WASHINGTON (April 7, 2006) -- Thousands of Americans will join the Catholic Church on Holy Saturday, April 15, through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
Many of them participated in the Rite of Election with their bishops at the beginning of Lent and will be baptized, confirmed and receive Holy Eucharist for the first time on Holy Saturday. More, who already have been baptized, will embrace full membership in the Catholic Church.
Numbers vary. The Archdiocese of Denver, for example, reports that 700 people will be baptized and 1,400 will come into Full Communion there. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Texas, reports 1,090 will be baptized and 905 will come into Full Communion. The Archdiocese for Military Services reports it will baptize 425 persons and welcome 515 persons into Full Communion.
Other men and women celebrated the Rite of Election in their parishes rather than attending the diocese-wide ceremony held at the cathedral.
The complete number of adults being baptized or coming into Full Communion in 2006 was not available by April 6. According to early figures from the 2006 Official Catholic Directory, in 2005 80,521 adults were baptized in the Catholic Church and 73,296 came into Full Communion. In addition, there were 940,194 infant baptisms.
Backgrounds of the people seeking to be baptized or to enter into Full Communion by receiving First Communion and/or confirmation vary.
Martin White, CEO of MDU Resources, a Fortune 500 company with earnings over one billion dollars last year, will enter the church through the Diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota. He attends St. Joseph Church in Mandan. White and his wife Sheila prepared for entering the church with the Benedictine Sisters at the University of Mary, Bismarck, where he will soon become dean of the college's newly established school of business. White has served on the St. Joseph parish council.
Three generations of women will come into Full Communion in the Catholic Church at the Easer Vigil liturgy in Our lady of Grace Church in Minot, North Dakota. There Mary Lund, her daughter-in-law Lory Lund, and her granddaughter Tami Voeller will be confirmed. Barb Voeller will be Confirmation sponsor for her sister-in-law Lory Lund.
In rural Richfield, Utah, St. Elizabeth Parish, which has three missions and draws parishioners from a 6,700 square mile area, has eight elect preparing to enter the church. One is an 87-year-old man whose daughter and family joined the church a few years ago; another is a young woman who was deeply touched by what she saw on television at the time of Pope John Paul II's death, and another is a 19-year-old man who graduated from high school last year.
The response to Pope John Paul's death also touched Diannah Hedgebeth, who will be make a profession of faith, confirmed and receive First Eucharist at St. Michael's Church in Newark, New Jersey. She had been on a religious quest for a couple years, she said, and recognized her call to the Catholic Church as she watched events surrounding the dying of Pope John Paul.
"The moment his death was announced God spoke to me and told me that's where I belonged," she said.
Another searcher, Stacey Karpp, who attended the RCIA program at San Felipe de Neri Parish near Albuquerque, also spoke of feeling at home in the Catholic Church. She was adopted and raised Jewish but did not feel comfortable in the Jewish religion and later learned that her birth mother was Catholic. While praying for guidance during a quest to find the religion where she belonged, she said the answer exploded in her mind: "Be who you are." She will be baptized Holy Saturday.
In the Archdiocese of Washington, at the University of Maryland, six students will be baptized and 17 will come into Full Communion. In nearby Olney, Maryland, Bob Handler, 59, a retired public school teacher, will join the church at St. Peter's Parish. He credits Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, where he now teaches history, for drawing him to Catholicism.
"Students are nice to each other and nice to us; teachers are supportive of one another," he said in an interview with the Catholic Standard, the archdiocesan weekly.
"The Rite of Election is always a moving experience as new life comes into the Church," said Bishop Sam Jacobs of Houma-Thibodeaux, Louisiana, 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 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 about one million for 2006.
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 Deacon William Ditewig, acting 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 to a march-April survey are available at www.usccb.org/comm/RCIA.