By GREGORY C. WRIGHT, Special To The Bulletin | Published April 12, 2012
Growing up in a small town in Alabama, I didn’t exactly see a Roman Catholic church that often. There was one Catholic church and I remember one person that I went to school with was Catholic. That was my very limited experience with the Catholic Church growing up. My family had a history of being a part of the Pentecostal church and that was the faith background in which I was raised.
After I graduated from college, I moved to the Atlanta area and continued my faith experience in a charismatic church that also had its roots based in the Pentecostal church. After a few years, I became very disillusioned with what I was witnessing in this church. I stopped attending church and unfortunately became very anti-church and did not attend for several years. After a few years went by, I decided to get back in the church but wanted a completely different type of faith experience. I started attending an Episcopal church in Atlanta. After a few years and for no particular reason, I stopped attending church once again.
‘All Of A Sudden Consumed With This Faith’
In January 2011, I literally woke up one morning and Catholicism was on my mind. Why? I have absolutely no idea. The strange thing is that I could not get it off my mind. I started visiting different Catholic churches in Atlanta to try and find out why I was all of a sudden consumed with this faith. The Mass is very similar to a service in the Episcopal Church, but I still could not understand why I was so consumed with Roman Catholicism. I read several books beginning in January 2011 to learn about the faith of the Catholic Church. I read about the process to join the Catholic Church and knew it had started a few months prior to January so I had approximately eight months before the process would start again. I really think this happened to give me time to read and learn about the Church before I made a commitment to begin the adult initiation process in September.
From January to September 2011, I visited several churches, both Episcopal and Roman Catholic. On Palm Sunday, I visited the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for the first time. I value diversity and I read somewhere about the diversity of the Shrine and that was the primary reason I wanted to visit this parish. What I found was a very diverse group of people who were very friendly and welcoming. I had never experienced a church where the members welcomed everyone, regardless of who they were. I saw their mission statement online, which reads in part, “to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a welcoming community of diverse Christians, seeking spiritual growth and providing compassionate outreach.” After visiting the Shrine several times, I realized they actually practice what they preach and that was very encouraging to me. The pastor, Msgr. Henry Gracz, was also very instrumental in my choosing the Shrine for my faith-based home. He really knows the true meaning of discipleship and leadership.
‘It Will Definitely Be A Night To Remember’
In September, I began the RCIA process, along with six others, at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. I was nervous going for the first class, not really knowing what to expect, but, again, the environment was so welcoming and friendly that it didn’t take long for me to adjust and feel at ease. My classmates were a group of diverse Christians with varying backgrounds and we all were there for one reason—to learn and get a better understanding of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. I feel we have all grown spiritually these past several months and have become good friends and look forward to strengthening our faith together. Our leaders, Curt Rush and Karen Sullivan, did a fantastic job throughout the process to make sure we knew the faith of the Church and what we needed to know to help the Shrine continue its important and critical mission. My sponsor, Bill Griffin, was also a very important person during the adult initiation process. I can say very enthusiastically that everyone involved in RCIA was very helpful and readily available whenever I had questions or concerns.
As the Easter Vigil nears, I am really excited about being welcomed into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Everyone has told me that it will definitely be a night to remember! As I begin my new life as a Catholic, I look to others, both living and the saints, for continued guidance and leadership to live out my life the way Jesus would want me to. There will undoubtedly be struggles and challenges, but that goes with the territory. I am human and will fall at times, but I can rejoice and be glad that the resurrected Christ will forgive me and help me get right back up again to continue my journey to be an example and role model for others.