Monday, March 1, 2004

More than 1,100 residents of the District and five Maryland counties began their journey of faith to the Catholic Church at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception yesterday, the first Sunday of Lent.

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, said the increasing number of new church members was an indication of some closure to the problems plaguing the Catholic Church in recent years.

Those problems include the numerous sex-abuse cases that have tarnished the church and its priesthood. A recent study showed that 4,392 priests across the country were involved in 10,667 sex-abuse cases between 1950 and 2002.

Cardinal McCarrick said the number of people becoming Catholics during the Lenten season increases each year. “Every year, it’s more. It continues to do that despite all of these problems,” he said.

About 2,500 persons, including the new members, were seated in the basilica for each of two ceremonies yesterday afternoon.

“This is always a very special day to me,” Cardinal McCarrick said during the first service as new members were invited into “that special relationship with Jesus.”

“These have been tough days for the church,” he said. “Your presence here means very much.”

Louann Honacki, 28, a child care director in Clarksburg, said she was joining the church because “We’d like to raise our children as Catholics.” Her husband, Matthew, 26, was at her side during the service yesterday.

Martin Steel, 32, of Calverton, was accompanied by his mother, Helen Washabaugh, 55, of Frederick, Md., who said, “He was born a Catholic, raised a Catholic, but has strayed.”

Nearby stood Mr. Steel’s companion, Lisa Scheel, who said she was seeking the right to be baptized.

The converts will become Catholics after 40 days of soul-searching, penitence and promises to live moral lives.

On the Saturday before Easter, they will attend Mass, take part in Communion and officially join the Catholic faith.

The Archdiocese of Washington has some 140 parishes.

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