Although Kelly Petro was baptized into the Catholic Church, attended a Catholic school when she was young and grew up to marry a Catholic, she never received the sacrament of confirmation. That fact began to bother her about a year and a half ago, when she and her husband moved to Irondequoit and began attending Mass at Christ the King Parish.
“I decided it was the right time to complete my membership (in the church),” she said.
Petro participated in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and is one of nearly 600 people who were to become full members of the Catholic Church this weekend. The RCIA process usually concludes on Holy Saturday, when participants receive the sacraments of initiation during the Easter vigil at their home parishes.
The number of people going through RCIA programs in the diocese has remained fairly constant over the past few years, said Sister of St. Joseph Karen Dietz, diocesan coordinator of sacramental catechesis. As in previous years, the RCIA participants include more candidates (people who were baptized in Catholic or recognized Protestant rites but never received first Eucharist and/or confirmation) than catechumens (people who were not baptized).
This year’s RCIA participants included more than 400 adults and nearly 170 children. Their reasons for joining the Catholic Church seemed to be as varied as their ages.
Gina Lamanna, a catechumen who was to receive the sacraments of initiation at Christ the King, is no stranger to the Catholic Church. Although her parents were from two different faith backgrounds, they brought her to Mass each week until she was 8. At that time, Lamanna said, her parents did not want to force a specific religion upon her.
When she was a college sophomore, Lamanna again began to attend Mass regularly. After doing that for six years, she decided “it’s time to make this formal.”
As a child, Brian Tripp, a hotel-administration student at Cornell University, was baptized a member of the United Church of Christ. His family celebrated Christmas and Easter, but regular church attendance took a back seat to athletic competitions while he was growing up. He was briefly exposed to the Catholic Church during a family vacation to visit his paternal grandparents, but didn’t think too much about Christianity until, as a high-school senior, he became friends with the child of a Presbyterian minister.
“It was through my relationship with this friend that I heard the Gospel for the first time, which consequently shaped my Christian faith,” Tripp said.
After joining Pi Kappa Phi fraternity at Cornell, Tripp began attending Mass with a group of his fraternity brothers, and this solidified his desire to become a part of a Catholic community, he said.
In Lamanna’s experience, the diversity in the backgrounds of candidates and catechumens is actually helpful, because each participant has different questions and ways of looking at things.
“The diversity kind of fueled the process, because everyone was coming into the process at a different point,” Lamanna said.
Several people from Christ the King’s RCIA team have even approached Lamanna to say they’ve learned a lot about their own faith by thinking about her questions or trying to see Catholicism through her eyes. Lamanna said this experience has been very rewarding.
“They’ve invested so much in me, and it’s nice to know that in some small way I’m giving back to them,” she said. “I made the decision (to go through RCIA) because it was a good time in my life and was something I wanted to do. I never could have imagined how much my decision would affect so many other people.”
Her experience points to the fact that RCIA is not something participants do alone; it affects the entire parish community, observed Father Jim Fennessy, parochial vicar for the Roman Catholic Community of Geneva.
“It’s like when a new baby comes into a family. That family is never the same,” Sister Dietz agreed.
Parishioners should extend the same loving welcome to candidates and catechumens that they would to a new baby, Sister Dietz said, adding that her own faith gets a little boost each time she sees people excited to join the Catholic Church.
“We always say that the people who go through the RCIA are a real gift to the church and to the parish,” said Mary Ann Obark, religious-education director at Christ the King. “A really important dimension of RCIA is them bonding with the parish and the parish bonding with them.”
Parishioners can welcome new members of their parish families simply by being friendly and open to the changes that might occur in the parishes because of the newcomers’ presence, Sister Dietz said.
“Some people have sent little notes just praying for us,” Petro said. “Everyone from the church has just been very supportive and very welcoming.”