US Catholic Church finds astonishing variety of people joining this Easter

Catholics participating in the Easter Vigil. Credit: Mazur
Catholics participating in the Easter Vigil. Credit: Mazur

.- A Muslim, a family of seven, a Marine, a former abortion clinic administrator – these are just a few of the many faces of people from around the country who are slated to join the Catholic Church at Easter.

The U.S. bishops' conference recently profiled a handful of unique stories from individuals in different states, each of whom will be either baptized or confirmed during the Church's universal celebration of the Easter Vigil on April 24.

Although the numbers are still trickling in for this year, the conference reported that in 2010, there were over 43,000 adult baptisms in the U.S. and more than 75,000 people received into full communion with the Church.

Soon-to-be baptized New Orleans resident Ahdija Cheumbike Baker was raised a Muslim. The daughter of a Detroit man and a Tanzanian woman, Baker is one of the 282 catechumens and candidates that the Catholic Church in New Orleans will be welcoming at Easter.

Baker said that she struggled with some of her Muslim beliefs throughout her life and that ultimately,  the “love of the Lord” as well as a love interest drove her to start attending a local Catholic church, St. Peter Claver.

She said that especially after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, “I felt compelled to look for a church to call home so that I could give my thanks to God.”

“If I had gone to a church that gets you in and out in 45 minutes, I probably wouldn’t have changed my religion; but at St. Peter Claver I feel a deep connection. The way that the priest speaks in his homilies moved me. I felt at home and accepted, and they have become my family.”

Eighteen year-old Kalene Laforest is a Marine and feels compelled to join the Catholic Church before going on assignment in June. A catechumen at St. Peter’s Church in LaGrange, Georgia, LaForest said that she wanted a faith with depth, history, deep spirituality, tradition, and “no all-over-the-place craziness.” She is among 1,912 who will join the Catholic Church in the Atlanta archdiocese this year.

Across the U.S. in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, a family of seven will be welcomed into the Church. James and Michelle House, who are parishioners at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, will come into full communion at the Easter Vigil. In the following week, infant David, 2 months old, will be baptized, while his siblings Kristina, James, Alexandra and Joseph will be received into the Church.

Michelle House said the family, who are former Episcopalians, found a welcoming community at St. Catherine's when they moved to northern California.
        
In Austin, Texas, Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director and author of the bestselling book “Unplanned,” is getting ready to enter the Catholic Church.

Due to a personnel shortage at the abortion clinic she used to work in, she was called in to assist in an ultrasound-guided abortion for the first time in September 2009.

The next few minutes changed Johnson's life irrevocably, as she watched the 13 week-old baby –whom she had believed to be incapable of feeling anything– squirming and twisting to avoid the tube into which it would be vacuumed.

Shocked by what she had seen, Johnson still initially continued her work running the clinic and promoting its work. Just a few weeks later, however, she was in the nearby office of the Coalition For Life, telling its director Shawn Carney –with whom she was well-acquainted, from his years of opposition to Planned Parenthood–  that she could no longer continue helping women have abortions.

Johnson and her husband have grown in their faith during the past year, and are now preparing to enter the Catholic Church. In a Jan. 13 interview with CNA she said that one of the final obstacles, in the course of her Catholic conversion, was the Church's teaching on the immorality of all artificial methods of birth control.

Planned Parenthood's mentality toward contraception, as she explained, stuck with her for a period of time even after she rejected abortion. Even as she became interested in the Catholic Church, she clung to the notion that artificial birth control was an advance for women and society. But she kept an open mind, studying Pope John Paul II's “Theology of the Body” and other sources of Church teaching.

An experience in a Catholic parish finally made her understand the fullness of the Church's teaching on sexuality.

This time, the vision of a child was not shocking, but profoundly life-affirming.

“One day, we were sitting in Mass … I was sitting behind this woman, who I don't know, and this little infant.” Gazing at that child, Johnson said she finally understood the Church's insistence on marriages remaining open to new life.

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