On the day before the Fourth Sunday of Easter, traditionally called Good Shepherd Sunday, the adults who entered into full communion with the Catholic Church at Easter, reunited for a day of prayer, fellowship and continuing faith formation. The program and Mass for the neophytes was organized by the dioceses’ School of Evangelization.
Auxiliary Bishop James Massa celebrated the bilingual Mass at the Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston. In English and Spanish, he reminded the new Church members that they are never alone in their renewed faith journey, a message tailored for the event’s theme: “The Joy of Encountering Christ, Being Missionary Disciples.”
“The word neophyte means to be planted, to be implanted on a soil,” said Bishop Massa. “So it’s the soil of the Church and it’s the soil of the local church, the parish church. My hope is that the conversation between the neophytes and their pastors helps them to find some wonderful ministries, something to do for the Lord in the response of gratitude for the grace they’ve received by receiving the sacraments. Faith is like love, it grows when you give it away.”
After Mass, two neophytes offered testimonies about their faith. Marjorie Spence spoke about how she not only found peace after joining the faith, but something even more important in her life.
“I felt like I was learning how to love,” said Spence, who joined the community at St. Clare in Rosedale. “That was one of the most important things. I developed family. I developed good friendships that I’ve never had in my whole life and believe me, I am so happy. I never had the peace that I have now. It’s like the Catholic Church has done something to me and I wonder ‘why don’t people understand that?’ There’s so much love, they teach you to love.”
Spence went on to say that before she joined the Church, God appeared to her during a moment when she was dealing with health issues and surgery that at one point had caused her to stop breathing.
“The joy of the Lord is my strength and I realized that when you’re joyful, you’re full of the Holy Spirit,” she said, “because even when you have a situation going on, as soon as it ends, you’re happy again, so I’m always dancing. I’m so happy to be with the Catholic faith.”
Nearly 200 people participated in the day, which included a presentation by keynote speaker Father Ron Lewinski, co-director of the Department of Parish Vitality and Mission for the Archdiocese of Chicago, Ill.
Father Lewinski opened his discussion by asking participants to join him in prayer through song, a moment that allowed the Church’s new voices to fill the auditorium in unison. The group activity symbolized more than a concerted effort to consider joining their parish’s choir, but that in order for them to embrace their new community like the first disciples did, it would mean stepping out of one’s comfort zone.
“Find ways to nourish your faith,” said Father Lewinski. “Find ways to truly be a missionary disciple. Continue to take the Word of God seriously and to take it to heart. You’re going to continue to grow and God’s going to want you to continue to grow in His love and relationship. Don’t wait for someone else, you can take that initiative yourself.”
After a short lesson on what could be deemed an RCIA review class, Father Lewinski closed his talk by citing Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” and the art of accompaniment – “which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other” because the world needs men and women, who on the basis of their experience of accompanying others, are familiar with prudence, understanding, patience and docility to the Spirit, so that they can protect the sheep from wolves who would scatter the flock.
The diocese welcomed more than 1,000 people into the Church this past Easter after catechumens and candidates spent two years preparing to receive baptism, Confirmation, First Communion or even all three sacraments.
For Leogarda Gabor, it was because of her role as a mother that she decided to step away from practicing the Methodist faith that she learned as a child in the Philippines and to be confirmed in the Catholic Church as an adult.
Now a member of St. Sebastian’s parish, Woodside, she attends Mass with her husband and daughter as a family.
“I want us to be one, to be one faith,” said Gabor, “and I want to go to church with my family together. I am so happy with my family that supported me with this faith and I stand with this faith.”
Joann Roa, diocesan coordinator of RCIA and cathechetical programs at the School of Evangelization, said that even though the neophtyes are in full communion with the Catholic Church, her office will take advantage of every opportunity to nourish their faith.
“Many of them don’t make it through the year of neophytes, or first year as a Catholic,” said Roa. “They don’t practice, they fall away. So what we have done this year is that we’ve collected all their contact information and we’re going to make sure they’re connected to everything we’re doing.”