Catechumens continue on journey of faith
The Catechumens — a Church term given to adults who have not been baptized and seek full Communion with the Church at the Easter Vigil — have different stories behind their reasons for wanting to become Catholic.
But all have found a link to faith in Christ which they want to grow stronger and to be with others who share that faith.
La Shawnda Degbegni, a catechumen from St. Michael Parish in Glen Allen, told The Catholic Virginian that she had been raised by her maternal grandmother and had no church background growing up even though she feels her grandmother was religious.
“My grandmother was a strong believer in God,” she said.
“I had a really good childhood, but always felt something was missing. As an adult, I realized what it was.”
Four years ago La Shawnda married a man from Benin in West Africa who had been born and raised a Catholic. As a couple, they periodically attended a non-denominational church, but her husband, Hermann, felt something was missing in his spiritual life. He found what he had been missing when he went to St. Michael’s.
“My husband asked me if I would go with him and said ‘I think you will really like it,’” La Shawnda said. “I visited for the first time and have been going ever since. Just that one time is all that it took.
“I found what was missing and it was the spiritual connection with God,” she said.
She enrolled in the parish RCIA program, a journey in which she is preparing for Baptism, first Communion, and Confirmation at the Easter Vigil April 7. She is one of seven catechumens in the RCIA program at St. Michael’s.
“What I think is really cool is how many African Americans discover the Catholic Church through their spouse from Africa where the Church is growing so fast,” said Annie McEntee, RCIA coordinator at St. Michael’s.
Many parishes of the diocese were represented in three separate prayer services for the Rite of Election at which Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo preached and was introduced to the catechumens Feb. 25 at St. Bede’s in Williamsburg in the morning for the Eastern Vicariate and at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond for the Central Vicariate that afternoon. A third service was held Feb. 26 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Salem for catechumens from the Western Vicariate.
The numbers of catechumens was unusually large in some parishes — 15 at St. Bede’s, Williamsburg; 14 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Newport News, and 13 each at St. John the Apostle and St. Gregory the Great, both in Virginia Beach.
The Bishop acknowledged the catechumens had exercised genuine introspection in their journey.
“We are gathered here because you have decided to embark on a journey toward light and life and grace,” Bishop DiLorenzo said.
The Elect are following a path taken by the saints, the Bishop said, pointing out the example of St. John Neumann, the fourth archbishop of Philadelphia who had been an immigrant and this affected his outlook.
“He had a deep and profound love for people coming to the United States from Europe in the period after the 1860s and wanted the Catholic Church to extend a warm welcome to them,” Bishop DiLorenzo said.
He cited the example of St. Katharine Drexel who saw the needs of many newly freed slaves and Native Americans. She was the daughter of a wealthy Philadelphia family and after entering religious life spent her fortune to help those she felt were disadvantaged “and for those whose promises from the federal government were not kept.”
“Not only did it cost her a lot of money, but she gave of herself,” Bishop DiLorenzo said. “For that, she became a saint.”
A third saint was Father Damian of Molokai who worked among the lepers and treated them with the “dignity and respect they deserved.”
Others who had the same opportunities to follow God and do his loving will chose not to do so, the Bishop said. Rather they wanted recognition for themselves by changing the course of history. One of the three examples he cited was Jack Ruby, the man who shot Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of John F. Kennedy.
But there is a price for the choices we make, Bishop DiLorenzo said. “It’s a dilemma we all face,” he added.
“To live as a Catholic Christian means doing God’s loving will every day of my life and extend to my neighbor — every man, woman and child — self-sacrificial love.”
Looking back on his own personal experience, the Bishop said, “All in all, I consider it is worth it.”
In conclusion, he assured the catechumens that the Church through its individual members was praying for them and thanking God for them and the choice they had made.
“We pray with you, we pray for you and we wish you all the best,” he said.
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