WASHINGTON (March 17, 2005)—More than 150,000 Americans will join the Catholic Church on Holy Saturday, March 26, through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
Among them, almost 65,000 participated in the Rite of Election with their bishops at the beginning of Lent. About 27,500 of the group will be baptized, confirmed and receive Holy Eucharist for the first time on Holy Saturday. More than 36,000, who already have been baptized, will embrace full membership in the Catholic Church. With 87 percent of the U.S. dioceses reporting, the 2005 numbers exceed those of 2004.
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.
Backgrounds of the people seeking to be baptized or to enter into full communion in the church by receiving First Communion and/or confirmation, vary.
In Minneapolis at St. Olaf's Parish, four people under the age of 30 will be baptized. They are not coming into the church because they are marrying a Catholic, said Mark Crotto, St. Olaf's parish administrator and coordinator of the RCIA program, noting a frequent impetus for people's joining the church. These four have identified a hunger within themselves. Sixteen other men and women will come into full communion in the parish too. In another city, Jackson, Mississippi, a 19-year-old will join the church at St. Peter Cathedral. She sought to join the church three years before but her parents asked her to wait.
David Reid, who won a gold medal in boxing at the 1996 Olympics – America's only gold medalist in boxing that year – will enter the church at St. Michael's Parish in Marquette, Michigan. He grew up Baptist and then became Muslim before finding the Catholic Church.
In San Pablo, California, Stuardt-Mikhail Clarke, 58, will receive the sacrament of confirmation at St. Paul Church. Clarke's interest in Catholicism began at St. Peter's in Rome, where he sought comfort in 1988 after the death of friends in a house fire and from AIDS. He became a frequent traveler to Rome. As he developed a vast knowledge and love of the church, he said, he also found he also had become a Catholic in his heart.
In the Diocese of Ogdensburg (NY), in St. James Parish in Carthage, those entering the church include a family of four. The father, Craig, who will soon be deployed to Afghanistan, and his son will be baptized. His wife Melissa and daughter Madison, already baptized, will come into full communion with the church. At the same time, another St. James parishioner, who has been attending Mass for more than 30 years, will be received into the Church. In New London, Connecticut, the Bonhomme family of four, from St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish, also will enter the Church.
In Olean, New York, the parents of Cameron and Kelsey Myers, had left it up to their children to decide which religion to embrace as they grew older. Both attend Catholic schools and this year, Cameron, a ninth grader, and Kelsey, an eighth grader, will join the Catholic Church Holy Saturday. Their father, who has been a member of the United Church of Christ, will enter the Church with them. Wayne Myers was inspired to join the church after witnessing the love and spirituality at a funeral he attended. Their mother is Catholic.
"The Rite of Election is always a moving experience as new life comes into the Church," said Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Evangelization. "It is a sign of the work of the Holy Spirit and of the witness of faith that Catholic men and women give every day. Virtually all who come into the Church note that they were drawn to the Catholic Church by a friend, relative or acquaintance who quietly lives out the Christian life. The Church is stronger because of its faithful members."
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 87 percent of the dioceses responded by March 16.
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is an ancient rite that was reinstituted in the church following the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). 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 2005.
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 touch the heart," 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: Numbers of dioceses responding are available at www.usccb.org/comm/rcia.