Bishop welcomes hundreds to the Catholic Church

LEXINGTON — More than 500 people signed themselves with the cross with holy water or signed their names in the Book of the Elect in preparing to join the Catholic Church in South Carolina over four days in four deaneries March 7-10.

Bishop Robert J. Baker welcomed 128 catechumens (not previously baptized) and candidates in a Rite of Election ceremony at Corpus Christi Church on Saturday, acknowledging the gifts they bring to the Catholic faith community and telling them: “We can change the world, guided by the Gospel of Christ.”

The bishop sang along as a large congregation sang Psalm 25. The music was written expressly for him and the rite by Charles R. Renick, music director at Corpus Christi.

Msgr. Charles Rowland, pastor of St. Joseph in Columbia, called the whole process of education and sacramentalization “a movement of faith.” He said that the annual conversions are amazing.

“They thank God for the foundation they received, and they seek more. They investigate during an inquiry period. Myths about the church are dispelled,” he said.

Many conversions are the result of marriage, according to Oratorian Father John P. Giuliani, pastor of St. Philip Neri in Fort Mill. “That seems to be the main attraction, the example of the Catholic spouse,” he said.

Cindy Murdaugh of Corpus Christi, a Lutheran by tradition, married a Catholic.

“We dated for six years, and I came to church with him. After our marriage, I realized that I didn’t want to always be the observer, that I wanted to share his faith. So, I joined the RCIA in the fall,” Murdaugh said.

The RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) is a process that generally starts in late summer and culminates at full communion with the Catholic Church at the next Easter vigil. Some fast-growing parishes, however, may be initiating new Catholics on a year-round basis. RCIA incorporates education, spirituality and discernment in an inquiry-based series of sessions that are often lively discussions. Each parish has an RCIA team that answers questions and does the teaching. The Rite of Election is the first official step in the final conversion process, and it takes place during a penitential season of the church’s liturgical year.

“You symbolize for us what the Lenten season is for the Catholic Church. We are fortunate to have Lent, a time to reflect, to prepare for Easter and a time for serious discernment about our lives,” Bishop Baker told the catechumens and candidates.

He talked about the sacraments that they will be receiving for the first time on the evening before Easter, Holy Saturday, saying that they bring to Christians supernatural gifts of love from their God. And the bishop urged them to pray.

“If you pray seriously and in truth, it will be God himself who will send you out to give more gratuitously … to love people properly,” he said.

For Cindy Murdaugh, who admits to still learning about her new faith, the words of the priest who will be her bishop fit in with her reasons for conversion: “That’s why I’m here today.”