Light and hope filled St. John Vianney Church in Flushing as nearly 50 adults and three children were welcomed into the Catholic Church on the most sacred night of the liturgical year.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio led the Easter Vigil service at the Queens parish, where prayers, hymns and readings were offered in English, Spanish and Chinese. The faithful proclaimed Christ’s triumph over sin and death and gave witness to the universality of the Church.
More than 37,000 people were welcomed into the Catholic Church at Easter Vigil Masses across the country. The Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens received 548 catechumens, including 127 children, and 468 candidates at parishes in both boroughs.
Shortly after the sun set in Flushing, Mass began in darkness with the blessing of the new fire and lighting of the Paschal Candle. Meant to signify the light of Christ coming into the world, the tall white candle was carried up the main aisle. Its flame was shared among the congregation, candle to candle, until a soft glow illuminated the worship space.
“We’re gathered to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ – His physical resurrection, nothing less,” the bishop said, stressing that Christ rose to new life in bodily, not just spiritual form.
A New Birth
“Each day for Christians is a new birth,” he said in his homily. “We leave behind all of our faults, our sins and all the things that hold us down. We begin each day new with God’s grace. We try not to sin. We recognize that with God’s grace we can do it.”
To those receiving their first sacraments, he explained the significance of their decision and conversion.
“Tonight, you will pass from slavery to sin to be known as the sons and daughters of God. … It is a moment you will never forget. It is the moment and time of your deliverance.”
The Bishop of Brooklyn administered the sacraments of initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion – to 49 adults; conferred Confirmation and First Eucharist upon two adults; and baptized three children using a golden clamshell.
Rachel Lin felt nervous, but excited on Saturday evening – and with good reason. She is celebrating five sacraments at St. John Vianney Church this spring. At the Vigil Mass, she became a full member of the Church, and in less than three weeks, she will receive the sacraments of reconciliation and matrimony.
Becoming Catholic has been quite a journey for this young woman, who emigrated from China to New York at age four, grew up as a Buddhist and learned about Jesus from her fiancé, Jason Zeng, and his family.
Her desire to better know Christ and His Church led her to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program. She began attending classes at St. John Vianney last July, but the teachings took on greater meaning after her father died in February.
“Life is very short so we should use our time to try to do the best we can,” she said. “Every time I go to class, I think about the things that happen in life, the past, the connections. It makes me want to learn more and know more about Jesus.”
Sister Monica Gan, C.S.T., pastoral associate at the parish, and her catechetical team, spend months preparing adults to enter or come into full communion with the Church.
Five catechumenate classes – four conducted in Mandarin and one in English – meet weekly to teach, form and prepare adults to become fully initiated members of the Catholic Church.
“We try our best and leave it to God’s hands,” Sister Monica said, explaining that people can only be taught so much; the rest comes down to faith and practice. “You need to put yourself into it.”
The neophytes – and all converts – are invited to continue their faith formation by attending a monthly reunion at the parish, where they study the Bible, share their experiences and ask any questions that arise as they live their new lives in Christ.
“We try our best to keep them coming to church,” said Father Antonius Ho, C.S.J.B., St. John Vianney’s pastor, who was proud to welcome the bishop and show him the fruit of evangelization efforts among his parish family.
“I am so happy for all of us here that we accept Jesus Christ,” Ming (Lisa) Yap said as she looked around the crowded church.
Yap first heard Jesus’ name in a small chapel near her childhood home. Though raised in the Buddhist tradition, her parents “had very open minds,” and allowed her to sing hymns at the chapel on Sundays. In school, her teacher taught her stories of Jesus.
She came to know Him, love Him and even pray to Jesus, but never made a formal profession of faith – until now.
Friends invited her to St. John Vianney Church after she shared her story and desire to know Jesus. She decided to sign up for the RCIA and is once again singing the songs of praise that have echoed deep in her heart since childhood.
Yap is grateful for “a new beginning” in Christ and His Church, not only for herself, but also for her eight-year-old son Hanson, who accepted his mother’s invitation to join her in getting to know Jesus. He was one of the three children baptized by the bishop.
Now, mother and son pray together every night and are learning how to practice their faith day by day. “We help each other,” Yap said.