Illuminated by the orange glow of a fire, Fr. Timothy Godfrey, S.J., stood at the head of the Easter Vigil Mass under the quiet night sky in Dahlgren Quad. Those congregated for the Mass shuddered from the chill in the night air and huddled around the priest as he said, “We ask God to accept this Easter candle. May it expel the darkness of this night.”

After the lighting of the Easter candle, the crowd followed the priest up the stone steps and through arched entrance of the chapel, each person taking a small candle on his or her way in. Borrowing from the flame of Easter candle, the congregation of about 300 passed the flame on from one candle to the next until each was lit, speckling the dark hollow space with small, wavering glimmers of light.

Though indistinguishable in the darkness, 14 men and women had come that Saturday evening of March 22 for reasons other than celebrating annual Easter rites. Having completed the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, they came to take the final steps in their conversion to the Roman Catholic faith. While nine of the RCIA candidates had already been baptized in some other Christian denomination, the remaining five came seeking this sacrament, often administered to infants born to practicing parents, for the first time.

When it came time for the baptism during the ceremony, these five individuals stepped forward. Godfrey poured water over each of their heads, one by one, saying, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Neil Shah (MSB ’10) was one of those five people receiving the sacrament of baptism that night, making official a choice he has seriously contemplated for more than four years. Throughout high school and college, he has participated in a diverse array of religious services and gatherings. A personal search, both spiritual and intellectual, led him to Buddhist discussion groups, Hindu temples and Catholic Masses.

“I was religious without a religion,” he said.

In addition to the appeal of the ideals and structure of Catholicism, some of his own relationships ultimately confirmed for him his decision to convert, which he made last year. “So many important people in my life have been Catholic, which is very telling,” he said,

Jeffrey Dyer (GRD ’08) said that one person in particular – his fiancée – had a strong influence in confirming his inclination to take this step. He stressed also that the ceremony represented the culmination of a journey that took place over the course of many years, with stops all over the world. Born in California and raised in a Baptist church, Dyer did not feel particularly drawn to practice. Yet, through his travels as a young adult, he came to see Christianity in a new light and felt particularly drawn to Catholicism.

“I have had several experiences traveling abroad in Rome, Florence and Damascus seeing the worldwide presence of the Church and the role that it plays in the lives of people in diverse situations with very different needs,” he said.

He said attending Georgetown played a pivotal role in his decision to become Catholic.

“I transferred to Georgetown this year and I joined the Chapel Choir when I arrived this fall,” he said. “I was thus obligated to attend Mass, which I wasn’t accustomed to doing, in order to sing. I found myself enjoying the experience and approached Fr. [Alvaro] Ribeiro, [S.J.] about finally being confirmed.”

Dyer said he and his fiancée plan to raise any children they may have as Roman Catholics.

But whether they had already been baptized or were entering the Christian faith for the first time, for all the RCIA candidates, Saturday’s Mass marked the end of a formal process they had undertaken on campus. According to Ennio Mastroianni, senior Roman Catholic chaplain for the university, about 20 students typically complete the RCIA program at Georgetown every year. Fifty-one percent of undergraduate students at Georgetown are Catholic, said David Gregory (COL ’10), grand knight of the Georgetown chapter of the Knights of Columbus.

The RCIA process typically begins around Labor Day, starting with an initiation where interested but uncertain people can learn about the religion’s principles without making any commitments. Those who choose to continue with the RCIA program, seeking baptism or the sacrament of Holy Communion, will go on to attend weekly sessions until Easter Sunday. At the sessions, candidates further explore their spirituality and study Catholic doctrines and Bible passages.

“Each week we discussed the Gospel reading from Sunday’s Mass, exploring it pretty deeply and discovering how it applied to our own lives and how we can make changes based on it,” said Chase Miller (MSB ’08). “It really allowed you to put action behind the faith that you believe and make changes in your life to reflect that.”

iller came into Georgetown a baptized Protestant and will graduate next month a Roman Catholic. He credits the RCIA program with providing a forum for him to make this personal transition. “Each week, we discussed the Gospel reading from Sunday’s Mass, exploring it pretty deeply and discovering how it applied to our own lives and how we can make changes based on it,” he said. “It really allowed you to put action behind the faith that you believe and make changes in your life to reflect that.”

After the initiation rites, Godfrey rubbed holy oil in the sign of the cross on the forehead of each of the 14 candidates, telling them, “Your being here this evening is a sign to us that the risen Christ is at work in the world.”

Godfrey said that like the candles that had illuminated the chapel at the beginning of the ceremony, the spirit of the candidates served as a sign of hope for the Catholic community in the world. “This light of love shines in us and through us,” he said. “This image is very pertinent to what we celebrate this evening.”

However, those who entered the Roman Catholic faith at the Easter Vigil were not the only ones to recently deepen their faith on campus. On Monday night in Dahlgren Chapel, Bishop Francisco González, auxiliary bishop of Washington, administered the sacrament of Confirmation to five students already baptized Catholic. This sacrament is a renewal of promises made at baptism and necessitates a deeper understanding of beliefs and responsibilities.

ax Glassie (COL ’10), one of the five students confirmed, explained, “I distanced myself from Catholicism in high school, but recently I pursued my own spiritual exploration and found myself back in Catholicism.”

Doris Yu (COL ’11), another of the confirmed, simply never found the time in the past to go through the Confirmation process. She explained that during the process, in addition to attending weekly discussions with the other RCIA candidates, she was required to go on the Spiritual Refreshment retreat in February.

“That retreat changed my life a lot here,” Yu said. “It kind of helped me develop my faith a little further, and it allowed me to get to know a lot of the other Catholic kids and the chaplains.”

Yu described the entire Confirmation process as a “faith journey where faith grows for the better and you learn a lot, being confirmed, that kind of pushes me to question things, to find out more about particular Catholic rituals or traditions that I might not have asked questions about before being confirmed, that I might not have cared about before.”

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