Road to conversion

by Jill Ragar Esfeld
jill.esfeld@theleaven.org

Anastasia McCann-Harris was raised as a Catholic. Now that she is 44 years old, she’s finally going to be baptized.

“So that’s going to start a conversation right there,” she said.

When McCann-Harris tells people she’s being baptized Catholic, it does raise questions. And she’s happy for that. Since she has become involved in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) at Christ the King Parish in Kansas City, Kan., McCann-Harris has fallen in love with the Catholic faith, and she’s happy to share her journey with anyone who asks.

The start of a long journey

“My mother was Catholic, but my father was of a different faith,” McCann- Harris explained. “He found God wherever he went, and he made the decision that his children were going to get to choose for themselves, so he didn’t allow my mom to baptize us.”

Because her mother was devout in her faith, she practiced it regularly and raised her children as Catholics, without the benefit of the sacraments.

“So even though I was raised Catholic, I didn’t have the full experience,” said McCann-Harris. “And I’ve always wanted to become a full Catholic. But I didn’t know that I would have to go through classes. I didn’t know the classes existed!”

In 2002, McCann-Harris married a Catholic. Last year her sister-in-law encouraged her to finally go through the RCIA process and offered to be her sponsor. The experience has been gratifying for the entire family.

“This has actually drawn us together,” McCann-Harris said. “My sister-in-law and her family, my father-in-law and his wife, and my husband are getting together and going to church. And it’s really changing our relationship.

“We make the time. We’re there together and then usually we go to my mother-in-law’s house and we have breakfast. We talk, and it’s really brought us together as a family.”

McCann-Harris has nothing but praise for the RCIA process at Christ the King and the members of the parish community who are leading her through it.

“They are so supportive — they’re better than teachers,” she said. “Sister Marilyn (Schieber, OSB), Don Wolf, Bunny Bragdon, Pat Hoover and Jim Jursch all bend over backwards to make sure if you have a question, you get an answer. You’re comfortable before you walk away.”

McCann-Harris said the culmination of her journey will be bittersweet. She will miss her RCIA group and teachers, but is looking forward to becoming an active member of the Catholic community.

“I’m hoping to keep growing, to keep becoming a better person and to be more involved in the church,” she said. “The more people, the more of a difference you can make.

“And I just want to make a difference.”

Home at last

Like McCann-Harris, fellow RCIA student, Larry Harvey, had years of exposure to the Catholic faith before he chose to call it his own.

Harvey was raised in Kansas City, Kan., and attended Welborn Community Church, just a block away from Christ the King. He married a Catholic and had their three children baptized Catholic.

“But I couldn’t, for some reason, bring myself to join the Catholic Church at that time,” he said. “I got involved with the Grandview Christian Church in Kansas City, Kansas.”

Harvey would go to early Mass with his family and then attend services at his own church. Eventually he became an elder at Grandview Christian and was chairman of the board for two years. But he never felt complete.

“Something just wasn’t right about the religion I had,” he explained. “For one thing, being the chairman of the board, I received all the gripes about everything. And I really got tired of that.”

Just over a year ago, Harvey’s faith was greatly challenged. He lost his oldest daughter to lung disease. A few weeks later, his wife passed away due to heart problems.

The pain of loss is still a heavy burden to bear, but Harvey has been impressed and inspired by the Catholic community’s outpouring of concern and support.

“Even before my wife passed away, they took really good care of her,” he said. “When she felt good enough, she’d go to Mass. But if she didn’t, they’d bring her Communion.

“And then at her funeral service, they did a tremendous job.”

After his wife’s death, Harvey, who felt guided by her spirit, began to think seriously about joining the Catholic Church.

“I really started thinking, ‘Why hadn’t I done this before?’” he said. “I started going to classes last year and then carried on to this year.”

Harvey said he was partly motivated to go to the classes by all the negative things people had told him about the Catholic Church during his lifetime.

“I had to find the answers for myself,” he said. “And I found out [the negative things] were wrong.”

One of the most gratifying aspects of his new association with Christ the King Parish is the sense of unity and the cooperative spirit he sees in the congregation.

“I have not found the bickering and such that I found at the other church,” he said. “There is a better sense of love in the community. They actually care about each other and try to help each other.”

He feels the Scripture is more clearly presented in the Catholic Mass and he appreciates the structure and ritual of the service.

“The Mass is more organized,” he said. “I’m still not understanding everything I need to do, or remembering when I’m supposed to do it, but I’m trying.”

Harvey longs for the Eucharist and looks forward to the day he can share that sacrament with his new community.

“Communion has always been an important part of my faith,” he said. “In the Christian church, that was a time when I felt closest to God and communicated more directly with him.

“In the Christian church, their elements represent; in the Catholic Church they teach that this is actually the body and blood of Christ. I haven’t been able to take [Communion] in the Catholic Church yet, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Reaching out

Sister Marilyn, who has been in charge of the RCIA at Christ the King for 13 years, knows that many new members to the community, especially those who are recent converts, feel a need for support and friendship.

For that reason, the parish community is just as important in the conversion process as the RCIA sponsors.

“I think parish community is a real force in walking with the people on the journey,” she said. “The sponsors are there to pick them up and help them start over when they fall, but the parish community is a major ingredient.”

Sister Marilyn encourages parish members to be outgoing and introduce themselves to the catechumens and candidates.

“Talk to them, for one thing,” she said. “For another thing, be a good example. Go to church yourself on weekends and get involved in parish life and be a committed Catholic Christian. Invite them to sit with you sometime at Mass, or go to coffee. Be a friend.”

Helping the new faithful along on their journey can be as rewarding to you as it is to them, Sister Marilyn promised.

“The Holy Spirit, I think, inspires people at certain times,” she said. “I think once you experience people’s journey and their struggles, the ups and downs, and you experience the growth in their own faith — it makes your faith stronger.”

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