Catholic Church Plays Role in Return to `the Spiritual'

Article excerpt

PITTSBURGH -- Tony Keith, a software consultant, says that while growing up he had no contact with church: "Zero." Even vague religious influences disappeared when his Baptist grandfather died.

Genevieve Peters, associate director of an arts festival, recalls that her parents "just didn't get involved" in religion. She picked up some knowledge on her own while attending a Catholic high school.

Meredith Richard, a technical writer, says her father's career in the Navy meant the family moved a lot and never went to church, though she sometimes visited Protestant Sunday schools with friends.

Shannon London-Smith, an advertising manager, thinks her father had been some sort of Protestant but she was raised by her mother to identify as a secular Jew. They never attended synagogue.

Since September, these four have been taking intensive Roman Catholic instruction together at Sacred Heart Church. And at a Saturday night Mass early in Lent they received the formal blessing of their parish as candidates to receive baptism at Easter Eve Mass.

Tomorrow night, they will be joined by tens of thousands of fellow "catechumens" who will be baptized in Catholic parishes across the nation. In addition, parishes will be administering confirmation and first communion to previously baptized adults who are converting from other Christian churches.

Nationwide, in 1997 the Catholic Church reported 73,426 adult baptisms and 88,161 transfers from other denominations. The same year there were more than 1 million infant baptisms, the main reason total U.S. membership is growing slowly but steadily each year.

One of the better-known U.S. converts is Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who became a Catholic on Easter Eve of 1995. Like the large majority of those who are joining, Bush has a Catholic spouse, Columba. Their three children were being raised Catholic but it took 20 years of marriage before Bush decided to make the switch.

Like their counterparts in other cities, the Pittsburgh area converts joined in a splashy Sunday afternoon service at St. Paul Cathedral. Joining them in the soaring nave were sponsors, priests, relatives and friends.

As each name was read, the candidates for baptism proceeded to the altar and signed one of four large books to signify their intent.

Most were in their 20s and 30s, but there was a sprinkling of elementary and junior high school youths who had never been baptized. A beaming Bishop Donald Wuerl shook the hand of each.

At the climax, surrounded by the converts, the bishop held the books aloft and declared: "My brothers and sisters, these are the names of the elect." The congregation broke into applause.

After this Rite of Election, the bishop welcomed the "candidates for full communion" coming from the other denominations.

Bishop Wuerl says, "There is a growing sense of a need for the spiritual among younger Americans, a returning to their roots. …