Today, Christians celebrate the new life Jesus won for us through his triumph over death in his resurrection. For the thousands of people who were received into full communion with the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil, it is also a time of new beginnings.
Continuing an Easter tradition, Our Sunday Visitor asked readers who are converts to recount their journeys to the faith. Their stories appear in the following pages, along with testimonials from two writers who have come home to the Catholic Church.
As the Catholic Church is in the midst of a year celebrating the greatest convert to the faith -- St. Paul -- may their stories inspire us all to grow deeper in our own faith.
Jesus was my "best friend" throughout my childhood. As the daughter of a Protestant minister, I learned much about Jesus. However, something was missing. During my preteen years, I wondered if the supernatural stuff I read about in the Bible still happens. I was told, "No, that was only to get the Church started."
Believing that our world still needs miracles, I sought evidence of the supernatural. I found it when I played with a Ouija board. That led to other occult activities. By the time I was 20 and newly married, I no longer believed that I needed Jesus. And my moral values were eroding.
Jesus rescued me when I was 22, through a Catholic friend who had become a priest. When I attended Mass with him, he explained to me what the Eucharist really is. I wanted it! Here was proof that miracles were not just for biblical days. I wanted to participate in the supernatural event of bread and wine becoming the actual body and blood of Jesus. So, I became Catholic.
At first, I wrestled with Catholic beliefs that my Protestant upbringing had misunderstood, but researching the truth became the impetus for Good News Ministries (gnm.org), a global outreach ministry through which I teach others and write daily reflections on the readings from Mass.
What happened to my fascination with the occult? God showed me that occult powers are counterfeits of his greater powers. I've been living in the amazing power of Christ's presence ever since.
-- Terry Modica, Valrico, Fla., 1977
My conversion was largely the result of a Catholic boyfriend in college. He introduced me to the faith in a positive manner and gave me reading materials. I married someone else 10 years later, but currently write about Catholic dating. I encourage singles to allow the Lord to work through their relationships with others.
When I helped with RCIA classes, a large portion of the classes was always made up of couples. Typically, one partner spurred the conversion of the other. I don't believe all of it was the result of "missionary dating" or more superficial reasons. I really believe that the Lord uses people to reach out to others in a profound way. I know this because it happened to me.
A lot of contemporary dating advice makes singles fear the thought of dating someone who is not a super devout Catholic. While I understand the rationale behind it, I think it's important to allow the Lord the opportunity to do his work when he wants to. By being overly cautious and separated from our neighbors, we just may deny the Lord opportunities to touch others.
-- Amy A.W. Bonaccorso, Laurel, Md., Easter Vigil 2000
Call me an "Advent Catholic" if you will, because I was willingly received into the Catholic Church on Gaudete Sunday 1998. That was an entirely fitting date for my reception into the Church, because Gaudete Sunday expresses the joyful note of anticipation for Christmas that I was feeling in my heart that day.
I converted as an adult who had spent much of his life in the Episcopal Church, although I had been joyfully anticipating becoming a Catholic since childhood, when my friends on the South Side of Chicago would patiently instruct me in the ways of "the one, true Church." On Saturday afternoons, they would even allow me to guard their bikes while they went into that dark, mysterious church of theirs for what they called "confession." They certainly did behave better when they finally emerged, and I was impressed.
I was also impressed in August 1967, when a priest, the assistant scoutmaster of our World Jamboree troop, invited me to join him at the Sabbath Service at the campsite of the lone troop from Israel. His call to open-mindedness opened my heart to the "one true faith" that had surrounded me from birth.
And so, after much prayer and meditation, I followed my heart to full reception into the Catholic Church and have been faithfully going to "confession" in my not-so-dark-and-mysterious church ever since.
-- Charles McKelvy, Harbert, Mich., Gaudete Sunday 1998
I came "home" to the Catholic Church Easter 2007. I had been singing in the choir of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Coalinga, Calif., with my friends, James and Laura Mendes Moore. I have always felt I was meant to join the Catholic Church, so I entered the RCIA classes.
James and Laura became my godparents. James has since died as a result of a car accident in August 2007. Their son entered the priesthood in June 2008. I have the loveliest church family, and feel I am where I was meant to be.
-- Jean "JJ" Zwang, Coalinga, Calif., Easter Vigil 2007
Saul was a zealous persecutor of Christians until his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9:9-19; 22:3-21; 26:4-23). From that point on, he became a fervent apostle, embarking on three great missionary journeys to spread the Good News and authoring at least 13 of the New Testament epistles. So great has Paul's influence been on Christianity that Pope Benedict XVI declared a Year of St. Paul, which runs through June 29. In a Sept. 3, 2008, general audience, the pontiff said this about the apostle's conversion: "St. Paul was not transformed by a thought but by an event, by the irresistible presence of the Risen One whom subsequently he would never be able to doubt, so powerful had been the evidence of the event, of this encounter."
St. Augustine of Hippo
The Doctor of the Church was the son of a pagan father and Christian mother, St. Monica. Augustine was drawn into the Manichean heretical sect as a young man, and it took him years to free himself of the heresy. Much to St. Monica's relief, Augustine fell under the influence of St. Ambrose, who was the bishop of Milan. In Milan, he was baptized. Eventually, Augustine became bishop of Hippo, a city in northern Africa. Among his many writings are "Confessions" and "City of God."
Venerable Cardinal John Henry Newman
A former Anglican priest who led the Oxford movement in the 1830s to draw Anglicans to their Catholic roots, Cardinal Newman became Catholic in 1845, when he was 44 years old. The cardinal founded the English community of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri. "Apologia Pro Vita Sua" and "Grammar of Assent" are among the theologian's best-known works.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
The first native-born saint of the United States, Mother Seton was a young widow with five children when she joined the Church, over the objections of her Protestant family. In 1808, she arrived in Baltimore, Md., and founded the Sisters of Charity one year later. Later, she and her community would settle in Emmitsburg, Md., where she founded St. Joseph's Academy and Free School. She was canonized in 1975.
Chesterton was a noted thinker and prolific author of influential works such as "The Man Who Was Thursday," "Orthodoxy" and "The Everlasting Man," which C.S. Lewis credited for his conversion from atheism to Christianity. A convert from Anglicanism, Chesterton wrote about his understanding of the Catholic Church and how it won him over in "The Catholic Church and Conversion."
Cardinal Francis Arinze
The Nigerian-born prelate, who headed up the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments for six years until his retirement last December, is a convert from traditional African religion who joined the Catholic Church when he was 9. Several years later, his mother and father joined him in the faith. Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal in 1985.
Among those joining the Catholic faith this spring is one of the best-known U.S. politicians of the past two decades -- former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Gingrich led the 1994 "Republican Revolution" in the House of Representatives and is said to be considering a presidential run in 2012. Gingrich is not the only prominent politician to be received into full communion with the Church. Here are a few others:
The former British prime minister was received into full communion with the Catholic Church during a private ceremony in December 2007, six months after he left office. Although he grew up Anglican, he attended Catholic Mass with his wife, Cherie, and four children for several years. His conversion was not without controversy among British Catholics, however, because he consistently voted for abortion rights during his political career.
The U.S. senator and former 2008 presidential nominee joined the Catholic Church in 2002, having been raised a Methodist and later belonging to a nondenominational Christian church. In a 2006 interview with The Washington Post, he said this about his decision: "Joining the Catholic Church was joining the early church. This is the mother church. This is the church out of which orthodoxy and Protestantism came."
The Republican governor of Louisiana was raised a Hindu by his Indian-born parents, but started reading about Christianity in high school, after the death of his grandfather. He was baptized and confirmed in the faith while studying at Brown University.