WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Fr. Andrew Bogdanowicz, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish, leads RCIA catechumens through one of the scrutinies on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, April 3.
At Easter, 23 adults and children at St. Thomas More Parish will join the Roman Catholic Church. All of them have faith journeys poles apart that led them to the Church.
One decided to become Catholic after escaping injury when a table fell on his head. Another was intrigued by the writings of Pope Benedict. A third has been looking for the right church since she was six.
Three and half years ago Cameron Hanson met a Catholic woman who later became his wife. Religion was a topic of discussion that they avoided because Hanson was raised outside of religion, and knew next to nothing about Christianity.
He referred to himself as a "scientific person," and did not believe in anything he could not hold in his hands or see with his eyes. The Catholic way of life, albeit interesting, was not what he wanted.
Since his wife was Catholic, however, he kept an open mind and decided to speak directly with God.
"I knelt at my bed and prayed for the first time, and I said, 'Look, God, if you know me as good as you think you know me, then you know that I'm not going to believe in you unless you show yourself to me.'
"Looking back now, I realize that I did something I'm not really supposed to, and that's test my God. But it turned out OK," said Hanson.
The next day he was at work, at a Future Shop warehouse. A solid wood table with a metal-frame bottom came crashing down from the top shelf of the racks and landed directly on top of Hanson's head.
"The table turned upside down when it fell and the legs somehow opened. The table landed on my head, and the table broke. I had the metal frame surrounding me. The table weighed about 30 pounds and I didn't feel anything. It didn't knock me to the ground, and I felt no pain, no injury," he said.
The manager was in the warehouse with him, and both men were shocked. Hanson broke down crying, and called his wife to explain what had happened. He was convinced that God had answered his prayer by revealing himself.
"This was the beginning of my investigation into what is faith, so I started coming to church and now I'm taking RCIA," he said.
Despite this sudden turnaround, he still had hesitations and issues to resolve, the biggest being his father's homosexuality. He had to learn to love his father unconditionally, even if he did not agree with the choices he made.
"His lifestyle choice was the biggest issue for me to deal with, and I had to really learn how I'm supposed to handle that. I struggled with it, but through prayer and talking with Father Sylvain (Casavant), I came to realize that you love the person, not the action," said Hanson.
Easter will have special meaning this year for Hanson. He has a craving for full participation in the Eucharist, and he's also looking forward to Reconciliation.
Darlene Smigelski has been the RCIA coordinator at the parish for 11 years. She's catechized Buddhists, Lutherans and atheists in her RCIA program. She tells people it is the best ministry in the whole Church because people are usually motivated for the right reasons.
"It is a privilege for me to be in this position because I am like a fly on the wall. I get to witness such an incredible, profoundly humbling journey where they are overcoming all inhibition to come here and sit in front of me and tell me they want to come into the faith," said Smigelski.
Every year, starting in September, when the catechists and catechumens enter RCIA, their faith grows as Easter approaches.
She has seen married couples where one is Catholic and the other goes through the RCIA process to merely "complete the family." While the grounds for becoming Catholic might be wrong in such instances, sometimes RCIA leads them to embrace the faith with gusto.
"When a man takes the spiritual lead of his family, it's an incredible thing. I've seen that time and time again. The women are generally the ones to first bring their families into the faith, and the men tag along," she said. But when the men take a spiritual lead, their wives feel safe and the family gels.
Being in this ministry for so long, she has noticed a pattern of spiritual warfare at this time of year. Those entering the Church are under attack, with sickness in the family, family crises, strife between people and job-related issues.
These obstacles are more than coincidence, she said, and are the work of Satan trying to keep them from the sacraments.
Unlike Baptism and Confirmation, most people who go through the RCIA process stay with the Church. There are some exceptions, however.
"I've seen them sometimes in a wonderful flame-of-glory journey, and then they fall away. It breaks my heart when I see them fall away like that, so can you imagine how it breaks the heart of Christ?" she said.
"If your intention is to become a nominal Catholic, don't do it. You become a nominal Catholic at your peril. The Church isn't going anywhere. If you're not prepared to come to Mass every Sunday, wait until you are."
Matthew Fehlauer's decision to become a Catholic is the end result of a long process. He grew up in a Christian home and attended evangelical churches, but liturgical services were completely unfamiliar. He was involved with music and youth ministries at a Baptist church and tried the Anglican Church.
"I went to different churches throughout my life and I found this one to be the most comprehensive and meaningful," said Fehlauer.
He grew more interested in Catholicism after reading Pope Benedict's books.
"It really opened my eyes to the Catholic way of thinking. So when RCIA started, it wasn't crazy stuff going on. Everything made sense and I enjoyed the teaching, and it brought everything together," said Fehlauer.
Having never been baptized or a full participant in Holy Week, this Easter holds special significance for him.
"Especially since the Scrutinies and once I became the elect, now I am more excited about it and want to get this done. I've come so far, and I don't want to quit now," he said.
Growing up in a non-churchgoing family did not prevent Lisa Bradley from going to church. At age six, Bradley came downstairs one Sunday morning wearing a fancy pink dress, and told her mother that she was going to the Baptist church.
"The church was at the end of the street, and back then you could do things like that. It started at 10:30, so I went to church by myself. I met these two ladies who kind of took me under their wing and started sharing the stories of Jesus Christ with me," explained Bradley.
Now an education student, Bradley always sought a relationship with Jesus, but did a lot of church shopping without finding a home church. Five years ago she considered getting baptized, but something did not feel right and she delayed her decision.
Her first university practicum was with a public school, the second with Edmonton Catholic Schools, Louis St. Laurent School.
"My mentor teacher was a good role model and inspiration to me. She introduced me to this church specifically, and to the Catholic faith. Through her I became more interested in learning more about the Catholic faith," said Bradley.
Since going through the RCIA process, she has experienced no doubts or hesitations. Every Thursday evening at St. Thomas More Parish has been a new opportunity to learn more about Catholic traditions and ask questions of the RCIA team.
"The reason why I really enjoy this process is because you don't have to make a commitment in three weeks. It's a very long detailed process where, through the Scrutinies and the Rite of Election, all these phases that we go through, you can reflect on whether this is the right choice for you," said Bradley.
She is looking forward to Easter for her Baptism, the Eucharist, and a renewal of spirit.