By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published March 11, 2004
Touched by the loving Christian witness of Catholics at the Dominican high school he attended in Taiwan, Chi-Bin Yang, whose family is Buddhist, always retained an attraction to Catholicism and a desire for God.
After his mother, a devout Buddhist, passed away, Yang began exploring Christianity. While running a restaurant in Alabama with his wife, Ting-Lan, who comes from a Catholic family, they visited a Baptist church. After the couple moved to Atlanta last year and began attending the weekly Mass sponsored by the welcoming Chinese Catholic community, they knew they had found a home. Chi-Bin joined the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program and began absorbing his Bible daily, which prompted his wife, who had been baptized at 17 but fell away from the faith, to also read Scripture and begin her own spiritual quest. Christ has helped Chi-Bin and his wife to grow closer.
“Ever since he started catechesis, the RCIA, and started reading the Bible, the more he studied the Bible the more convinced he was he wanted to be Catholic, and he also found peace in the church,” said his wife. “The more and more we got to know the Christ and read the Bible and study the Bible it makes us feel more happy and peaceful at home. We feel so happy deep in our hearts.”
Chi-Bin was one of approximately 1,800 people in formation from some 60 churches who took part in the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion held Feb. 28 at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park for those who will become Catholic at Easter.
Sponsored by the Atlanta Forum on the Catechumenate, headed by co-chairs Father John Howren and Mary Mauldin, Archbishop John F. Donoghue presided at the Rite. The music—led by cantors Sam Hagan and Janice Griffin, directed by Alan Brown with Yvonne Toll and Greg Holland on trumpets—created a joyful spirit, with songs including “Amazing Grace” and “Church of God, Elect and Glorious.”
Candidates—those who are already baptized and who will receive the sacraments of Eucharist and confirmation at the Easter Vigil—were accompanied by their sponsors, who guide them along their formation program. Catechumens—who will receive the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist and confirmation at Easter—came with their godparents, who fulfill a similar shepherding role.
Parish RCIA directors processed into the hall from four directions, each holding aloft the parish book in which candidates and catechumens had written their names.
In his homily, referring to Christ’s temptation by Satan in his 40 days in the desert as an example for his followers, the archbishop reminded the candidates and catechumens of their responsibility to be intentional in choosing the narrow path that leads to eternal life in their choices in daily life.
“Jesus Christ went into the desert, and met the Devil there, in order to show us, that from the beginning, we must choose the way we will follow, the way of life, and do everything we can to stay upon it. For aside from our Lord’s way, the way of life, there is only one other—and that is the way of Satan, the way of death, the way to the kingdom of darkness,” he said. “Our Lord chose the right way, though He was tempted to use His power to satisfy what must have been His aching hunger, though He was tempted to assert His own power over the world, and though the Devil asked Him to turn from the Father, renounce His mission, and live a life of comfort and ease . . . The reason Christ went into the desert and faced temptation, is to teach us, that if we want to win, if we want to stay on the way of life, then it must be as His follower, His soldier, His disciple. It is the power of Christ that saves us.”
The church will always be there, in which members can drink the water of life and receive the grace of the sacraments. “So, when we are distant from the Lord, because of our sin or indifference, because of the natural spiritual desert that can overcome us from time to time, how wonderful that we can recapture the refreshing embrace of His love by such simple means—by confessing our sins and receiving absolution—and above all, by returning to the love of our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. This is indeed Mother Church at her finest, always opening the door to welcome her children home, to bring them to the banquet table, and guide them once again to the way of truth, the way of life—the Bread of Heaven.”
Finally, the archbishop said, the rite is a call for all to conversion.
“It summons us to the bond of the Lord’s love, and ties us together in His strength, and makes us responsible for one another. It is the church,” he said. “Let us pray for one another then, especially during this Holy Season of Lent—the Church for her Catechumens, and they for the Church—that by the power of the Cross, and the sacraments that flow from Christ’s Death and Resurrection, we may keep strong, to confess His Name, to care for one another, and to stay upon the way of life, safe in the fast embrace of our Holy Mother Church.”
