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Diverse Backgrounds, Faith Journeys Make Up New Catholics of 2012

 
March 30, 2012

WASHINGTON (March 30, 2012) – An Albanian couple, a banker, nine Hmong children and a meteorologist are among the thousands of new Catholics joining the U.S. Church at Easter.

All have participated in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), a process of conversion and study in the Catholic faith for catechumens and candidates coming into full Communion with the Church. Catechumens, who have never been baptized, will receive baptism, confirmation and First Eucharist at the Holy Saturday Easter Vigil. Candidates, who are already baptized in another Christian tradition whose baptism is recognized by the Catholic Church, will enter the Church through a profession of faith and reception of Confirmation and Eucharist.

Lule Prebibaj and her husband Ndoke are two of the 1,470 candidates and catechumens in the Archdiocese of New York. Their story differs from most. As youth baptized in Albania when the country was under Communist rule, their baptisms were literally life-threatening. After coming to America the couple raised their children in the faith, even though they themselves were never confirmed or received First Communion. That's all about to change.

"It's a wonderful feeling to openly say who we are, and it's absolutely wonderful to be able to receive these sacraments. Better late than never, right?" said Prebibaj.

Another New Yorker, Tony Luu, was raised an atheist. As a child he often passed Transfiguration Church in Chinatown, but it wasn't until he met his fiancée and her family that he realized the power of religion and what the Church had to offer.

"Catholicism has changed my life in providing a different view and perspective on my everyday living," he says. "I feel that the religion has calmed me down … and that is a lot for someone who is from New York."

For some families it's "the more the merrier." This is true in St. Agnes Parish in St. Paul, Minnesota, where a family of nine Hmong children will be baptized on Holy Saturday. Livia, Cesea, Vancelee and Teedo Vang approached their school's pastor with a simple request, "Father, we would like to be baptized." They came to know him after the death of their mother, when the siblings were sent to live with their uncle, who wanted to ensure their solid upbringing and enrolled them in the parish school. The children spoke of the kindness of the St. Agnes community, their engaging religion classes and powerful experiences at Mass as reasons for wanting baptism. They and five other siblings will be baptized at the Easter Vigil.

For one catechumen at San Rafael Parish in San Diego, the driving force behind conversion was life experience. Married to a cradle Catholic, Andrea O'Hara never felt the need to convert. However, with age and experience, she realized that the challenges and accomplishments she's faced in life weren't by chance, but were presented to her by God.

"Being a mother and a wife gives me a greater purpose to lead a life filled with kindness, patience, honesty, responsibility and love," said O'Hara. "These character traits are hard to maintain by oneself, so I now look to my God and to my parish to help me lead the life that I was born to live."

O'Hara is among 1,278 new Catholics in the San Diego diocese.

As a meteorologist, Houston resident Randall Wilson has earned a living predicting things. One thing he never saw coming: his conversion to Catholicism. Born and raised a Baptist, Wilson first experienced Mass while on a date and found himself called back for more. To understand the faith better, he read books on Catholicism and found himself drawn to its deep traditions.

"The richness and fullness of the Catholic Church isn't found anywhere else. Looking back, I see how much was missing. I'm not even 100 percent Catholic yet, but I can't imagine my life without the holy Sacraments, without praying the holy rosary, without confessions and without the holy Eucharist," said Wilson.

FelichiaLaws, a 30-year-old new mother and fellow Lone Star State resident, grew up knowing about God, but it wasn't until her daughter's baptism shortly after she began the RCIA process that she discovered her own personal thirst for Christ.

"During my daughter's baptism, my body was overcome by so much joy and fulfillment that it is very hard to put into words," said Laws. "I realized then that though I had started the process for her, I also wanted the same baptism for me. The different rites of the RCIA helped me realize that I was really meant to be part of the RCIA process and become one with God and the Catholic community."

This Easter Randall, Felichia and 2,391 others from the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston will join the Church.

Galveston-Houston isn't only Texas diocese to welcome an impressive number of converts this year. The Archdiocese of San Antonio has 1,165 new Catholics, and the Diocese of Fort Worth has 1,121 new members.

With 1,166 new members, the Archdiocese of Washington is welcoming its second largest number of converts in a decade. For the past nine years more than 1,000 people in the archdiocese have become full members of the Church at Easter. Other large dioceses boast similarly high numbers: St. Petersburg, Florida (963), St. Louis, Missouri (846), Portland, Oregon (783), and Rockville Centre, New York (689).

Smaller dioceses also showcase the vitality of the Catholic Church with significant numbers: Rockford, Illinois (685), Palm Beach, Florida (607), Salt Lake City, Utah (487), Grand Rapids, Michigan (475), Savannah, Georgia (444), Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (443), Reno, Nevada (319), Providence, Rhode Island (250), Buffalo, New York (237), Dubuque, Iowa (231), Knoxville, Tennessee (229), Metuchen, New Jersey (228) and Lafayette, Louisiana (213).

These numbers are based on participation in the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, the final phase of the RCIA process celebrated at the beginning of Lent. Infant baptisms, which according to the 2011 Official Catholic Directory (OCD) totaled 830,673, are not included. The 2011 OCD also reported that there were 43,335 adult baptisms and 72,859 people received into full communion.

Starting Monday, April 2, USCCB will blog conversion stories from around the country at: http://usccbmedia.blogspot.com.

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Keywords: Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, RCIA, Easter, Easter Vigil, catechumen, candidate, convert, Catholic Church, elect, conversion

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Catherine Panzica
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