Stories about conversion are interesting and exciting. So when someone stands up in front of the congregation and explains why they believe what they believe, people pay attention and listen.
That’s what happened at the annual Mass of the Neophytes when two new Catholics gave testimony about why they decided to become Catholics this past Easter.
The liturgy is a chance for Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio to stay in contact with some of the newest members of the diocesan church and takes place shortly after the catechumens and candidates for sacraments are welcomed into the Church at Easter Vigil services.
Tabita Girward, a member of St. Teresa-St. Anthony of Padua parish in South Ozone Park, spoke about how her mother was a Presbyterian but Tabita would attend Mass with her Catholic aunts.
Something clicked because when she decided to choose a congregation, it was the Catholic parish, and she enrolled in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), the pathway for entry into the Church.
At the Easter Vigil service, she said she “was filled with enthusiasm, joy and the love that comes from God.”
“After my Confirmation, I really felt that God loved me,” she told the 250 people who attended the Mass at St. James Cathedral-Basilica in Downtown Brooklyn.
She says she prays every day, attends Mass every week and is learning to put God first in her life.
Norberto Feliciano Jr., a member of Transfiguration parish, Williamsburg, also spoke about how he found the Church. It came while questioning God about the death of his mother.
He felt he was being put to the test and finally came to the conclusion that it was only by putting his trust and faith in the Lord that he would be able to see his way.
“With everything that I have learned, I will be better able to live my life with more strength,” he said.
Speaking with other newcomers to the faith after the ceremony, I learned that many had been influenced by their children. There were young parents who wanted their children to grow up right. So, in order to be a good example, they decided to get serious about the Church and either ask for baptism or, if they had been baptized, to get back on schedule with their first sacraments.
One young man explained that he had come through a tough battle with drugs and had experienced the healing power of God in his day-to-day fight against addiction. He was serious now about his faith and wanted to become more involved.
The RCIA process is a time of great learning and coming to understanding the teachings of the Church. In each parish, RCIA provides a stepping stone to involvement in the Church. Classes and spiritual exercises give a firm foundation.
The result is adults making real choices to be Catholics. Many times, they are among the most fervent and involved members of the parish.
Since the Second Vatican Council, the RCIA has been the official convert-making process for Catholics. Each year in our diocese, more than 1,000 people make the decision to follow Jesus. They are a source of great joy and pride for the diocesan community.
If you know someone who has been dropping hints about the Catholic Church or who you think would like to become a member of the Church, don’t hesitate to invite them to join the RCIA in their parishes. It’s all part of the New Evangelization to which we all are called to participate.