The decision to embark on my journey towards becoming a Catholic was not one I made hastily or alone. My fiancé Chris had always joked I would have to become a Catholic if he were to marry me. Despite the jokes I knew it was important to him, so I made my decision.
I knew all about the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) through my soon-to-be brother-in-law who undertook the process a few years ago. After he told me what to expect, I was excited about starting the sessions on a Tuesday evening. Though I had doubts, and was convinced I would have questions that would never be answered, I believed I would enjoy the exercise of learning about Catholicism from an academic perspective. I expected little else.
My very first week of RCIA completely altered my expectations, as did so many of the sessions after that. I not only learnt a great deal about Catholicism and what life as a Catholic would entail practically, but more importantly I learnt much more about myself and about the God that had been there for a long time – out of sight, out of mind, but there nonetheless. The catechists who so quickly became my friends showed me the path I needed to follow. The rest was up to me.
As the weeks went by, I realised I was on an important journey and that my life was improving for the better – I was becoming a happier, calmer and more peaceful person.
On Sunday 31 January I was formally welcomed into the church I have attended each Sunday since moving to Wigan last summer. While I had never been made to feel unwelcome, I always felt I was not the same as everyone else – something was missing; I was an outsider. That day I stood on the altar and proclaimed my desire to become a Catholic in front of my family and the congregation. As I stepped off the altar the whole congregation began to applaud. It was as if I had achieved something wonderful and I was touched that this group of people who did not know me so openly welcomed me into their community. I sat in the front row and as people moved to the front of church to receive Communion, some congratulated me. I was astonished at the reception.
On Sunday 14 February my family and I were invited to Liverpool's Metropolitan Cathedral for the Rite of Election. I was joined by catechumens from across the Archdiocese as Archbishop Malcolm welcomed us in turn and asked us to enter our names into the Book of the Elect. The service was relaxed yet that did not detract from the importance of the day. I felt proud to stand with my family and friends behind me, my godparents at my shoulder.
During Holy Week I was then lucky enough to return to the Cathedral and carry the Oil of Chrism to Archbishop Malcolm during the Mass of Chrism. It was a great honour to be assigned this role, and an experience I shall never forget.
However, none of these special occasions compare to my Baptism on Holy Saturday night, when at last I was received into the Church and had my First Holy Communion. While I was nervous, I knew I had little to worry about and everything to look forward to. I stood once more on the altar before my closest family, my godparents again at my shoulder. For me, Sunday Mass had always been the time I felt closest to God. But that Easter Vigil, and the following Sunday, I felt I was truly celebrating – and was part of something much bigger and better than myself.
If I were to offer advice to anyone considering RCIA and becoming a Catholic, I would say: come with an open mind and an open heart; you will not regret it!