Alleluia: Washington area welcomes record number of converts at Easter Vigil

From, of all places, The Washington Post: 

For Austin Russell, Easter used to mean dyeing eggs and finding candy. “It was the Easter Bunny — it was fun,” said Russell, 19, who grew up in a home that wasn’t very religious.

But this year, Easter carries a weightier meaning for the University of Maryland sophomore. When he started dating a Catholic woman and befriended other practicing Catholics, he became interested in the church’s teachings. He enrolled in a class to learn more, and this weekend, he joined a record number of people in the Washington area taking the final steps to convert to Catholicism. Once he is baptized and receives his first Communion this weekend, “I can really walk into the church and say that I’m a follower like everybody else. It’s going to be exciting.”

Easter culminates the holiest time on the Christian calendar and is the traditional time to convert for some groups, including Catholics.

Seventy-two percent of new converts cite marriage as an important reason for coming into the church, and the highest conversion rates are in the South, according to an analysis released last week by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), a Georgetown University group that studies American Catholicism. The report also found that adult converts are more active in the church and more knowledgeable about the religion than those who have been Catholic since childhood.

Although conversion numbers in the Catholic Church have fallen nationally in recent years, possibly because marriage rates are down, they are up in the Washington area, where there has been an overall uptick in population. The Washington Archdiocese said it is welcoming 1,306 new Catholics this Easter, a higher number than it has ever recorded.

While the U.S. Catholic Church will soon become majority Latino because of immigration patterns from Catholic countries, converts within the United States tend to be more diverse. In the Washington area this year, nearly one-third are between 19 and 35. That does not surprise Susan Gibbs, an adviser to Catholic organizations and a board member of CARA.

“Washington is an interesting case because so many people come here to serve others,” she said. “Young people are searching for a start in life, and part of that journey can be to find faith.”

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