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By Mary Pearson

In a fitting reflection of the new life of the Easter Season, the Diocese welcomed more than 1,060 new Catholics at the Easter Vigil this year, an increase of nearly 20 percent over last year.
That number is an initial estimate from the Diocesan Office of Pastoral Planning and from statistics reported directly by parishes. Two-thirds of the parishes in the Diocese reported an increase in the number of people who received their Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation) at the Easter Vigil this year. As the sixth largest diocese in the United States, San Bernardino’s numbers are consistent with an apparent upward trend in the number of people who entered the Church this Easter.

St. Christopher Parish in Moreno Valley reported the largest number in the Diocese: 40 children and eight adults were baptized during their Easter Vigil Liturgy, and an additional 10 candidates entered into full communion with the Church, professing their faith in the Catholic Church, and receiving the Sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist.

Luz Mocete, coordinator of the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults (OCIA) program for the parish, said this year was St. Christopher’s “biggest group ever” of catechumens and candidates.

Richard Rodriguez spoke with the BYTE on behalf of himself and his three children, all of whom attended catechism classes as part of St. Christopher’s OCIA program. His children – Alex, 17, Julicia, 14, and Gianna, 9—received Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil, while Richard will receive Confirmation on June 4th.

“We practiced [the faith], but we just didn’t fully understand it,” Richard said of his family’s faith before coming to OCIA. Richard was baptized Catholic as an infant and received his First Communion as a child, but he was never confirmed and admits he did not understand why the sacraments were important. Eventually, circumstances led him and his family to want to learn more about their Catholic faith, so he signed himself and his children up for catechism classes (his wife, Alicia, had already received all three Sacraments of Initiation).

“The baptism ceremony during the Easter Vigil was a remarkable and unforgettable experience for our entire family,” Richard said. “Our faith has brought us closer as a family and given us a stronger sense of purpose and meaning.”

In addition to looking forward to his own Confirmation, Richard is particularly excited that he and Alicia will be able to marry in the Church in June.

For many who join OCIA, also sometimes called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), the faith of a family member plays a role in the decision to begin the process of joining the Church.
Kevin Sutton, 43, began attending St. Christopher because of his wife’s Catholic faith. Though he and their two children were not baptized, they often came to church together as a family and enjoyed feeling part of a community.

“While we attended church my kids started asking questions,” Sutton said. “[There] were some questions I had as well…So we started catechism [classes] to learn more and understand more about the Catholic religion.”

Sutton and his two adult children Jessica,19, and Kevin Jr., 23, were all baptized at the Easter Vigil at St. Christopher. Like the Rodriguez’s, Kevin and his wife will also be married in the Church next month.

“The fire, the lighting of the candles, and just the spiritual feeling that filled the church was such a great feeling,” Sutton said his experience of the Vigil Mass. “Seeing the lit candles, hearing the bells ring when the lights came on, and seeing how many people were there in attendance was just amazing.”

St. Anthony Parish in San Bernardino welcomed 34 new Catholics at the Easter Vigil. Wilma Cochrane, the coordinator for the English-speaking members of the parish’s OCIA program, said that 17 children and eight adults were baptized from her class.

Benjamin Salinas, 30, was one of the adults baptized at St. Anthony’s. Benjamin said he first became interested in the Church after learning about the Eucharistic miracles.
“This had me fascinated and I wanted to learn more [about how] to receive it,” Salinas said. Another driving factor behind his decision to join OCIA was so that he and his fiance, who is a Catholic, would be able to receive the Sacrament of Marriage in the Church.

Luis Iniguez told the BYTE that his five children made up a significant number of the OCIA program at St. Anthony’s. Four of the children received all three of their Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil, while his 18-year-old son, who was previously baptized, will be confirmed on May 18th.

A common factor contributing to the larger OCIA and RCIA classes throughout the Diocese was the above-average number of children entering the Church. According to canon law, any person who has reached age seven is considered to be of the age of reason and thus must go through a catechumenate period (OCIA) to learn about the faith before being baptized.

St. James the Less Parish in Perris reported 22 children and 7 adults baptized at the Easter Vigil. Maricarmen Balcazar, Parish Director of Religious Education, said it is not uncommon for families to bring their children to the Church seeking baptism and be surprised to learn that past age seven, the process is a little more involved than they expected.

Mary Pearson is a freelance writer and parishioner of St. Martha, Murrieta.