A young adult raised in communist Cuba, an African woman who grew up as a Muslim, a marine being deployed in June, and a former abortion clinic administrator, along with tens of thousands others around the country, are joining the Catholic Church in the United States at Easter.
These catechumens, now known as “the elect,” and candidates for full communion have all participated in a process of conversion and study of the Catholic faith through Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). The RCIA has several stages, the most important of which is the moment when they will receive or complete the sacraments of initiation, usually at the Easter Vigil. A catechumen is a person who has never been baptized; a candidate is someone who was baptized in a Christian tradition and now desires to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. In some dioceses, the candidates also include baptized Catholics who never completed their sacraments of initiation and weren’t raised in the faith. . . .
In the Austin, Texas, area, Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director and author of the bestselling book “Unplanned,” is getting ready for yet another “unplanned” conversion that will bring her into the Catholic Church. In September 2009, Johnson was asked to hold the ultrasound probe during an abortion. In the monitor, she saw the baby struggle to get away. This experience, and her unease with Planned Parenthood’s emphasis on increasing abortions, gave her the courage to leave her job and undertake a journey of conversion. She went to the Coalition for Life’s office down the street, a Christian pro-life organization whose members were a constant, prayerful and peaceful presence outside the clinic. There she received practical help as she navigated joblessness, legal problems with Planned Parenthood and broken friendships. Her pro-life advocacy also met the disapproval of her pro-choice church. Many of her new friends are Catholic, and through them she has learned about the faith. She and her family will join the Church at Easter, along with 911 others in the Austin Diocese. . . .
Young people whose parents are in the RCIA program or who are past the usual age for receiving the sacraments of initiation can join a special version of the RCIA for children. The Archdiocese of New Orleans reports that of the 132 catechumens entering the church at Easter, 48 are under age 18; and of the 150 candidates, 10 are children. Likewise, the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio, shows that 56 of the 206 catechumens and 28 of 366 candidates are children.
Though larger archdioceses usually boast the largest overall number of converts—New York (1,600), Philadelphia (811) Washington (1,100), Seattle (1,000+), Portland-in-Oregon (875), Cincinnati (1,100), Galveston-Houston (2,490), Atlanta (1,912), Louisville (504), Milwaukee (613), Saint Paul and Minneapolis (643) — the Diocese of San Diego, with 1,253 people (425 catechumens, 828 candidates) entering the Church at Easter, is proof that you don’t need to be large to show some very impressive numbers.
Comparatively smaller (in population) dioceses also report numbers that illustrate the vitality of the Catholic Church in the Midwest, South and Southeast of the United States. The Diocese Birmingham, Alabama, has 487 people joining the Church at Easter; the Diocese of Savannah, Georgia, 421 people; the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, 355 people. The Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, will add 800 new Catholics; the Diocese of Cleveland, 513; the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, 450; the Diocese of Toledo, 572 people; and Grand Rapids, 568.
The Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, will welcome 434 people (98 elect and 336 candidates). Over half (224) are Hispanic, the fastest growing ethnic group in the diocese.
Some rural dioceses, which encompass an entire state—such as the Diocese of Boise, Idaho, with 195 catechumens, and the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, with 128 catechumens and 247 candidates, for a total of 375 soon-to-be new Catholics— also are signs of active and effective evangelizing faith communities. . . .
These numbers are based on participation in the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, a part of the RCIA process usually conducted at the beginning of Lent. They do not include infant baptisms, which in 2010 totaled 857,410 according to the Official Catholic Directory (OCD). For 2010, OCD reported that there were 43,279 adult baptisms in the United States and 75,724 people received into full communion.