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Easter has special meaning for new Catholics

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Three people who joined the church last Easter say this first Lenten season as Catholics is a time to deepen their faith.

Carl Jennings, a member of Christ the King Parish in Omaha; Nick Cook, a member of St. Peter Parish in Fullerton; and Melissa Watzke, a member of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Omaha, received the sacraments of confirmation and first Communion last year at the Easter Vigil as part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program.

Jennings, 58, Cook, 26, and Watzke, 35, all say various forms of fasting and confession are now part of their Lenten routine.

Jennings said he's more in tune with the reflective nature of Lent through the sacrament of reconciliation and that faith helps him focus on what is important when the pressures of daily life threaten to overwhelm him.

"There's a peaceful feeling, a sense of calm in being involved with the church," he said.

Watzke, who grew up in the Baptist Church, said when she reminds herself not to eat meat on Fridays, she also recalls why she is abstaining.

"It's really not such a sacrifice considering what Jesus gave for us," she said.

Jennings and Watzke also are
busy with church-related activities, Jennings as an usher at Mass and chancellor for Knights of Columbus Council No. 5045, and Watzke as a parish youth group leader, extraordinary minister and lector.

Although Jennings grew up in the Lutheran Church, he said he always was attracted to the Catholic faith because he had many Catholic friends, co-workers and classmates and felt welcome in the church. That sense of welcome even extended across the Pacific Ocean during his Navy tour of duty in Vietnam. Jennings remembers telling a priest who gave him absolution that he was Lutheran, not Catholic.

"He just smiled, patted me on the back and said, 'you're covered son,'" Jennings said with a laugh.

Years later he volunteered at the Holy Name Parish fish fry in Omaha and began attending Mass at Christ the King before finally signing up for RCIA in the fall of 2011.

"It's something I've always believed in, and it was time to get it done," he said.

Watzke attended Mass off and on with her husband, Ryan - who was raised Catholic - after their marriage in 2002. She decided to sign up for RCIA classes when she realized she had attended Catholic Mass more than she ever had Baptist services and that she felt comfortable in the church.

And it's a decision that has strengthened both her faith and family. In addition to giving up fast food and reading the Bible regularly during Lent, Watzke said since she joined the church last year her family prays together daily and never misses Mass.

"I truly feel that God called me to make this change in my life," she said.

Cook was looking for a renewed relationship with God when he began attending Mass with his future wife, Becky, several years ago. He grew up in the Lutheran Church but hadn't attended services there for two years before meeting her.

Cook went to Mass with Becky for nearly two years before starting RCIA classes. And although he wasn't a member of the church, he attended Ash Wednesday Mass and gave up meat on Fridays.

During that time, Cook said he decided to become Catholic because he enjoyed rekindling his prayer life, the friendliness of the parish community and the inspiring sermons of Father Richard Whiteing, pastor of St. Peter Parish in Fullerton and St. Peter Parish in Clarks.

This past year, Cook said he feels especially blessed to receive Communion and that his relationship with God has brought a newfound peace to life.

"It gives me a sense of confidence knowing he's there to help me out," Cook said.

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