By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published March 4, 2010
Sanx Srinuanchan was a toddler when her family escaped from Laos as refugees in 1980 and arrived in New York sponsored by a Presbyterian Church organization.
The family, which practices Buddhism, attended different Christian churches as she grew up, but never put down roots in any of them.
It was a conversation with her boyfriend—now her sponsor—a couple of years ago that brought the 32-year-old to be among the more than 2,000 people at the archdiocesan Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, a Lenten liturgy gathering those who will become Catholic this Easter.
“It just felt right,” she said about joining the Catholic Church.
Seeing all the people who share her journey stand at the rite and hearing the prayers spoken in different languages was a highlight, said Srinuanchan, who works on loan documents in the banking industry.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta on Sunday, Feb. 21, formally welcomed the women, men and children taking part in parish-level study of the faith. Some 2,062 people plan to join the church in April.
Archdiocesan leaders have said it is the largest number to ever join the North Georgia church at one time. The churches and missions with the largest groups of new Catholics are: St. Lawrence Church, Lawrenceville; Our Lady of the Americas Mission, Lilburn; and St. Brigid Church, Johns Creek, with 95, 94 and 70 people, respectively, according to the Office of Divine Worship. Overall, there were 1,418 candidates and 644 catechumens.
The number of people was so large it took half an hour to recite all the names of the soon-to-be Catholics who will be baptized, confirmed and receive first Communion at the Easter Vigil. Catechumens are those who are not baptized and who will receive the three sacraments. Candidates are people who have previously been baptized in the Christian faith, but who will receive first Communion and confirmation.
The candidates stood up as a group at the reading of their parish name until nearly the whole Atlanta Civic Center audience stood on its feet. It was the first time in many years that the rite was celebrated for the entire archdiocese in one central location.
Deacons, priests, Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama and Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory sat on the stage. A large crucifix hung and candles were lit on the altar.
Parish representatives at the Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion ceremony read aloud the names of catechumens from their Book of Elect and then the archbishop blessed the book. Prayers and songs during the two-hour ceremony were said in 11 languages, from Haitian Creole and Vietnamese to Korean and Yoruba.
Archbishop Gregory said the variety of languages, ages and races is a blessing.
“We here in North Georgia rejoice that we are such a diversified and growing family of believers. We praise God because we speak so many different languages, follow so many different cultural traditions, and include so many different races and ages of people. It is a blessing from God himself that we are such a diverse community yet always united as a single family of faith,” said Archbishop Gregory.
The presence of so many people who want to become a part of the Catholic Church is “a sure source of sheer joy for all of us who long to welcome you as our newest brothers and sisters,” the archbishop said.
Ryan Lawson, 20, is joining the church because “I feel like it is the place where I belong.”
Lawson attended the first Sunday of Lent gathering with his longtime girlfriend and sponsor, Carolyn Turner. It has been a two-year-long process for him, attending Mass and learning about the faith.
The whole rite was interesting, especially hearing from the archbishop, he said. It was uplifting to see the other people going through the same steps, he said.
Lawson was raised in the Methodist Church, a faith community that goes back generations in his family. His move to join the Catholic Church hasn’t been easy for them, he said.
“Converting from one tradition to another is difficult and it helps to see other people in a similar position,” said Lawson, a junior at Kennesaw State University and a native of Augusta. He attends St. Catherine of Siena in Kennesaw, where there are 28 people joining the church.
Cris Lozano, 35, who works in human resources, has long been a Christian wanderer. He was raised by a Southern Baptist mother and a non-practicing Catholic father. Growing up, the plan was to raise Cris and his sister in the Baptist church and allow them as adults to make up their minds whether to attend church. At 13, Lozano stopped attending that church and started to attend others, including the Catholic Church in high school.
He felt the Catholic Church was where he fit after he began to date his wife, Bertmarie, who volunteers with St. Michael the Archangel Church, Woodstock, as an RCIA sponsor. The parish has 56 people joining the church.
“I’ve always liked Catholicism. Now, I’m ready to settle down,” he said.
Lozano said learning about the church with the parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults has been eye opening. A teaching that was a happy surprise to learn was how it’s not the church’s job to judge people, he said.
“In the end, everybody is going to go to God on Judgment Day and he will judge,” he said.
About the welcome at the Civic Center, Lozano said, “I was pretty much just taking everything in. It was really special to me.”