As Chris Peterson joined fellow catechumen at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist on Sunday, March 1, for the Rite of Election, he was looking forward to his baptism in just a little more than a month.

RCIA Elect Chris Peterson is waiting for things to return to normal so he can be baptized into the Catholic Church. (Submitted photo)

Like most catechumen, the journey that ends (and, in a parallel way, begins) at the baptismal font stretched through many years of searching, questioning and discerning. It was parenthood that finally made Peterson realize that the time to enter fully into the Catholic Church and her sacraments was now. His son, Calvin, was born on Dec. 29, and in early March, the Petersons were anxiously anticipating both Calvin’s and Chris’ baptism at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Sheboygan on Holy Saturday.

“As we grow closer to Easter Vigil, and recently starting Lent, I am feeling blessed that God’s grace has reached my family,” Peterson told the Catholic Herald at the time. “This is my first year participating in Lent, and I think it’s one of the most amazing opportunities we have to strengthen our faith and glorify God.”

These final weeks of the RCIA process, when the catechumen become “the elect” and prepare for initiation into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil, are meant to be periods of “purification and enlightenment.”

But as the novel coronavirus began emerging as a serious threat to public health in the early weeks of March, it quickly became clear that this period would last much longer than anyone had anticipated. On March 24, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki made the faithful aware of his decision to postpone baptisms and receptions into full communion with the Church.

It was a heavy blow, not only to the elect like Peterson, but to their RCIA coordinators.

“My heart just sank,” said Roseanne Krueger, the RCIA coordinator for the Sheboygan North Catholic Churches, which includes Holy Name of Jesus and St. Clement parishes. “It was partly for selfish reasons — I had been putting a lot of time and energy into building up this momentum with my group, and we were going to have a big all-day retreat on the Saturday before Palm Sunday. That was our big ta-da, we were going to hit Holy Week— and it was like, ‘ohhh.’ And telling everybody else, it was hard. They were very disappointed and confused. They couldn’t believe it.”

Peterson said it was a disappointment “that this pandemic really threw a wrench into my, and my family’s, spiritual journey.” He, his wife and Calvin had been attending classes every Tuesday and assisting at Mass diligently every Sunday. “It’s an adjustment to not have those included in our renewed faith journey.”

But Krueger said she is working hard to ensure that this is still a period of purification and enlightenment. As the archbishop noted in his letter on March 24, the rites have not been canceled, but merely postponed. The important process of preparation continues.

“It’s a great opportunity to teach the value of suffering,” she said. The concept of redemptive suffering is one, she acknowledged, that can sometimes make catechumen uncomfortable. “When I first bring it up, everyone is a little stunned — you like suffering? No, but I say it’s like gold nuggets. We have to go through it anyway; so put it to good use. Don’t let it go to waste.”

Referring to Colossians 1:24, Krueger reminds her students that our suffering “should be offered back to God because it completes his suffering.”

“But not only that, we can offer it on behalf of other people who are suffering more than us,” she said.

Keeping in touch by email, she has been sending the elect educational resources, devotions, links to livestreamed Masses as well as the weekly Sunday readings and scripts for Mass responses so they can still participate fully. Coming into the month of May, she is hoping to increase their devotion to Mary and has been educating them about the process of Marian Consecration.

Peterson said as disappointing as it is for him to not yet be baptized, he has been using this time to “reflect on what it is that I’m doing.”

“I got a rush of ‘spiritual firing-up’ after my son was born,” he said. “Now that the dust has settled, I have time to think, read and pray.”

And what will it be like when they can finally reunite in person, and complete preparations for their baptism?

“I think about that a lot — I think they’re going to need to really talk and share their experiences,” said Krueger. “I miss them. You get so close to all of them through these programs.”

“I think it will be sweeter when that day comes,” said Peterson. “I want to be ready for that day, whenever it comes, and I want God to be glorified in that moment for years to come after it.”