SILVER SPRING, Md. – Parishes in Holy Name Province recently welcomed dozens of new members into the Church, many at the Easter Vigil on March 30.
At the multicultural St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Md., where Michael Johnson, OFM, is pastor, almost 50 people professed their faith as new Catholics at the Easter Vigil. Churches often baptize and accept new members at Easter, as the church celebrates a new liturgical season of rejoicing in the resurrection and to honor what the early Church did when it welcomed parishioners at Easter.
“We’ve been doing it at Easter for as long as I can remember,” said Yannick Allepot, coordinator of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) for the French-speaking community at St. Camillus. Allepot, a member for roughly seven years, said the tradition is in keeping with the celebration of Easter and is reminiscent of the early Church, and as many Catholic and Protestant churches do.
He said that approximately 15 French speakers were baptized and became members, and another 23 from the Spanish community, which is coordinated by David Montecinos. Seven members of the English-speaking community also joined the Church. While the total number of new members may seem high to some, Allepot said it is actually fewer than previous years. Children, he added, were baptized on Easter Sunday.
The RCIA Process
RCIA is the process through which adults and teens are fully incorporated into the Catholic faith. According to the St. Camillus website, RCIA sessions consist of personal reflection on the Sunday scriptures and presentations on topics related to Catholicism. The program is supervised by Sister Kristin Matthes, SNDdeN, the parish’s director of Lifelong Faith Formation for the past two years.
The website continues: “RCIA is the process by which non-Catholic adults learn about the Catholic Church and gradually become full members. Each year, adults are welcomed into the Catholic Community through RCIA. It is a learning and loving process in which conversion of the heart brings you to Jesus Christ. The RCIA is a contemporary approach to our ancient faith. We welcome everyone who is interested in learning about the Catholic Church. This program will present the Catholic faith journey in an open and comfortable environment.
“As Catholics, we are a pilgrim people on a lifelong journey of conversion in which we individually and as a community are formed more and more into the image and likeness of God. It is a journey that for many of us begins with our parents’ decision to have us baptized into the faith. The journey then continues on through our youth with the preparation for First Communion and later Confirmation.”
But for people who were never baptized, the Easter Vigil is especially significant as the time of their baptism, said Allepot. “Many people were never baptized,” he said, and for some, this is their first exposure to Christianity.
The two-year weekly RCIA program at St. Camillus is special because the parish attends to the needs of its varied communities, especially the French and Spanish. “As you share the faith, you have to share it in the language and the culture of the people so they can understand,” said Allepot, something that St. Camillus has succeeded in. It has special leaders for each community, which will typically draw 450 to 500 people at each cultural Mass, according to Allepot.
A New Spiritual Home
Each group feels like it has a spiritual home at St. Camillus, said Allepot. For him, volunteering to teach and coordinate the program is very rewarding. “It’s a treat to share my faith,” said the mortgage consultant. “Its gratifying to see people growing in their faith and knowing the Lord.”
At. St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City, 17 people were welcomed at Easter. Eight persons were baptized and nine completed their initiation into the church at the Easter Vigil Mass presided by Andrew Reitz, OFM,pastor.
“The group had people born in many countries other than the United States,” said Andrew. “I had spent time with them during the year and knew may of their stories and their journeys. It was very moving for me to celebrate the sacraments with them, and it was also significant that so many of our RCIA ‘alumni’ supported them during their journey and were there for the Easter Vigil. One of the men converted from Judaism and this was a big step for him, having received much objection from family. He knew the Lord was calling him to do this.”
The group will continue its study and initiation into the Church on each Tuesday evening during the Easter season in the final phase of the RCIA called mystagogia, which means going deeper into the mysteries of faith.
“The presence among us of so many people who want to join our church is a sign of the vitality of our community and especially of the love and welcome people feel when they come to St. Francis,” according to the parish. “Each member of our community is a vital part of the ministry to welcome new members.”
— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut-based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.