Mary Howell, Special to The Catholic Virginian 

Kristie Smith grew up in a family that identified itself as Catholic. Her grandparents helped build the Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague in Wakefield, located across Route 460 from their business, the Virginia Diner. It was also the church where her parents married.

“Handed down from generation to generation, stories of the faith found their way into many family gatherings,” Smith, 33, recalled. After her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when Smith was 4 years old, “My grandmother and her church became my safe havens during her treatments.”

Smith’s mother decided Kristie and her sister should not be raised in one particular tradition, but be allowed to make their own faith decisions later in life. She honored her mother’s wishes, joining Bible studies in nondenominational churches, ringing hand bells in a Lutheran church, and reading about Eastern belief systems.

“While all were lovely in their own ways, none of them felt quite right,” she said.

When her mother lost her battle with cancer, “I found myself reeling,” Smith said. “For quite some time, I was crippled by grief and questioning. I moved across the country, isolating myself from my family, perhaps in an attempt to find some sort of answer.”

Then, after her uncle passed away, Smith began reconnecting with her family.

“Watching them find comfort and solace from the Church and its community, I witnessed the enormity of being spiritually whole,” she said.

This was the impetus for her decision to join several others as a catechumen last spring, beginning the year-long Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Richmond.

“I received wonderful guidance from my sponsor, Pam Roberts, and also Maria Thorsen, the cathedral’s RCIA coordinator,” Smith said. “Both showed me by example how to live our faith on a daily basis.”

Concerned about balancing RCIA with her job in politics, which becomes especially hectic during the Virginia General Assembly session each winter, Smith committed to not only attending the weekly classes, but also to setting aside time for reflection.

As she and the cathedral’s other RCIA candidates progressed through study of the Scriptures and the mysteries of faith, Smith was pleasantly surprised to discover she had fewer questions as the weeks passed, while at the same time gaining a greater sense of peace.

Thorsen, a retired parochial school teacher who has been a member of the cathedral for 40 years and an RCIA team volunteer for nearly 20 years, added, “RCIA is a perfect echo of early Church where parishioners gathered to share their faith and create lasting friendships. I see great wisdom in a process that provides the catechumens with time to interact and share their experiences.”

Smith’s journey of faith reached a crescendo during Holy Week. She participated in the washing of the feet ceremony on Holy Thursday, carried the cross during veneration on Good Friday, and received the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist and confirmation during the Easter Vigil.

“I felt tremendously humbled by both experiences (Holy Thursday and Good Friday),” she said, “as well as fill-ed with joy and a sense of belonging.”

Following her reception into the Church, Smith has entered the period of reflection known as mystagogy. Inspired by Pope Francis’ call for mankind to serve as “stewards, not masters” of the earth, she said she looks forward to deepening her understanding of the sacraments and getting to know other young Catholics.

“I’m excited that precepts of our faith support my work to support increased use of renewable energy resources and better care for our environment,” Smith said.

She acknowledged that her path to the Church has been a long and – at times – painful one.

“There is no perfect time in life to begin RCIA, but if you feel that tug in your heart, try to listen. Start with an open mind and give yourself over to the experience,” Smith said.

Happy about her thoughtful decision to become a Catholic, she said, “This is a homecoming that is both perfectly timed and long overdue!”