By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published March 8, 2018 | En Español
ATLANTA—Victoria Minino, of Alpharetta, didn’t have a faith tradition in her life growing up. Instead her parents told her to explore and make choices on her own.
Her decision came as a young adult. At 22, she is preparing to be baptized and to receive the sacraments of the Catholic Church.
She attended Mass growing up in her native Dominican Republic, and initially what she really wanted was to spend time with cousins.
“I wanted to go and spend time with my family. But at the end of Mass, I felt something different. It wasn’t my intention, but it happened,” said Minino of her change of heart.
On Sunday, Feb. 25, Minino was counted among the 1,988 women, men and children who are continuing their journey of faith to join the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
This year 708 catechumens and 1,280 candidates, with their sponsors, friends and families, gathered at the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta for the hour and a half ceremony, the annual Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory told the crowd of nearly 4,000 that their presence is reason to “praise and thank God for the journey that you have undertaken.” Each of the different cultures, races and languages represented among the soon-to-be new church members offer “diverse blessings” to the church, he said.
More than 1 million Catholics, about half of whom are Hispanic, comprise the Atlanta Archdiocese. Signaling the continued growth of Spanish speakers, the largest group of people joining the church, numbering 158, is from Our Lady of Americas Mission in Lilburn, with its predominantly Mexican Catholic congregation.
The future Catholics have received instruction and participated in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults for the past months. They come from across the archdiocese, representing more than 90 parishes and missions.
The new believers are the future of the church in Atlanta, Archbishop Gregory said. The archbishop said everyone in the crowd is part of “a transfiguration that thrills us much like those who saw Christ gloriously transfigured on Mount Tabor,” referring to the day’s Gospel passage.
“Your presence is a source of great joy and wonderment as we praise God for leading you to this moment in our life,” he said.
During the call of the catechumens—women and men who are to be baptized and receive other sacraments—heard their names read aloud as their parish’s Book of the Elect was presented to the archbishop. Archbishop Gregory honored their faith commitments by kissing the book.
For candidates, who are Christians already baptized and desire to join the Catholic Church or baptized Catholics who want to continue to receive sacraments, each parish name is read and its members stand.
Georgia Tech student Elisia Hamm is embracing her rediscovered faith, thanks in part to other Christians she befriended on campus.
“I was more a cultural Catholic. I didn’t go to church too often. I was worldly,” said the 21-year-old native of Virginia.
Hamm, who is studying public policy, said it was hanging out with nondenominational Christians on campus that drew her to revisit her Catholic roots. She said she started to crave the liturgy and the structure of the church.
She is one of 16 young adults at the Georgia Tech Catholic Center committing to the Catholic Church. Hamm said it seems her peers leave the church in part because they don’t feel close to God or see God’s work in the world. But Hamm said she has been encouraged by St. Teresa of Calcutta and her words about how faith may be nourished during what feels like dark times, when God’s presence cannot be seen or felt.
About the Rite of Election, Hamm was taken with the diversity of languages and cultures. She shared photos of the event with friends on social media.
“You can tell it is God’s church,” she said.
For Lent, she attends daily Mass and is praying more on the rosary beads given to her by her grandmother.
“I’m really, really certain this is the time for growth,” she said.
For Minino, she is one of the 12 members of St. Benedict Church, Johns Creek, joining the church at Easter. Minino, 22, manages a pizza shop and intends to return to college. She moved to the northern suburbs of Atlanta in 2017. One of her early visits was to the nearby parish.
She started classes in the fall and as the weeks lead to Easter, she wants it to be a time of reflection, confirming she is prepared to commit to the faith. When Minino’s faith walk began, she felt if things didn’t go well, she could leave. Instead, she has found herself drawn in.
“It made me feel closer to love, the source of humanity,” she said.