Parish by parish, catechumens were then called forward by name with their godparents, and they affirmed their earnest desire to follow Christ and join his church. The archbishop then declared them among the elect of God to be initiated into the sacred mysteries at the Easter Vigil. The candidates then stood up, and the archbishop recognized their desire to be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and to have a place at the eucharistic table.
“Join with us this Lent in a spirit of repentance. Hear the Lord’s call to conversion and be faithful to your baptismal covenant.”
Prayers of intercession for the elect and candidates were read in languages including Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Spanish and English.
Sabrina Mao, director of religious education and faith formation for the Chinese Catholic community of Atlanta and who holds a master’s degree in pastoral studies, commented on the wonderful “transformation” she’s seen in Chi-Bin Yang.
“He’s tried to imitate Christ and his teaching. He doesn’t react so quickly anymore because he’s embraced Christ’s teaching to love one another and be patient.”
She said that from her community there were three others joining, in addition to Yang, from Taiwan and Malaysia. Mao noted that in their program she takes into account Chinese cultural differences such as the differences between Catholicism and Buddhism, the religion from which many convert. She herself converted from Buddhism after being inspired by Jesuits in her Taiwanese university. Their RCIA program addresses how in Christianity God came and continues to dwell on earth through Christ and the Holy Spirit, and the difference between Buddhist meditation, in which one empties oneself to become detached from worldly things, and Christian meditation, in which Christians take another step in opening themselves to be filled with the Spirit.
“Buddhism has lots of wonderful ways of meditating and we certainly can learn from them. All things good are from God,” she said. “(However, with Christian meditation) we let go of things and are filled with the Holy Spirit. Our heart can’t be in a vacuum. Something is going to fill it.”
Another catechumen whose heart has been filled with God is Lori Lorenzo, from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Carrollton. Along with her husband, Ralph, who was baptized a Catholic but never confirmed, she is joining the church this Easter. They attended Palm Sunday Mass last year and later decided to join the parish RCIA. Lori had never gone regularly to church and had been turned off after visiting a “fire and brimstone” Protestant church. But eventually after marrying she decided to give Catholicism a try, and found more hope.
“It’s so different. Now I feel I have something in my life I can really rely on. Just having that faith gives me more security,” she said. “It has brought us closer in that we can share in that as well.”
Her husband is glad to reclaim the faith that he drifted away from after his father died when he was 9. And good things are happening, like Lori’s pregnancy.
“It’s kind of like an eye-opener, to start going back to my faith and getting more in touch with the Lord and what being Catholic is all about,” he said. “I feel more good things are happening. It makes me look at the bigger picture . . . about life and religion and not just living day by day.”
Henry Hernandez, 19, said that joining the church at Our Lady of the Americas Mission in Doraville has made him a better, more positive person. The Guatemala native, who was baptized but didn’t have time for church because he worked growing up, said that in living here away from family, the church has also brought him comfort.
“I’m closer to God and do more godly things. I no longer do bad things like offend other people. It helps me a lot. It teaches me to understand the good things of the church.”
His sponsor, Santiago Garcia, also Guatemalan, has seen the difference in his behavior and manner of speaking. “It’s a joy that he’s receiving this formation. Every Christian needs it. For me, I feel happy, joyful that he is seeking that path God wishes.”
Deacon Lloyd Sutter, senior administrator of the archdiocesan Department of Religious Education and Faith Formation, explained that the period of instruction, which typically follows a school-year model, involves catechesis leading up to the Rite. The instruction dates back to the time of the apostles and begins with revelation, including Scripture and the formation of the Creed, and continues with the liturgy and Mass, the sacramental life of the church, morality, the commandments and prayer. The Rite signals the beginning of a period of purification, enlightenment and introspection during Lent when candidates and catechumens personalize all they’ve learned.
“It’s a time for me to prepare to renew my baptismal vows and it’s a time for (catechumens) to prepare for baptism. So as Catholics we should do this every year,” Deacon Sutter said.
This formation is important so as to not have “accidental Catholics” but rather those who really understand what being Catholic means. And “like a good stew it takes time for you to develop a spiritual life.”