by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Ashley Wilson was looking forward to reaching two major milestones in her life this spring — graduating from Topeka West High School and becoming Catholic at the Easter Vigil on April 11.
She joyfully indicated her intention to enter the church during a Rite of Election held on March 1 at Christ the King Parish in Topeka.
“It was pretty exciting,” said Wilson, a member of Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Topeka. “They brought all of [the catechumens and candidates] in town to church. Our parish [group] ended [up] sitting front and center right next to the archbishop, and I was the first one who got to write my name in the book.”
But just 16 days later, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann announced that all public celebrations of the Mass were canceled. About 450 people who planned on becoming Catholic at the Easter Vigil found their lives placed on hold.
“I found out from my mom,” said Wilson. “And it was the same day they also announced that school was not going on. So, it was a very emotional day.
“I wouldn’t have a graduation, and I wouldn’t be able to enter the church. I would have to wait longer for something so special to me.”
On March 25, this directive was sent to pastors from the archbishop: “For those who would have been initiated at the Easter Vigil, Archbishop Naumann gives pastors permission to celebrate these rites, as soon as possible and convenient, once government restrictions have expired and the archbishop has directed that public liturgical celebrations should resume. These rites should take place at a Sunday Mass.”
As the state of Kansas gradually lifts restrictions, so, too, can the archdiocese. Even so, churches will be restricted in terms of the number of people they can safely accommodate because of required social distancing.
So far, no pastors have announced dates when catechumens and candidates can enter the church.
“The catechumens and candidates remain in the hearts and minds of their formators and parish communities and have been encouraged to persevere in prayer and closeness to the Lord along with the rest of the church,” said Michael Podrebarac, archdiocesan consultant for liturgy and sacramental life.
Although there are provisions for pastors to bring people into the church who are in danger of death, Podrebarac is not aware of something like this happening this year in the archdiocese.
Directors of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults at archdiocesan parishes are doing various things to help catechumens and candidates during this uncertain period, said Mary Lambrechts, RCIA director of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Shawnee and Church of the Nativity in Leawood.
Lambrechts and about seven other Johnson County RCIA directors and coordinators have held videoconferences since Easter to share information and ideas about how they can help the people waiting to become Catholics.
“Some directors are offering specific content, such as videos to watch outside of class, recorded presentations or [videoconference] meetings,” she said.
The directors are sending weekly emails with prayers, tips and suggestions on practical spirituality and exercises in praying with Scripture.
“I’m doing virtual meetings with both parishes and breakouts for small group interactions,” said Lambrechts. “We have some interaction with sponsors each week in smaller groups.
“It’s better than nothing,” she continued, “but it’s definitely not the same. There is so much interaction that takes place before Mass, during breaks and after class.”
Richard Marsh, who was also going to enter the church at Easter Vigil, is aware that, even when public Masses resume, there will be social distancing and limits on attendees.
“I’m very excited about [becoming Catholic],” said Marsh, a member of Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Topeka. “It’s disappointing a little bit that you can’t get together with the people you care about, but everybody’s going through that.
“It’s just something you have to live with at this point.”