The triumph and traditions of Easter

Catholic Easter celebrations in South Carolina

Catholic Easter celebrations in South CarolinaTroy and Carrie Penny of Columbia celebrated Easter by becoming Catholics.

The couple completed what they described as a long process of study and discernment when they were confirmed and given Holy Communion by Father Richard D. Harris, vicar general, on March 3 at the Easter Vigil at St. Joseph Church in Columbia.

The Pennys are two of 625 candidates and catechumens who entered the Roman Catholic faith at vigil services around the diocese. This was an increase of 120 over 2009, according to Sister Pam Smith, a Sister of Sts. Cyril and Methodius and diocesan director of Catechesis and Christian Initiation for Parishes and Schools.  

Deacon Matthew A. Mannino, who teaches Rite of Christian Initiation classes at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville, said he thinks people are drawn to the clear-cut teachings offered by Catholicism. Thirty people ages 13 through 60 were welcomed into the church at the Simpsonville parish.

“The Catholic faith is no-nonsense,” he said. “It basically amounts to we practice what we preach and preach what we practice. People are finding out that’s what we do in the Catholic Church. They’re also attracted to our ceremonials, our rites and traditions.”

Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone baptizes a man at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist on April 3.Candidates, who have already been baptized in another tradition, are received into full communion with the church at the vigil. Catechumens receive baptism, holy Communion and confirmation.

“It’s an experience a lot like your wedding day,” said Mrs. Penny. “You’re so excited and so happy, and it’s just such a very thrilling experience. We spent so long traveling toward Catholicism, and it was amazing to finally have that moment when everything is complete.”

Mr. Penny said he and his wife were both raised as Protestants, but were drawn to the Catholic faith because of its rich history.

“The church is so continuous and unchanged,” he said. “The more we studied and really understood the real basis of the faith, any obstacles fell away.”

The Pennys weren’t the only married couple to convert together. Around the diocese, several couples and some entire families came into the church at the same time.

“I feel great, I have peace inside me and a feeling that I have never felt before,” said Alicia Cruz Yanez. She entered the church with her husband Benigno Yanez at the vigil service at St. Gregory the Great Church in Bluffton.

“This has already made an impact on my life. I have God with me every day. I wake up thanking Him for my life and everything He gives me. I never did that before,” she said.

Ben Thrasher, 21, a senior at the College of Charleston, entered the church as a candidate at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, at a vigil Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone.

Baptized Methodist, Thrasher said he had been “floating around churches” until some friends invited him to attend Mass. He took RCIA classes, studied the faith, and attended student Masses at St. Patrick Church with peers.  Over the years, he realized he was in the right place.

“I was a little nervous at the beginning of the vigil, but then it just became a very mystical experience,” he said. “I’m very glad about my decision. I’m definitely where I need to be.”

Joshua Burgess, a University of South Carolina graduate, entered the church as a candidate at St. Joseph in Columbia.

“It’s been a long process, a long spiritual journey for me,” Burgess said. “The Easter Vigil was the culmination of years of thought and prayer.”

Burgess was raised an Evangelical Protestant but became an Episcopalian while doing undergraduate work in Alabama. He said he was increasingly drawn to Catholicism because of its clear teachings, unbroken line of authority and history.

He said entering the church was a highly emotional experience. He understood the importance of his decision when he received an e-mail from a Catholic friend just before he left for Mass.

“The e-mail said simply, ‘Welcome home, brother,’” he said. “I feel that way too. I feel like I’ve spiritually come home.”