International News

Tens of Thousands Will Join Church This Easter

Pope Francis Palm Sunday Mass 2015
Pope Francis holds a simple wooden staff during Palm Sunday Mass at the Vatican. (Photo by Catholic News Service/Paul Haring)

By Kristi Anderson

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (CNS) – Who was Jesus? Why do we need a pope? How were we made by God?

All of these are good questions that anyone considering becoming Catholic might ask.

But the questions are even more poignant when they come from a young man who grew up in a place where the government told him that God cannot mutually exist with science, where one who believes in God is considered weak, and where the only media coverage of the Catholic Church is around abuse scandals.

If this is your background, it’s challenging to talk about God at all.

For 18-year-old Peter Yang, who is from Beijing and is a senior at Cathedral High School in St. Cloud, Minn., these were among the questions he had. But thanks to his own curiosity and the support of the school, Yang began a journey to full initiation into the Catholic Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program.

He will become a Catholic at the Easter Vigil, April 4, as will thousands of others across the U.S.

“I was taught that God did not exist,” he told The Visitor, newspaper of the Diocese of St. Cloud. “I didn’t believe in the Church’s teaching. I considered church a place where they were gathering people’s money and taking advantage of it.”

Yang plans to return to China this summer and said he believes his parents will be supportive of his decision to become a Catholic.

For him, living his faith “on the inside” will help him through the difficulties he may face “on the outside.”

The Easter Vigil marks the culmination of RCIA, a process of conversion and study in the Catholic faith for catechumens, those who have never been baptized, and for candidates, who were baptized in another Christian denomination and want to come into full communion with the Catholic Church.

Palm Sunday Mass at Vatican
Cardinals carry palm fronds in procession at the start of Palm Sunday Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (Photo by Catholic News Service/Paul Haring)

The catechumens receive baptism, confirmation and first Communion at the Holy Saturday services, while the candidates make a profession of faith, are confirmed, if they have not already been confirmed, and receive the Eucharist.

Catechumens and candidates are formally presented to the local bishop during the Rite of Election and Call to Continued Conversion, which this year took place either the last weekend of February or the first weekend of March.

According to the 2014 Official Catholic Directory, there were 39,654 catechumens and 66,831 candidates in 2013, the most recent year for which this data is available.

For 2015, here’s a snapshot of this year’s combined numbers of catechumens and candidates from U.S. archdioceses and dioceses: Seattle, 665; Atlanta, nearly 2,000; Brooklyn, 1,100; Miami, 600; Oklahoma City, 900, Los Angeles close to 1,900; New York, 1,400; New Orleans, 350; St. Paul and Minneapolis, 687; Omaha, Nebraska, 370; Philadelphia, 700; Kansas City, Kansas, 450; and Arlington, Virginia, more than 700.

In Brooklyn, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio prayed for the perseverance and strength of the men and women as they entered the final stage of their journey to be members of the diocese. He told them the devil would continue to tempt them, just as he did Jesus in the desert. He said the works of Satan include the 4 “Ds”: deception, division, diversion and discouragement.

Ted Musco, Brooklyn’s diocesan director of faith formation, said that many times people think that great numbers are leaving the Catholic Church and are not aware of those joining.

“More and more people want to get involved,” Musco said.

For some individuals who will be received into the Catholic Church on Holy Saturday, the event will be a family affair – literally.

In the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa, Heather Badar and daughter Isabella “Bella” will receive their first Communion.

Heather and her husband, Tracey, were raised by parents who had a strong faith in God and were committed to their religion – Heather as a Missouri Synod Lutheran and Tracey as a Catholic.

“Over our 17 years of marriage, we have been active members of three Lutheran churches,” Heather explained. “We have also attended Mass at Catholic churches on holy days, when visiting relatives, and with our large group of friends who are also Catholic.”

Heather found herself drawn to the reverence of the Mass and the discussion would often surface about embracing membership in a Catholic church.

“My biggest fear was the classes I knew I would need to take to convert,” she told The Catholic Globe, the diocesan newspaper.

But what Heather discovered was that RCIA became the biggest faith journey of her life.

“I have learned about the Catholic faith, but more so I have learned about my relationship with Jesus,” she said. “I went through confirmation and professed my faith as an eighth grader and I have always had a relationship with the Lord, but going through this process again as an adult, when it is my choice and God’s will driving me to once again profess my faith, has a much deeper meaning.”

When she was just a few weeks away from becoming a member of the Catholic Church, 27-year-old Tina Saviano from St. Maria Goretti parish in Madison, Wisconsin, called preparing for that moment “the best thing ever.”

“I love it. I can’t get enough,” she told the Catholic Herald, Madison’s diocesan newspaper, about RCIA.