Diocese welcomes new Catholics at Easter

By Mary P. Walker
Senior Correspondent

With great joy, Bishops Joe Vásquez and Daniel Garcia presided over the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion as the Diocese of Austin prepares to welcome new Catholics this Easter. These liturgical rites in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) usher in a time of prayer and preparation, leading to the sacraments of initiation: baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil.
More than 700 participated in the rites, celebrated March 4 at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in College Station, and twice on March 5 at St. John Vianney Parish in Round Rock.
For catechumens, those who are not baptized, the Rite of Election affirms their readiness for baptism during the Easter Vigil and their desire to become fully initiated Christians through confirmation and the Eucharist. Their godparents testify that they have demonstrated their commitment by listening to God’s word, prayer and service. From this point on, the catechumens are called the “elect,” because they were chosen by God for the Easter sacraments.
For candidates, those who were baptized in another Christian tradition, the Call to Continuing Conversion acknowledges their oneness with Catholics through baptism and their desire to join the Catholic Church by making a profession of faith. Their sponsors testify to their readiness to complete their Christian initiation through the sacraments of confirmation and Holy Eucharist. 
The Holy Spirit enriches the church with new members through different paths. For 45-year-old Bo Lewis, the unconditional caring of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul took him from an interest in Catholicism to excitement about being baptized. 
Growing up in Houston, his family sometimes attended a Baptist church. After high school, he spent eight years in the Marines, married and settled in California. Occasionally he attended a Catholic parish with his ex-wife, and television and movies inspired a general curiosity. When the poor economy caused him to lose his job, he moved to Austin in 2010. However, he could not find steady work to support himself and his daughter, Natalie, now 15. 
“I was desperate at the time,” Lewis said. He contacted various churches asking for help, but they wanted him to attend classes or regular meetings. Because he worked whenever he could, he could not make those commitments. In contrast, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul offered unconditional help. Two Vincentians visited their apartment, offering a caring presence and payment of a utility bill. They also brought other needed items.  
Without pressure, they invited Bo and Natalie to pray, and left a holy card and rosary. This gentle kindness inspired the father and daughter to begin attending Mass at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Austin. Since then, Lewis has secured a good job, and they began the RCIA process in January 2016. After watching Natalie’s friends get baptized at last year’s Easter Vigil, they look forward to their own.
Also looking forward to baptism are Stephanie and Stephen Bjune of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in College Station. When they got married, they realized they needed to find a church home for themselves and their future children. Stephanie comes from a Methodist background, and Stephen had attended Mass with friends while in graduate school.
Drawn to Catholicism, Stephen began the RCIA process. Stephanie had doubts about Catholicism, but attended the meetings to support her husband and to learn more. The Holy Spirit’s work took root in the couple. Less than two months later, Stephanie told Stephen that Catholicism felt right to her. 
“There are a lot of things we’ve discovered together that have made us closer,” she said.   
They especially appreciate the support of the parish’s RCIA team, many of whom came to the Catholic faith as adults. 
“They can really relate to where our stumbling blocks were,” Stephen said. 
Stephanie said that from a Protestant perspective, she needed clarity on the Catholic teachings about Mary, as well as a better understanding about why Catholics believe that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. For her, the scientific basis for the documented Eucharistic miracles was convincing. Together, they look forward to living active Catholic lives within their parish and community.
For Jessica Skansi, a genetics major at Texas A&M University and member of the Corps of Cadets, friendships and the coherence and logic of the faith bring her to Catholicism. At the Easter Vigil, she will make a profession of faith and receive the sacraments of confirmation and the Eucharist.  
Baptized in a nondenominational church, she attended a Christian high school in Austin, and was active in a nondenominational Protestant church in college. However, she felt that the church did not fully challenge her to become a better person. As she explored other churches, she focused on those with a doctrinal basis. She was disappointed that some Protestant denominations did not share her pro-life convictions. 
Skansi knew people who had joined the Catholic Church and wondered why. Catholic friends joked that she would make a good Catholic and took her to Mass. After researching church history, she found that Catholicism offered a consistent logic for expressing the faith. 
“Catholic beliefs made so much sense that I couldn’t ignore it,” Skansi said.
She began attending Mass regularly at St. Mary Catholic Center, and entered the RCIA process last fall to learn more. She also made the Aggie Awakening Retreat, and is excited about joining the church and receiving the sacraments at Easter. 
All the elect and candidates are grateful to the Holy Spirit and those who played vital roles in their journeys of faith. At the conclusion of the rite, the bishops thanked those who, by example, instruction, and sharing their talents, prepared the elect and candidates for the Easter sacraments.