Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo by Jackie Holcombe
Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, celebrated the Rite of Election at St. Philip Benizi Church, Jonesboro, one of four churches hosting the rite on Feb. 17. Gathering with Bishop Konzen, left to right, are sponsor Sundii Keeling, Ithamar Gomez, catechumen; Hai T “Tony” Ha, catechumen; Pedro Rodriguez, sponsor; and Kristin Saegaert, RCIA team leader, all of St. James the Apostle Church, McDonough. Some 2,500 people will enter the Catholic Church in Atlanta this Easter.


Companions in faith: Catholic converts assist new believers  

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published February 22, 2024

ATLANTA—Signing the Book of the Elect was a moment of transformation for Chantel Taylor. Putting pen to paper turned an intellectual exercise into a tangible commitment as a new believer in the Catholic Church.  

“And writing my name in the book, that was awesome,” said Taylor, recalling her surprised emotion. “That was awesome. I did not expect that at all.”   

At Easter 2023, Taylor was baptized as her formal entry into the church before receiving the sacraments of initiation—Communion and confirmation. 

Chantel Taylor

Today, Taylor continues the habit she started before joining the church. She is in the pews for daily Mass at her parish, Corpus Christi Church in Stone Mountain, and is deepening her faith. At the same time, Taylor is accompanying a new group of women and men as they explore the path of joining the church, sharing her spiritual experience along the way.    

“When I think about other Protestants that come in, and I’m like, ‘You’re going to think this is the most weirdest, craziest people you ever met, and they worship Mary.’ I know everything that they’re going to be thinking about, and I’m like, ‘Let me be a partner for them,’” said Taylor. “Let me help them to understand that this is not weird. I am a teacher, and because I have a heart for that, I’m like, this is my ministry. I have to be here. If I am not here, I’m not serving the way I’m supposed to serve.”  

The path to Easter Vigil 

Taylor, along with other new Catholics, aims to guide converts through their spiritual journey, using their own distinct paths to forge understanding with newcomers and foster a welcoming environment. 

As individuals journey, they explore the faith by studying Scripture, participating in Mass and discussing the church’s teachings in groups. They experience numerous rites of initiation, leading to the Easter Vigil. This moment marks their entry into the Catholic Church, celebrated with the Eucharist and additional sacraments. 

Typically held on the first Sunday of Lent, the Rite of Election is a public declaration where women and men express their desire for baptism to the bishop. Their names are recorded, and they are called the Elect. At the same time, people baptized in other Christian traditions also state their intentions to join the church. 

This year, the Archdiocese of Atlanta welcomed some 2,500 women and men at the Rite of Election. Atlanta bishops greeted the assembled at four churches—St. Philip Benizi Church, Jonesboro; Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church, Norcross; the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta; and St. Catherine of Siena Church, Kennesaw. Around 800 people are to be baptized, while close to 1,700 are Christians seeking full communion with the church. 

Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, is assisted by altar server Myngnon Walton with the censer at the Feb. 17 Rite of Election at St. Philip Benizi Church, Jonesboro. Three other parishes in the archdiocese also hosted the rite. Photo by Jackie Holcombe

The number of Catholics in the Archdiocese of Atlanta is an estimated 1 million, with more than half Hispanic. In Georgia, Catholics make up around 10 percent of the statewide population.   

Faith through experience 

Veronica Wilson-McElprang, 50, is an RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) team member at Atlanta’s Immaculate Heart of Mary Church. She will act as a sponsor for an adult preparing for baptism. 

Her interest in the faith took hold slowly, starting at Auburn University during her undergraduate years. Raised in a Baptist family, she noticed how Catholic authors, artists and scientists influenced nearly every college subject she studied, from chemistry to literature.  

“It was a very superficial way to start, but it was like, the more I kind of got into it, I started learning more about the church,” said Wilson-McElprang. 

For a time, she attended a Catholic church but did not pursue joining. It would take a few years before she was ready. Her experience stepping out in faith in 2020 was shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, transitioning to virtual meetings and socially-distanced gatherings. She is preparing for the next step in a new career after graduating from medical school. In the middle of her gratitude board, she placed the Nicene Creed.  

“There’s no perfection in this, for sure, but I really do try to make my faith the center of my life,” she said.  

During a 2021 honeymoon trip to Rome, Jeff Caplan inexplicably felt a heartfelt desire to buy a St. Christopher medal. Afterward, he learned the saint’s patronage includes his ancestral home of Riga, Latvia. 

If it were a single coincidence, he’d be willing to dismiss this as unique, but he experienced multiple unlikely occurrences as if it was God’s hand at work. He sees divine providence in hindsight from the circumstances nudging him to the faith. 

Caplan was raised in a Jewish family but without a deep religious experience. Caplan, 59, works in the technology industry. He was a widower, losing his wife to cancer complications. Once remarried, he began attending Mass with his new wife, Melissa. At the 2022 Easter Vigil at Marietta’s St. Ann Church, he was moved to tears and felt called to commit to the faith.  

“Afterwards, I remember we’re walking to the car, and she’s like, ‘What do you think?’ And I said, ‘We have to talk.’”   

Caplan would be baptized on Easter 2023. Today, in addition to other parish service, he is one of the RCIA facilitators, sharing with the class of converts the excitement and uncertainty they may experience. 

“Simply put, a year ago, I was in their shoes going through the process and with probably the same questions and the same excitement. In some cases, there’s uncertainty about what it’s going to be like afterward, and just, again, humbly and with humility, sharing my perspective on what I did to start to participate in the faith,” he said of his role.  

At St. Ann Church, Marietta, Susan Harris coordinates the workshops and conversations for the two dozen adults exploring the faith. She is grateful for the witness of Caplan because he “understands the emotion, elation and presence of the Holy Spirit that is felt as an adult” and shares it willingly, Harris said. “He can speak of it without hesitation.”  

Having recently been the ones asking questions, new Catholics share their perspectives with their faith groups. Wilson-McElprang said nerves are part of the process, not from doubt, but from the importance of the journey. 

The RCIA class from St. John Vianney Church, Lithia Springs, waits with excitement for the Rite of Election to begin at St. Catherine of Siena Church, Kennesaw. Photo by Frances Rentas

“It’s okay to be nervous because that means that this process is important to you, but you don’t have to dwell on it. There are so many people who are rooting for you, cheering for you, praying for you, fasting for you,” she said. “You just have to show up and take your next best step.”  

Encountering God will be life-giving in way that will stretch individuals through new experiences. For Caplan, study and faith sharing are enriching as understanding grows.  

“Try to let go of preconceived notions and what things should be like and instead let the Holy Spirit guide you through the process,” he said.  

Taylor is a 47-year-old software trainer. She grew up in New Jersey as member of the Church of God in Christ, but her spiritual journey led her to Catholicism in early 2022, driven by desire for a deeper understanding of Christian doctrine. She took as her guide the substantial and profound Catechism of the Catholic Church.  

“Okay, so I’m a nerd, and so I read the catechism,” she said.  

At her Rite of Election a year ago, Taylor gathered with hundreds at Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church in Norcross. Taylor found the large number of people intimidating with her unease among crowds. However, she recalled the warm welcome at the ceremony.  

She said, “It’s nice because it’s an initiation. You’re saying, ‘I want to be a part of you.’ And then the people are saying, ‘Welcome.’”