Hundreds prepare to join the church
by Shelia Myers
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Few Catholics would argue that these are tumultuous times for the church.
Yet every year, men and women choose to become Catholics through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.
In his homily to catechumens and candidates at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Kan., Feb. 24, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann acknowledged the church’s flaws, but urged catechumens and candidates to focus instead on the essence of the Catholic faith as taught by Pope Benedict XVI.
“The essence of our Catholic faith, the pope has said, is our encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, and the foundation of our faith truly is this: to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” said the archbishop.
The cathedral service was one of three held in the archdiocese. Another took place Feb. 17 at Most Pure Heart of Mary Church in Topeka, and a third was held the evening of Feb. 24 at Good Shepherd Church in Shawnee.
The service marks the second important milestone in the journey toward full communion with the church, a journey that differs slightly for catechumens and candidates, said Michael Podrebarac, archdiocesan consultant for liturgy.
Catechumens will receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and holy Communion. Candidates are those coming into the faith from another Christian religion. They have been previously baptized and will receive the sacraments of penance, confirmation and holy Communion.
This year’s group of 525 includes about 175 catechumens and 350 candidates.
During the Rite of Election, catechumens sign their names in the Book of the Elect as their sponsor and Archbishop Naumann look on. The book serves as an official church record of those seeking baptism throughout the year.
After the Rite of Election, candidates participate in the Call to Continuing Conversion and affirm their desire to be in full communion with the church.
The entire RCIA process is sort of a crash course in Catholicism, compressing into about eight months what took most cradle Catholics more than 14 years to achieve.
The period from the Rite of Election to the Easter Vigil, when the catechumens and candidates receive the sacraments of initiation, could be considered the home stretch, Podrebarac said.
By this point, the men and women are pretty certain about their decision. Many have spent years discerning the call of God, a call that is often stirred by a Catholic friend or family member.
“Ninety percent of them were influenced by a neighbor, friend, or spouse — someone whose demonstration of faith has inspired them,” Podrebarac said. “The power of personal contact and example cannot be overstated.”
That was certainly the case for 18-year-old Michele Garay of St. Mary-St. Anthony Parish in Kansas City, Kan. She decided to join the church because many of her family and friends are Catholic.
“I would always go to church, but I was never baptized,” she said. “So I decided to get closer to God.”
Garay said the RCIA classes have been easy. Getting to them has been a challenge, though, because of the weather. But she has enjoyed learning more about the faith.
Joe Levinson, 18, from Holy Angels Church in Basehor, appreciates learning about the kinder nature of Jesus.
“Being raised Jewish, the God that’s portrayed in the Old Testament to me seems a little less forgiving,” said Levinson.
It is that forgiving nature and the promise of divine mercy that draws us to Christ.
“We are a church of recovering sinners, striving to allow the Lord’s grace to transform us into his saints,” said Archbishop Naumann.
He encouraged the catechumens and candidates to spend time cultivating a deep, personal relationship with Jesus Christ — first by inviting him in, and then by reading the Gospels, receiving the Eucharist often and by spending time in eucharistic adoration.
“I look forward to seeing how the Lord uses each of you to enrich the life of our church,” he said, “to help us continue the mission that he entrusted to those first disciples, not to keep the faith for themselves, but to go and make disciples of all nations.”