By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published April 28, 2011
St. Patrick’s Church was a flurry of activity on the night of the Easter Vigil.
Cars turned into the parking lot. Outside, where a prayer of St. Patrick adorns the façade, parents let dressed-up kids vent energy outdoors before corralling them for the lengthy Mass to come.
Inside, 30 or so people, soon to become full members of the Catholic Church, were waiting—going through a head count and gathering for group photos with their sponsors, godparents and catechists. Kathy Bridges, director of religious education, was in the midst of the swirl with Dan Coradazzi, Wendy Ayala and Gabby Quezeda, who had led Christian initiation classes in English or Spanish for the past eight months.
Musicians, altar servers, clergy, staff, and more and more parishioners flowed in and out of doorways and through hallways at the church facility, where Masses are regularly celebrated in English, Korean, French and Spanish.
Rick Young, a banker at SunTrust, anticipated receiving his first Communion and being confirmed that night. He said after being married for nearly 10 years to his Catholic wife, Becky, and going to Mass together, he decided this was the right time for him to become a Catholic, too. When they went through marriage preparation, priests assured him he would know when the time was right, he said.
Answering questions asked by their son, Brian, 6, who has just started going to the parish school of religion, made him realize how much he already knew and believed, Young said.
“All the questions my son was asking at Mass—I knew the answers,” he said. “On the way home, we talked about it. I said: I know all the prayers; I believe in what the church says.”
Yet, taking part in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) “opened my eyes to many things,” he said. “I learned a ton through the program.”
Becky, a parish catechist, said their kids’ reaction will be “happy he can sit with them at Mass” again after all the months where he’s been dismissed partway through, along with the other candidates and catechumens, to study the faith together.
Cesar Garcia, 18, and Jennifer Davila, 16, shyly discussed how each came to be there, desiring to become full members of the Catholic Church.
Garcia, a native of Mexico, was urged to come by his mother. He brought Davila, a sophomore at his high school, Peachtree Ridge, who was born in California. Each was baptized Catholic as an infant but never received the other sacraments.
“We really liked it once we came,” he said about RCIA.
“Happiness, accomplishment, excitement,” said Garcia when asked how he would describe his feelings as he anticipated receiving the Eucharist and confirmation. Davila said she was grateful.
The greatest spiritual impact came when his teachers taught him a fundamental Christian truth, Garcia said.
“When they taught us to forgive, that is when He touched me,” the teen said.
He chose St. Toribio, a 20th-century Mexican martyr and patron of immigrants as his confirmation saint.
Davila chose St. Ann for giving the world Mary as a model of women’s dignity and strength.
“I have some friends that don’t believe in God,” she said. “They ask me why I come to church. I tell them that God is love.”
Guides for Garcia, Davila, Young and the other candidates and catechumens have been Coradazzi, an engineering manager, and Ayala, a native of El Salvador, volunteers who headed the English and Spanish initiation classes.
Although he’s taught catechism classes for a long while and has been a youth group leader, Coradazzi said it was a leap of faith when he was asked to lead RCIA. Right after he agreed, he heard a psalm response at Mass: “Go forth and spread the good news.”
“It was kind of a sign that I hadn’t expected,” he said.
“I have never really shared my faith in this way,” he added.
“Fifteen years ago you would not see me in this class. I’ve gone from being a husband to a father, to being a grandfather. I’ve had close family members pass away,” he said. “This year has really helped strengthen my faith. It has been easier to talk about my faith more.”
Ayala said she grew up attending Legion of Mary meetings for children in El Salvador and went to a Catholic school there. In Norcross for six years, she became active in the Hispanic youth group and last year was a catechist. She also hesitated at first to take on the leadership role in initiation, known by the Spanish acronym of RICA.
“It is a big responsibility,” she said.
Assisted by leaders in initiation, like Father Victor Reyes, she has learned to help candidates and catechumens look beyond simply receiving the sacraments to studying and appreciating their Catholic faith, she said. The Spanish language group met every Saturday night for three hours.
“Some came just to get sacraments, but in the process they realized how great it is to become Catholic,” Ayala said.
The diverse group includes a catechumen who on his own has been drawn to God and then to the Catholic faith.
“Since we began the course, he has missed just one class. He is always early. He always sits in the front. He was telling me he feels really happy,” she said.
After Easter, he wants to keep coming to classes, she said. “That is something we have to do.”
The process of sharing faith has captured her, she says, and it has captured others.
“Last year we had a big group. Four teenagers from that group are helping us this year. Gabby who is helping me this year was baptized six years ago,” she said. “As the priest said one day, we are helping them in the beginning of their journey.”
In the classes headed by Coradazzi, meeting every Sunday morning, the diverse group included people born in the United States, Africa, Korea and also younger Hispanics fluent in English.
Now these months are culminating in the Easter Vigil celebration. The Easter fire is lit outside and the procession enters the church festive with white lilies and white roses.
Father Refugio Onate, the pastor, says, “Tonight we have the reason to not be afraid, to be people of hope, to be people of love. Jesus’ resurrection has the last word.”
“When a family has a new member—a newborn—it is a time to celebrate,” he tells the candidates and catechumens. “ It is also a responsibility to love God, to love one another, to grow in holiness, to make a better society.”
Telling them he grew up in a family of 12 brothers and two sisters, he said the parish family, like all families, is imperfect.
“This is a great blessing in the Catholic Church to be a family, to be a church, to be a community. We are to grow together in holiness. Your brother and sister are there to help you and at other times to fight with you. But we are to resolve our difficulties as Christians—talking, forgiving, solving our difficulties as brothers and sisters.”
“We have different languages. We are from many different places, but united in one Lord and united in one faith,” he said.
“A people of hope is a powerful people who can transform their own lives and the lives of others,” he said. “We can love each other. We can accept each other.”