alongside their sponsors as their parish names were read. Their wish to become Catholic, to be “sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit,” was recognized, and they were officially declared to be candidates.
After intercessions for the Elect and the candidates, the liturgy ended and the enthusiastic crowd spilled out of the church.
This celebration marks the final step before full membership in the church, which will occur at parishes around the archdiocese at the Easter Vigil Mass on April 15.
Archbishop Gregory acknowledged in his homily that those who are joining the church come for different reasons. Some have Catholic spouses and children, he said, while others have had an “intense period of question and interest.” Still others have “fallen in love with a Catholic” and have a respect for their loved ones’ faith tradition.
The archbishop eloquently acknowledged all those seeking membership in the Catholic Church by saying, “We welcome all of you and we bless you for coming to this church today. Your presence brings more joy to us than I can adequately express.” Many attending the celebration mentioned how his words touched them and imparted a special meaning to the day’s ceremony.
Archbishop Gregory’s words of welcome resonated in the stories of the many candidates and catechumens who are making this commitment to become Catholic this year.
Andrea Nabors, a catechumen from Holy Cross Church, Atlanta, and a sometime Methodist, had rededicated her life to Christ when she met the man who became her fiancé, who is Catholic. “One of the many things I loved about him was his faith and dedication to attending Mass every Sunday,” she said. “The fact that his younger brothers and many of his friends were as dedicated was also inspiring. At some point I started attending Mass with him regularly. I wanted to know and understand more about the faith, so I did a lot of reading and research on my own.” Others, such as a roommate who had attended Catholic school, helped with the answers to her questions, as she was discerning her path to God.
Nabors said, “I now realize that God sent me all these people when He did for a reason. After attending Mass for more than a year and feeling that God was working on me, I began to think and pray privately, not about if I would become Catholic, but when I would become Catholic. The learning process in OCIA has been wonderful. I am now so happy to be joining the church and am overwhelmed by the love, support and prayers from the Holy Cross community.”
A resident of midtown Atlanta and a member of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Atlanta, Amy Renfrow was baptized 30 years ago by Msgr. Henry Gracz but did not continue in the Catholic faith. After her marriage to Joey Widener, a Southern Baptist, and the birth of their daughter, she felt led to come back to the Catholic Church and fulfill what had begun with her baptism. Both Renfrow and her husband will become Catholic at Easter, and they have been supported in their journey by sponsors Paul and Mary Ann Traina.
Mary Ann was particularly inspired by the archbishop’s words at the liturgy, saying, “He makes you feel like he’s talking to you.”
Ann Blasick, a parishioner at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, and the former director of the archdiocesan young adult ministry, served as sponsor for Julie Wise, who she declared laughingly was “the best catechumen ever.” Wise, while humbly professing disagreement, shared that it had taken her 29 years to decide to become Catholic and that this step is part of “moving forward” in her faith journey. The women, matched randomly by the RCIA program, have become good friends in the process. Blasick said, “God brings people together for a reason.”
Originally from Cuba, Annaliet Romero was baptized and raised a Baptist. She is becoming Catholic because of her husband Jose, whom she will marry in a church wedding on April 8. A member of Holy Cross Parish, Atlanta, Romero said her sponsor, Caroline Camick, has been “working on her” for 10 years. Romero’s grandmother, Ramona Rodriguez, is visiting from Cuba for the upcoming nuptials and was happy to also attend this important milestone in her granddaughter’s life.
Sandra Quady, a parishioner at All Saints Church, Atlanta, is the sponsor for her husband, Scott, who is a candidate. They have been active at All Saints, as well as their former parish, St. Oliver Plunkett Church, Snellville, for a number of years. Scott said that becoming Catholic was just “something I decided” to do. He said that he has been going to the Catholic Church all along. Baptized a Methodist, he has come to appreciate that some of the “things you treasure most” can be found in the Catholic faith. Sandra also celebrated the universality of the church, sharing that her mother in Singapore was also serving as a sponsor for a friend that very weekend. “We have a common goal,” she said, adding that serving as a sponsor is a great thing to do.
A shy young couple from Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Atlanta, Willy and Viviana Budiman are members of the Indonesian community at the north Atlanta church. Viviana is a candidate and is following her fiancé into the Catholic Church. Preparing to become a Catholic and preparing for the sacrament of marriage have been both enjoyable and “interesting,” said Viviana.
Archbishop Gregory put the significance of the Rite of Election and Calling to Continuing Conversion into perspective for all Catholics in his comments at the liturgy. Those who join the church each year serve as an inspiration to the community.
“Each year as we welcome our newest brothers and sisters in Christ, we realize what a precious name we bear and how much more we are called to be and to do in order to live the life of Christ more perfectly before the world. … When you leave this church, we trust that your thoughts will be equally rich. Those of us who are Catholics already are so deeply grateful for the presence of those with whom we will share a common name and the very Body and Blood of Jesus at the Easter Mysteries. We thank and bless you for wanting to become one with us. You enrich us simply by reminding us of the splendor of the name that we bear by God’s grace. Welcome to each and every one of you from the hearts of those who are renewed by your presence and your hope.”