By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published March 20, 2022
ATLANTA—More than 1,400 women, children and men are preparing to take their next steps in faith by joining the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Seth Wallace, a 22-year-old airplane mechanic, is one of those on the way to the sacraments.
Conversations with a believing friend in Florida a few years ago sparked his interest in the faith. Now he finishes his overnight shift at work working on airplanes at 7:15 a.m. on Sundays and heads to Mass. He’s found a close-knit group of around 10 people to explore the church’s teachings at St. James the Apostle Church in McDonough. They are as young as 20 and as old as in their late 30s. The community embraced and consoled him when his father recently died.
The community shares his curiosity about the Catholic Church and together they have dispelled the rumors he’s heard, said Wallace. Digging into the church and its traditions has been revealing, he said. “Everything is purpose driven,” said Wallace. “Nothing is really just said ‘Oh, okay, we do this just for fun.’ The purpose is for either spiritual enlightenment or to maintain the way Christ set the traditions.”
In the Catholic Church he’s experienced feelings of contentment, unlike other churches.
“I feel very much at peace,” he said. “…. it’s just very calming.”
On March 5, hundreds gathered in the annual Rite of Election to commit to their ongoing journey to Easter when they will join other believers.
Three parishes opened their doors in the archdiocese to host the catechumens, as the unbaptized are known. The candidates are Christians who desire to be in full communion with the Catholic Church.
According to the archdiocese, there are some 489 catechumens and 914 candidates to be new members of the Catholic family at Easter.
At Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church in Norcross, Atlanta Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., welcomed the people “responding to the Spirit of God at work in their lives” to pursue becoming members of the church.
“I am always amazed at the courage and the faith which this decision represents,” said Archbishop Hartmayer. “In many ways you are living examples of the spirit of faith with which Mary, the Mother of Jesus, responded to the call of God in her own life.”
In his homily, Archbishop Hartmayer reminded the congregation they are joining a community of believers, with Jesus at the center. And the journey of faith does not end at baptism or receiving first holy Communion but to be a “living sign Jesus is with us, and through us he wishes to reach out to the whole world.”
“One of the joys” with full communion is receiving the Eucharist at Easter, he said. The task of believers after receiving Communion is “so that we can be life-givers for others,” he said.
In addition to Holy Vietnamese Martyrs, St. Catherine of Siena Church in Kennesaw and St. Philip Benizi Church in Jonesboro hosted the rite the same morning with Atlanta’s auxiliary bishops leading them.
Encounters with the faithful
In midtown Atlanta, more than a dozen undergraduates, graduate students and a few alumni at the Georgia Tech Catholic Center are preparing for the upcoming Easter Vigil, when they will enter the church fully.
MacKenzie Gignilliat believes students are the best promotion for the Catholic way of life. The junior is the faith formation director, helped by five other student teachers.
She talks with the young adults as they start the process to join the church. A common thread she heard about why people show up at the center is not through a convincing argument but “it’s always been they’ve encountered people who live differently.”
It raises questions in their mind which draws them to the Catholic Center community, said Gignilliat.
On the eve of stressful exam weeks, students will go all out to prepare for Holy Week. As Easter nears, volunteers decorate the center with exquisite flowers for the Easter Vigil to accent the chapel, and then the community hosts a party with live music afterwards, she said.
Aidan Anderson, 21, said his younger self would be surprised to be on the verge of becoming Catholic. As a teenager his dream was to be “top dog on Wall Street,” said Anderson, speaking from his Georgia Tech dorm room after finishing a biology class. He is a junior studying industrial engineering.
Anderson said he first stepped into the Catholic Center for an apologetics night in the fall, where people question and debate about God. Versed in Christian thought, he decided to raise some questions about the church. But his points weren’t as “original, insurmountable” as he thought. Instead, he found himself at Mass, not knowing the customs or the prayers so he kept returning. He became a regular in the community.
He credits being at this crossroads to “my studies and encounters with people who are faithful and meeting them and talking to them.”
Joining the church was confirmed for him at Christmas where he attended a Lutheran service with his family, but felt the absence of Mass.
“I missed the traditions. I missed the memorized portions, the structure of it. It speaks to my heart,” he said.
A return to RCIA
Some 33 miles to the south at St. James Church, Carly Smith is making her second effort to join the church. Her first time ended after she needed time to recover from a miscarriage.
Now 27, and a mother of two young boys, she is excited for the coming weeks when at the end she’ll be baptized and receive the sacraments of Eucharist and confirmation.
“I’ve always believed in God and always felt like he helps you on your path. My younger self wasn’t ready for what I would have been through,” said Smith. “And so that now that I’m on this path, it’s like ‘Yes, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.’”
The Smith home—with her husband Patrick and two youngsters—has set aside an area reserved for prayer and quiet thought. Standing in the family’s sacred area is a statue of Patrick’s patron, St. Joan of Arc and one of St. Michael the Archangel, who Carly is considering for her patron saint. After the sacraments of initiation, the couple would like to have their civil marriage blessed in the church and the youngsters baptized.
In 2021, the family attended Pentecost Sunday. Smith said that’s when she knew in her heart that she needed to recommit to RCIA.
“I was just so drawn in by the beauty,” she said. Following Mass, there was a eucharistic procession around the church campus and Smith said it has remained fresh in her mind.
“It just brings you together and everything about it draws me in,” she said.