Catholic New World: Newspaper for the Archdiocese of Chicago

New Catholics enter church at vigil Mass

By Michelle Martin

With fire and water, Christ and his people are born to new life.

Catholics throughout the archdiocese welcomed the news of the resurrection the evening of April 7 at Easter Vigil Masses, which begin with the kindling of the fire to light the Paschal candle.

That light spread through the darkened churches, in imitation of the Light of Christ dispelling the darkness of sin and death.

While all Catholics present renew their baptismal promises at the vigil and all the other Masses of Easter, for many, the evening represents a first step into new life.

More than 500 people were expected to be baptized at vigil Masses, while 575 Christians baptized in other traditions and 750 Catholics who had not completed the sacraments of initiation were to receive Communion and confirmation.

The biggest group this year was at Holy Name Cathedral, where 66 people were expected to be received in full Communion with the church. They included 28 catechumens, 27 candidates who were baptized in another Christian church and 11 Catholics completing the sacraments of initiation.

Among them was Veneeta Prasad, 38, who was baptized after being raised in a Hindu family.

Prasad, whose parents live in Wisconsin, was in Chicago for a job interview when she first stepped into Holy Name Cathedral, looking for a moment of peace and a chance to pray. She carried with her a St. Jude medal a friend of a friend had given her before the interview.

She felt peace there, she said, and when she got the job she was seeking, began attending Mass there on Sundays.

"I feel a very large spiritual commitment," she said, adding that she feels strength and peace when she prays the Lord's Prayer and the rosary. The mother of two especially appreciates Catholics' traditional reverence for Mary because "mothers do so much for their children."

She came to Mass every weekend she was in Chicago once she got the job; her children were living in Florida with their father, and she visited every other weekend. Now that her sons have moved to Chicago, she comes to church every week.

Her siblings support her decision to become Catholic, she said, ("My sister just wants me to be happy and find peace.") but she planned to keep the news from her parents until after the Easter Vigil.

"Six years ago, if anyone told me I would be living in downtown Chicago and converting to Catholicism, I would have said they were crazy," she said. "I truly believe that I'm here because of the grace of God," she said, "The light shone through for me when I prayed at Holy Name Cathedral, and I knew I shouldn't give up. Now, when I'm really praying hard, or when I'm thanking Jesus, the light still shines through for me."

Pastoral associate Ann Klocke, who coordinates the RCIA program at Holy Name Cathedral Parish, said those who wish to enter the church at the cathedral attend 9:30 a.m. Mass together starting in September. They receive a blessing and are dismissed after the Liturgy of the Word, and they reflect on the readings together. After Mass, they are joined by their sponsors to hear a presentation on some aspect of Catholic faith, starting with God and Jesus and including presentations on each of the seven sacraments.

Father Dan Mayall, the pastor, does a "teaching Mass" for the group, and Cardinal George comes for a question-and-answer session one Sunday. Those preparing to enter the church must also emulate Jesus' service to those around him, offering three or four hours of their time volunteering to help needy people. Participants have helped serve at Catholic Charities' suppers, tutored refugees and visited nursing homes to pray with the residents.

Klocke said she finds that her faith is renewed each year by the RCIA participants.

"So many people are looking for a sense of connection to God," she said. "Others just like the idea of being closer to God."

Dee Stanton, the director of religious education at St. Isaac Jogues Parish in Niles, had a far smaller group this year-two, one a baptized Catholic and one baptized in a Protestant Church. But she finds them inspiring as well, she said.

When working with people who want to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, Stanton often sees a feeling of unworthiness, of not deserving Christ's great love.

"Those of us who have been Catholic all our lives, or most of them, we take that for granted," she said. "They are a gift to the assembly as much as the assembly is a gift to them. They remind us of who we are and what we are about and who we are called to follow."

Gina Markiano, 26, said she always knew who God was, although she didn't really know who taught her.

"My family didn't go to church, not even for holidays," said Markiano, who was baptized Catholic. "If I did go to Mass, it was with my friends. "If I slept over at a friend's house and we went to church in the morning, I would be excited and they would think it was a drag."

Then she started attending Mass with her Catholic fiancé, Mike Blackhall, and decided she wanted to raise any children they have as Catholic-and that she would like to join them.

"It was hard in the beginning," she said. "I'm like a child. My knowledge of religion is very small."

Markiano said she was a little concerned about how her friends and coworkers would react to her decision, especially since most don't practice any religion, but has been happily surprised. "They've actually been very supportive of me," she said.

Her parents, who have memories of strict Catholic upbringings and turned away from religion, also stand behind her decision.

"They're so happy I'm doing this," she said. "As long as I don't expect them to do it."

Markiano said that she has noticed a change in herself since beginning RCIA.

"I'm a little more forgiving now," she said. "A little bit more understanding than I was before. I feel like that's been a positive impact on me."

Steve Lambert was not baptized Catholic, but had more religious background when he started RCIA, having attended a Methodist church growing up. Business trips to the Holy Land helped lead him to Catholicism, he said.

An engineer who sets up wireless networks for Motorola, he traveled twice to Israel for work, and took advantage of the opportunity to visit Biblical sites in Galilee, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Lambert, who was baptized Presbyterian, and like Markiano, is engaged to a Catholic, felt that too many of the other visitors did not tread the paths where Jesus walked with enough respect.

"There's more reverence, I'd say, in the Catholic tradition," he said. "That's one reason I was attracted to it."

When he talked with his fiancée about becoming Catholic, she wanted to make sure he was doing it because he wanted to, and not just for her, but it wasn't a new idea for him.

"Most of my friends in college were Catholic," he said.

"The one thing I want to make sure I understand is all the etiquette associated with it," he said. "And there are a lot of prayers and certain things that the congregation recites that I don't know without reading it. If it's not in the booklet, I don't know it yet. I want to get to that point."

One of the challenges of RCIA is meeting people where they are, in terms of the religious background, Stanton said.

"You might have someone with a solid relationship with Christ. You might have someone with a solid Scriptural understanding from a Lutheran church. Their needs are going to be different from someone with little religious background. That's the reality of discernment."

While St. Isaac Jogues did not have any baptisms at the Easter Vigil this year, Stanton said that is what the liturgy-the crowning point of the liturgical year-is all about.

"That's the Paschal mystery in front of us," she said of those who are baptized. "They are the proof of the Resurrection among us. They are reborn in the waters of baptism, and they are the sign of the real presence of the resurrected Christ among us."