By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published February 17, 2005
Valerie Calloway wanted the best for her only daughter, so she enrolled her in Catholic school.
In fifth grade, her daughter expressed a desire to become Catholic, and Calloway encouraged her, knowing that there was “no serious religion” practiced in their family.
Calloway has watched her daughter grow into a mother, and has witnessed firsthand the joy that her daughter’s faith has brought her. The 54-year-old has decided she wants some of that joy for herself.
Calloway was among the more than 900 candidates, those already baptized as Christians who will receive the sacraments of confirmation and Eucharist at Easter, and the over 450 catechumens, who will receive baptism as well as the sacraments of confirmation and the Eucharist. All were invited to participate in the 24th annual Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion in the Archdiocese of Atlanta on the first weekend of Lent.
The combined rites were repeated in three separate ceremonies Feb. 12 and 13 because of the large numbers. Those participating were divided by parishes and attended a ceremony at either St. Brigid Church in Alpharetta, Our Lady of Mercy High School in Fairburn or St. Pius X High School in Atlanta.
At St. Pius, Calloway sat with her fellow candidates and catechumens from St. Lawrence Church in Lawrenceville as the congregation filled all available space in the school’s gymnasium.
Prior to the ceremonies, catechumens and candidates signed the Book of the Elect from their respective parishes, declaring their intention to continue their faith journey throughout the Easter season.
As the ceremony began, parish representatives holding aloft the Books of the Elect processed forward, followed by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory wearing royal purple vestments, who was celebrating his first Rite of Election for his new archdiocese. Janis Griffin served as the cantor for the St. Pius ceremony.
During his homily, Archbishop Gregory spoke of the seriousness of the Lenten season, which is marked by the great joy of welcoming so many to the church.
“Lent is the season when the Church should be solemn. We are not unhappy, but we are serious about our growth in Christ. We should not be unpleasant but sober about the profound passage that we have made with Christ from death into new life. Lent is a time given over to deeper prayer, works of charity, penitential practices, and renewed resolutions for richer spiritual growth … We attempt to allow silence and understatement to work their wonder in our lives during this time of year. Lent is a time for sobriety and contemplation,” he said.
It is challenging during such a solemn season as Lent, the archbishop said, not to show great delight in the new catechumens and candidates who will soon be a full part of the Catholic family.
“Then the Church is asked to receive those who will soon be joined to the entire Family of Faith during the Rite of Election and this becomes a source of delight. We see great hope and wonderful promise in the faces of those who are already our sisters and brothers and will become more perfectly so with the Easter Sacraments. We witness the presence of so many remarkable people who have opened their hearts to the power of God’s Holy Spirit and will renew the Church in their Baptismal Promises in a few short weeks. We see tomorrow dawn for the Church as the Rite for Christian Initiation renews parish families and ushers in a hopeful future,” he said. “In the midst of our sobriety, we want to smile, we want to grin, and we want to laugh.”
But Lent is not a time for such expressions of joy, the archbishop said with a twinkle, and Catholics must be role models for those joining the Church, teaching them of the somber importance of Lent.
“We attempt to remain solemn, when all the human heart really wants to do is to sing God’s praise for the presence of such blessings. But now is not the time for such activity. We have only just begun the season of Lent. Our penances are still new and perhaps still rigorously observed. The Church is still quite comfortable with Lenten purple and not yet ready for the brilliant colors of Easter,” he said, with a knowing smile. “Let’s get a hold of ourselves, people! With solemn joy and dignity, we welcome, we choose, we elect these men and women for the Period of Enlightenment. And we ask them to pardon any suppressed laughter that might escape during this ceremony. We realize that such rejoicing rightfully belongs to Easter! Please excuse us if we lose control and blurt out how happy we are to have you join us on the journey of Faith—we just couldn’t control ourselves! We’ll try to get better—but no promises!”
Calloway, who was baptized as a girl in a Baptist church, is one candidate who is finding it a challenge to repress her excitement in her decision to become Catholic. The grandmother said it took her a few years to realize her daughter had something she wanted.
“She has five beautiful babies, and she is just so genuinely joyful and has such peace. She just walks with the Lord,” she said. “And she has something I was craving … Finally at 54, I decided to do this.”
Calloway is enjoying her first Lent, and admits her choice to give up sweets has been a tough one. But she is looking forward to becoming a full member of the church.
“I am just excited about giving my all to Jesus. I want to be involved in so much,” she said.
For Joe Morris, it was a very different influence that led to his choice to become Catholic. A Southern Baptist who had at one time considered becoming a minister, Morris’ interest in the Catholic faith was sparked when reading Dan Brown’s bestselling book, “The Da Vinci Code.”
“That just really piqued my interest in the Catholic Church. I realize it’s probably not the number one pro-Catholic book out there, but I took what I read with a grain of salt,” he said. “Then I’d be flipping through the channels and I’d land on EWTN (Catholic cable network), and I’d say, ‘Oh, there are the Catholics—the people in ‘The Da Vinci Code.’”
But Morris kept watching and said he was “fascinated.”
“There just seems to be much more of an appreciation of the mystery of faith, which is very appealing to me,” he said. “Also, the Catholic Church is just so much richer in tradition. Growing up, I used to think that it wasn’t in the Bible that you kneel and it wasn’t in the Bible that you cross yourself, but now I realize that there is a beauty in all that that actually serves a purpose.”
Morris began attending classes in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Smyrna, where he will receive the Eucharist and confirmation this Easter. The more EWTN he watched, and the more he attended classes, Morris said, he just “got more and more of a feeling like (he) was home.”
Roxanne Wilhelm who leads the RCIA classes at St. Thomas the Apostle said that witnessing people growing in their faith never gets tiring.
“Everyone has a story, and it’s just such a blessing to see how God has worked on these people and brought them to this point in their lives,” she said. “Every person brings a unique perspective of God.”