Sunday, February 21, 2010

In Hotlanta, the Class of 2,015

And so, church, welcome to the closest thing we've got to 8pm on the first Tuesday of November... at least, outside a conclave.

Whether all together or at multiple sites, as every local church has spent this afternoon welcoming the catechumens and candidates who'll join the lot of us come Easter, this is, literally, our Election Night... albeit one on which there are no losers.

Still, in a church which could use all the good news it can get, that the Rites of Election which've taken place through the day get little more than cricket-grade coverage is baffling... and as even press releases on the event are nigh impossible to find, any sort of breakdown of the numbers is even more tightly held.

That is, with certain, notable exceptions.

Already known as an especially vibrant and booming new hub of American Catholic life, the church of Atlanta -- the "Capital of the South"... where they can't open parish schools quickly enough; just ordained 15 permanent deacons, as many new priests within a year, and the first auxiliary bishop in a half-century; home of what, practically overnight, has become the South's largest church gathering... and, above all, now stands at nearly six times its 1990 size with a membership in striking distance of a million Catholics (nearly half of them Hispanic) -- has taken the national cake with a record-sized convert class of over 2,000 strong:
Officials at the Archdiocese of Atlanta say it's the largest number of people who have ever taken part in the Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion, which began at 3 p.m. at the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center. The ceremony, where the church officially welcomes future Catholics, is always held during the start of the Lenten season. Those who participate will join the church during Easter Vigil masses.

"It's very exciting," said the Rev. Theodore Book, director of the Archdiocese of Atlanta's Office of Divine Worship. He said it shows the church in North and Central Georgia, "is very alive and very dynamic. I think people see something special in the Catholic Church."

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory will preside over the ceremony, assisted by [auxiliary] Bishop Luis R. Zarama. It will be conducted in 11 languages, including Haitian Creole, Vietnamese, Korean and Yoruba, which illustrates the growing diversity of the church in North and Central Georgia.
According to archdiocesan communications chief Pat Chivers, the 404's Easter intake topped out at 2,015 -- a figure that, somehow, increased by 133 since a Peachtree Tweet reported it just three days back.

By contrast, two of the Northeast's once-vaunted bastions, counting a combined Catholic population of some 3.3 million, welcomed roughly 1,500 catechumens and candidates between them at this weekend's rites, the larger diocese's crop of "over 600" said to represent "a significant increase" from last year.

To keep per capita pace with Wilt Country, however, the duo would've needed, oh, another 5,500 or so.

Lest any forgot, just another reminder that this ain't your grandfather's Stateside church.

PHOTOS: Michael Alexander/Georgia Bulletin