Recent converts help others join church

More than 350 soon-to-be-Catholics will gather March 5 at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha for the annual Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion with Archbishop George J. Lucas.

And among family, friends and others in the cathedral to support them will be some who entered the Catholic Church last year, and this year have a different role – as sponsors in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

For two of those people – Charlene Shambare, a member of St. Cecilia Parish, and Cort Irish, a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, both in Omaha – being sponsors and helping with RCIA classes is a way to give back some of the blessings they received.

Enjoying community in the church inspired him to help this year with RCIA and other parish activities, Irish said. "I was most impressed with the level of community shining through at St. Vincent de Paul and the Catholic community," he said.

"RCIA was such a good experience," Shambare said, "so I’m glad to now be able to provide the same support that I received, and I feel I’m learning so much more about our faith. I’m still enlightened after every single class."



Shambare said her parents were raised Catholic and occasionally took their children to church, but did not consistently practice the faith, so she and some of her siblings were not baptized.

Initially drawn by her love of music to join the St. Cecilia Choir, Shambare said she decided to complete the journey, entering the church last year as a catechumen and receiving the sacraments of initiation – baptism, confirmation and first Communion.

This year, it’s her younger sister Roshna’s turn, with Shambare as her sponsor.

In addition to her older sister’s example, Roshna was prompted by tragedy to explore the Catholic faith more fully.

"This past summer, one of my best friends passed away in a car crash," Roshna said, "and during the funeral, the priest talked about how she loved her faith, so I wanted to do this for her, and for myself."

Roshna said having her sister – with whom she shares an apartment – as her sponsor is helpful. "Whenever I get discouraged, she’s there to pick me back up."

Her sister also models the faith through daily prayer and kindness to others, Roshna said.

But even if Roshna had not considered RCIA, Shambare planned to help this year.

"I saw that the Catholic Church is such a loving faith, and people truly care about you – I felt an overwhelming sense of welcoming, love and support," she said.

"So I wanted to help out with this year’s group because I know they’re going to face times of severe questioning and doubt, and I wanted to be there to provide the same level of support that I received."



Coming into the church last year as a candidate also was a family affair for Irish. With his wife, Kim, as his sponsor, he received confirmation and first Communion. In a separate ceremony immediately after the Easter Vigil, their marriage was blessed and daughters Maren, 6, and Ella, 11, were baptized, with Ella also being confirmed and receiving first Communion.

Irish, who grew up Protestant, and his wife, who was raised Catholic, had both been away from church for a long time. When considering St. Vincent de Paul School for one of their daughters, they talked about getting back into the church, and the timing was right, he said.

"When we began classes, we didn’t know what to expect," he said. "We’d been away so long, but by the second week, we felt very comfortable, and by the fourth week, we were really looking forward to it," he said.

And this year, Irish is a sponsor for Thomas Blechschmidt, a former member of a non-denominational Christian church who, with his wife, Mary, a former Mormon, was looking for one spiritual home for their family.

The Blechschmidts are experiencing RCIA together but under different sponsors, and Irish said he and Thomas have formed a close bond.

"We built an immediate relationship," Irish said. "He’s a great person and really eager to learn."

Blechschmidt said Irish’s knowledge and example have been important. "He is a dedicated family man, active in his church. I want to go down that same path."

Blechschmidt also noted the generosity of Irish and all those involved with RCIA at St. Vincent de Paul. "They share their time with us, their enthusiasm and commitment. It’s a testimony to what they believe is true."

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