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Easter brings Catholic beginnings

Adrienne Ruffner | Thursday, April 13, 2006

Blooming flowers, Easter celebration, Opening Day – ’tis the season for beginnings.

At Notre Dame, candidates and catechumen are starting a new journey of their own, into the full practice of Catholicism.

On Sunday April 2, 13 candidates became full members of the Catholic Church. They received the Sacraments of Eucharist and Confirmation at the 11:45 a.m. mass in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

This Saturday at the Easter Vigil Mass in the Basilica, 16 catechumen – those who have not yet been baptized – will receive the sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation.

“With the total number of people involved, this has been one of the biggest years in my time here,” said Tami Schmitz, who leads the initiation programs. “For the Easter Vigil Mass, it’s the most ever.”

After months – and in some cases years – of learning about Catholicism, the candidates stepped forward with their faith.

“My faith has always been important to me,” senior candidate Hunter Craig said. “Over the last four years, I came to realize that Catholicism was the best expression of my faith. I felt it allowed me to participate more fully in the love of God.”

Candidates are those who were baptized either into Catholicism or another faith, but have not been fully received into the Catholic Church through the Eucharist and Confirmation.

“These folks have been baptized in a religion other than Catholicism, and they needed to be received into the Church,” said Schmitz.

Candidates and catechumen decide to become Catholic for a variety of reasons, she said. Some have Catholic friends or family members who influenced them, some are attracted to the traditions and some have been influenced by Notre Dame’s Catholic culture. Regardless of how they came to it, all have a desire to become closer to Catholicism.

“I was at first attracted to the Catholic Church because of Catholic Social Teaching and

their emphasis on implementing justice in our world,” sophomore candidate Mazie Tsang said. “I liked that Catholics were challenged to live like Christ and to love their neighbor, whomever he may be.”

To prepare, candidates and catechumen take classes through a program called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). Classes begin at the start of the school year and meet every Sunday morning for two hours, Schmitz said. Each candidate and catechumen has a sponsor who leads them through the RCIA process and beyond.

Craig said he chose his girlfriend of two-and-a-half years, senior Lindsay Cook, as his sponsor because he “thought it would also be a nice way to bring our faith experiences together.”

Schmitz said about two-thirds of candidates and catechumen find their own sponsors. Others, like sophomore candidate Katie Keyser, choose sponsors from within Campus Ministry.

“The RCIA directors actually chose [my sponsor] for me, and it worked out great. She is amazing, and I am so glad I got to know her,” she said.

In addition to teaching students about Catholicism, RCIA creates a community where candidates and catechumen can ask questions, face challenges and grow in faith together.

“The whole community aspect in RCIA is one of the most rewarding features of

the entire process,” Keyser said.

Candidates said some of the greatest challenges in becoming Catholic were staying patient with themselves, and explaining their decision to others.

“I was nervous because I remained loyal to my home church for almost ten years, and I disliked the thought of abandoning that to which I am loyal,” Tsang said. “Yet, I did not feel I was fully nourished in my church, whereas I felt my faith nourished and challenged in the Catholic Church.”

As they begin their new paths this Easter, the RCIA students – now Catholics – all have an added reason to celebrate.

“If you ever get a chance to be a part of this beautiful process, don’t hesitate,” said Keyser. “It’s wonderful.”