Surge in Numbers of Those Joining the Church as Adults Continues

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
15 May 2015

Book of the Elect held up by the Catechumens

The number of adult men and women across Sydney joining the Catholic Church continues to grow. This year was no exception with 204 Catechumens and 70 Baptismal Candidates undergoing the final stages of their formation during Lent this year before being brought into full communion with the Catholic Church as Neophytes at the Easter Saturday Vigil.

"Every year hundreds of people across the city are deciding to become Catholic," says Catherine Hilder, Director of the Archdiocese of Sydney's Catechemunate Office.

The stand-out factor for this year as it was for the Catechumens and Baptismal Candidates for the past three years, has been the predominance of young men and women, most of whom are still in their 20s or early 30s.

"I think for young people there is a search to find real meaning to their lives. In today's secular society, they are reaching out for something more and responding to God's call," Catherine says.

On Sunday 17 May, this year's neophytes who officially entered the Church in their own parishes at Easter, will attend Mass at St Mary's Cathedral celebrated by the Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP who will welcome them to the Archdiocese. After the Mass the Archbishop will meet and talk with them and their families at a special reception to be held in Cathedral Hall.

Personally greeting each of the neophytes, the Archbishop will present each one with a small gift from the Archdiocese as a symbolic remembrance of this important time in their lives.

The Mass on Sunday will mark the first time the Neophytes have received the Holy Eucharist at the Cathedral and the first time they have met with the Archbishop since he presided over the Rite of Election and Presentation of Baptismal Candidates on the first Sunday of Lent in February this year.

Traditionally held each year on the First Sunday of Lent, the Rite of Election is one of the final phases for catechumens in their formation and conversion to the Catholic faith. This is when the Church accepts the petition of the Catechumens together with the testimony of the Catholic community and enrols them as the "elect."

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP Presided over the Rite of Election and Presentation of Baptised Candidates on the First Sunday of Lent this year.

The name of each Catechumen is then inscribed in the Book of the Elect, which is held by each of Sydney's parishes and Catholic communities.

After the Rite of Election, and the acceptance into the Church as Catechumens-elect by Archbishop Anthony, this year's group spent the following 40 days of Lent in prayer and reflection. Known as the Period of Purification and Enlightenment, this final phase of becoming a Catholic is marked by three community celebrations known as the Scrutinies. Coinciding with the third, fourth and fifth Sunday in Lent, the Catechumen-elect, together with their local priest and parish, focus on their lives in light of the Gospel and ask God for healing and forgiveness.

The third and final stage for the Catechumens-elect and their acceptance into the Church as neophytes takes place during the Easter Saturday Vigil when they able to receive the Holy Eucharist for the first time.

Traditionally over the next few weeks, a further Mass is held by their Archbishop or Bishop to personally as well as officially welcome them into the Archdiocese or diocese.

While this Sunday's Mass at the Cathedral represents a celebration and welcome to this year's group of neophytes by Archbishop Anthony, the journey undertaken by  some of Sydney's newest Catholics, began many months ago when they embarked on the first stage of their formation.

Most parishes in Sydney offer the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) which enables pre-catechumens to not only study the values of the Gospel, but to question and explore different aspects of the Catholic faith.

There is no time-limit put on this early stage which is followed by the First Ritual Step, which represents a more formal commitment to learning about the Catholic faith. During this stage which also focuses on faith formation, the "enquirer" is accepted by the Church as a Catechumen, and it is after this that the Catechumenate, the longest and most formal part of the process, begins.

Many young people are embracing the Catholic Church and the Lord as they seek deeper meaning to their lives

This is also the period in which Catechumens are expected to not only continue with their studies, faith formation and prayer but to participate with the city's Catholic community in their Sunday celebrations.

Finally having discovered and embraced the love and power of God in their lives, the Catechumens enter the last stages which are ushered in by the Rite of Election on the first Sunday in Lent.

The spiritual journey for those joining the Catholic Church takes effort, commitment, prayer and study. But the months or even years involved have not slowed the numbers of the hundreds of Sydney adults wishing to embrace the Catholic faith each year.

"The reasons for each of them are many and varied and everyone has their own special story," she says Catherine Hilder.

Some have been thinking of becoming Catholic for some time. Others are struck with a sudden epiphany like the young Korean girl a few years ago, Catherine says, who heard the bells of St Mary's Cathedral which brought back memories of her childhood and a desire to be reunited with God.

"Many Australians who arrived here from Hong Kong, Vietnam, Indonesia and other countries across Asia grew up attending Catholic schools or schools run by Religious. Even though their families might remain Buddhist or of some other faith, many Asian Australians entering their 20s and 30s look for deeper meaning to their lives and begin thinking about becoming participating members of the Catholic Church,"

While many Western countries are grappling with a fall in their numbers of practicing Christians, in Sydney hundreds of men and women from all walks of life and cultures are choosing to join the Catholic Church each year.

Among this year's neophytes, some are like Federal Minister Malcolm Turnbull who converted from Presbyterianism in later life, or former British Prime Minister Tony Blair who was raised an Anglican and switched to Catholicism after stepping down as leader in 2007.

Others in the group may have been raised in another faith or no faith at all, but in a search for answers they discovered the Catholic Church and God.

Cardinal Pell baptises catechumen-elects during the Easter Vigil 2010

"Changing circumstances in life, especially a crisis will often prompt people to stop and reach out to God and his all embracing love to help give the strength to carry on," Catherine says.

In instances similar to the young Korean girl who was so moved by the bells of St Mary's Cathedral, she says the Cathedral itself also brings inspiration.

"People are frequently drawn by the Cathedral's beauty and architecture, and say the Cathedral spoke directly to them, inspiring them with God's love, faith and the power of prayer," she says.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher invites all those who entered the Church at Easter this year in their home parishes, together with their families and members of their local RICA teams, to attend the 10.30 am Mass at St Mary's Cathedral on Sunday, 17 March. He also invites them to join him afterwards at Cathedral Hall so he can meet with each of them personally.