By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published March 5, 2020
KENNESAW—Ralph Broughton wrapped his arm around the back of Edward Franco as Franco heard his name read aloud from the Book of the Elect. With his hand on Franco’s shoulder, he offered the teen support as Franco and hundreds of other men, women and children prepared and took a step of faith toward the church.
It was the 15th time Broughton, a retired Army officer, had shepherded people into the church. A convert himself, Broughton, 68, and Franco have talked during the past several months about Catholicism. Broughton said he instructs people “to let the Holy Spirit guide them in their decisions.”
For Franco, 18, who works in landscaping, the church and his decision to join feels right.
“I thought it was something good for me. It turned out to be awesome,” he said. The heirloom family Bible sent from his grandmother in Mexico touched his heart and reinforced his decision, he said. He also credited his mother for encouraging him.
The Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion was held Feb. 29 and March 1 at four parishes in the Archdiocese of Atlanta for those who will become Catholic at Easter.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta in 2020 is expected to welcome some 640 catechumens and 1,296 candidates into the Catholic Church. Catechumens will receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist. Candidates have already been baptized but will receive the other sacraments of initiation.
Most came with their sponsors, who guided them during the months of prayer, study and conversation to church. Broughton said he sees the effort as his duty.
“God put us all here to make a difference. Bringing this young man into the church makes a difference,” he said.
Broughton and Franco worship at St. Michael the Archangel, Woodstock.
Nearly every parish in the archdiocese is welcoming new members. Our Lady of the Americas Mission, Lilburn, presented the largest group of nearly 200 people: 86 catechumens and 107 candidates.
The four parishes around the archdiocese opened their doors to host the event—a time when the solemnity of Lent lifts with smiles and well wishes as those joining the church reach this milestone. St. Catherine of Siena Church, Kennesaw; and St. Lawrence Church, Lawrenceville, welcomed the community Saturday, Feb. 29. Others gathered on Sunday, March 1, at St. Philip Benizi Church, Jonesboro; and St. Peter Chanel Church, Roswell.
At the Kennesaw church, parish RCIA directors led the deacons, priests and bishops into the sacred space. Each director held the parish Book of the Elect where catechumens had written their names.
Out of the desert
Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, the diocesan administrator, led the Rite of Election at St. Catherine of Siena Church.
“We are blessed to be together, as I said earlier, to support this journey of faith that these good folks have begun in their desire to come closer to, and finally be incorporated into the sacraments, and full participation in the Catholic Church,” he said.
In his homily, recalling Satan’s tempting of Jesus in his 40 days in the desert, the bishop said the encounter served as an example for his followers.
Jesus’ rejection of Satan had been a confrontation awaited since the dawn of time as the devil’s lies were rebuked at last, he said.
“It’s here in the desert that Christ reveals the coming redemption of all of us humans,” said Bishop Konzen. “The story is more than salvation history, more than a factual account of events in Christ’s life, everything in the life of Christ has infinite and unending consequences. The story is the revealing of the future course of action, a plan and what we must do in order to come out of the desert of human failings and win our own contest, our own trial in the great battle between good and evil.”
Said Bishop Konzen, “Our joy is increased as we welcome each and every one. This rite also calls us all to continuing conversion. It’s not a call given to the individual alone. But for the individual to share with others.”
Just as Jesus surely spoke with his disciples about this desert experience, the seed of faith in the new Catholics will be shared with others, he said.
This reminder summons “us to the bond of the Lord’s love, tying us together with his unbreakable bond, and through his sacrifice on the cross, making us responsible for one another,” he said.
Called by name
Parish by parish, catechumens were then called by name. They stood and affirmed their desire to follow Christ and join his church. The bishop then declared them among the elect of God to be initiated into the church at the Easter Vigil. The candidates then stood up, and the bishop recognized their desire to be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and to have a place at the eucharistic table.
The Rite of Election and the upcoming Easter Vigil is a journey Cathy Weaver began decades ago.
As a teen, she was baptized into the faith.
“Unfortunately life got in the way and I was away from the Catholic church for 40 years,” she wrote.
She attended Protestant churches but then circumstances changed and she decided to return to the Catholic Church.
“I can’t express what it felt like to walk in there again and feel a oneness with God. I started looking into everything I could to get more knowledge, because I realized how little I knew about my faith,” wrote Weaver, 67, who said she worked in public schools and as clerk for the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office. Weaver will join the church at St. Michael the Archangel, Woodstock.
For John Moore, his exploration of Jesus brought him to the church. Moore said he’s found Jesus as a “central figure in a story that is still evolving out of his short life.” Moore’s walk to God has included listening to insightful pastors interpret Scripture to relate to contemporary life, but has found Mass and the Eucharist the most uplifting. He attends the Cathedral of Christ the King.
David Cole, a 32-year-old bartender and philosophy student at Kennesaw State University, grew up in a family that believed in a “higher power” but was not church going. He found himself drawn to the church through two years of research. He didn’t think about becoming Catholic, although he found it compelling.
“One of the things that kind of held me back was the RCIA process being so long. Now I’ve come to enjoy that. I love that hunger it provides for you,” said Cole.
He attended a handful of inquiry sessions at St. Joseph Church, Marietta.
“I was like I’m ready, I’m going to start coming to Mass,” he said. “And my first Mass was Aug. 4 of this last year, and I haven’t missed a Sunday since.”
Cole said he’s been on the journey basically his whole life, only realizing it in the last couple of years.
“And in the last couple months, it’s coming to fruition,” he said. “For Lent, a couple weeks before, I decided I was going to pray the rosary every day. And I’ve had nothing but great things come from that. So it’s been just an absolutely exciting process. I can feel God working with me every day, and it’s beautiful.”
Laura Fenton worked with adults for three years at St. Joseph Church, Marietta, and before with children entering the church. In a few weeks’ time, her group will experience a daylong retreat to get away from distractions to consider the Creed. She wants people to leave the day of prayer claiming as their own the ancient statement of faith.
“This is not just the church’s creed, but my creed,” she said.
Fenton encourages the candidates and catechumens not to view Easter as a graduation, but the start of a faith-filled life.
“It is building the foundation, not the end,” she said. “It is a journey that really has no end.”