Becoming a Catholic as an adult takes commitment. At Sherwood Park's Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, for example, catechumens and candidates are required to get involved in the parish and study the faith weekly for about a year before they are accepted into the Church.
"It takes a full year to cover all the doctrines of the Church," says Bonnie Kirk, coordinator of OLPH's Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
Catechumens are unbaptized people and candidates are people who were baptized in another denomination or in the Church but didn't practise their faith. The RCIA team in each parish guides people who want to become Catholics in their faith journey.
OLPH currently has a number of people in the RCIA process, including two catechumens who will receive the sacraments of initiation at the upcoming Easter Vigil, five baptized Catholics who will complete their initiation at the vigil and three people who were baptized in other Christian churches and will be received into the Catholic Church at Pentecost, May 22.
Also involved in the parish's RCIA process are four neophytes who are completing their neophyte year. Neophytes are former catechumens and candidates who completed their initiation the previous year.
Kirk says OLPH prepares people for full communion according to the guidelines of the official rite of initiation.
"They participate in Sunday Mass with the sending forth, they gather for a weekly catechetical session, they become involved with service in the parish and they plug into the community building and social events in the parish," she said.
The catechetical sessions are Lectionary-based and therefore focus on the previous Sunday's Gospel. For example, the reading of Sunday, March 10 was the the parable of the prodigal son "so we looked at forgiveness and reconciliation the following week," Kirk explained.
"In January we had the baptism of Jesus; therefore the discussion that followed was about Baptism."
The process also covers all aspects of prayer, sacraments and the moral teachings of the Church.
The two OLPH catechumens – Robert Pettigrew, 41, and Anh Ambler, 26 – were among 130 adult and child catechumens from parishes across the Edmonton Archdiocese who became members of the elect at the Rite of Election at St. Joseph's Basilica Feb. 16-17.
At the ceremony, they reaffirmed their desire to become members of the Church and met Archbishop Richard Smith.
Since then, the elect at OLPH and across the archdiocese have been completing the Period of Purification and Enlightenment, the last stage in their formation. This is a six-week period of recollection and intense spiritual preparation for receiving the Easter Sacraments, Kirk said.
During this period the elect participate in three scrutinies or penitential rites that happen during the Mass on the third, four and fifth Sundays of Lent.
They are also presented with the Creed and the Our Father by the congregation during a weekday Mass.
During the Purification and Enlightenment Period, the elect also examine their lives in the light of Christian teaching to recognize and eliminate that which is still weak and sinful and to affirm what is holy.
Pettigrew, one of OLPH's catechumens or elect, says going through the RCIA process has changed his life. The Edmonton man wasn't going to any church until he was introduced to OLPH by his fiancée, Esther Law.
"For me to marry Esther, I have to be baptized," he explains. "That's why I chose this route."
But over time, the RCIA process became more than a solution to a problem for Pettigrew. "I've realized something was missing in my life," he explains. "The faith aspect of my life was missing and now that I've found it I'm a much happier person."
Apart from the weekly RCIA meetings, Pettigrew meets outside the RCIA process with his sponsor and his godparent "to talk about things."
"I've learned a lot about the Bible and about the Church and its moral values," he explains. The process has also helped him become a more patient and calmer person.
Pettigrew is looking forward to becoming a Catholic at the Easter Vigil. "It's been a lengthy process."
Ambler, the other OLPH elect, says she always knew that one day she would join the Church even though her parents are Buddhists.
She was raised by the Catholic nun who sponsored her mom as a refugee from Vietnam many years ago. The sister taught her the basics of the faith.
"So I just decided when I moved into Sherwood Park that I should become a Catholic," she says. She joined the RCIA process last year in March.
"I've have learned a lot. Growing up with it I knew the values and the morals but I didn't know all the things behind it and all the Scriptures."
Ambler, a Catholic teacher who is married to an atheist, plans to raise her future children in the faith.
"I'm excited," she says about finally becoming a Catholic at the Easter Vigil. "It's been a long time coming."