WASHINGTON (March 31, 2004) -- More than 150,000 Americans will join the Catholic Church, on Holy Saturday, April 10, through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
Among them, over 62,000 participated in the Rite of Election with their bishops at the beginning of Lent. About 24,000 of the group will be baptized, confirmed and receive Holy Eucharist for the first time on Holy Saturday, and 36,000, who already have been baptized, will embrace full membership in the Catholic Church.
Another estimated 90,000 men and women celebrated the Rite of Election in their parishes rather than attending the diocesan-wide ceremony, usually held at the cathedral.
"The Rite of Election in my diocese was the highlight of the year," said Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Evangelization. "I worried that the cathedral would be next to empty due to all the scandal news this year, but I was delighted to find that the numbers signing the Book of the Elect were higher than last year. It is great to know that God is in charge."
The numbers at the diocesan ceremonies are based on an early March survey by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Evangelization. About three-quarters of the dioceses responded by March 25.
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is an ancient rite that was reinstituted in the church following the Second Vatican Council. It is the usual means for adults to come into the Church. Infant baptisms take place in parishes throughout the year. It is estimated there will be more than one million for 2004.
Adults will enter the church in every diocese of the country and in virtually every one of the nation's nearly 19,000 parishes.
Men and women who come into the church cite many reasons. Some are inspired by other family members, including spouses, who already are Catholic. Others find the Catholic Church during a spiritual search as they explore faith groups until they feel at home. Others seek to become active in the church in which they were baptized but had not practiced the faith.
"People's stories are moving," said Paulist Father John Hurley, executive director of the Evangelization Secretariat. "The Rite of Initiation during the Holy Saturday service inspires everyone in the church. Congregants, who observe newcomers being baptized, confirmed and receiving the Eucharist for the first time, recall the precious gift of faith and the union with Jesus to which people are called. This indeed is good news in challenging times."
"Catholics lucky enough to accompany newcomers on their spiritual journey, for example, by serving as sponsors at baptism or confirmation are especially privileged," he said.
Editors: Backgrounders, photos and stories of people joining the church are available at www.usccb.org/comm/RCIA