GILBERT — Kasandra Bujold is counting down the days until the waters of baptism wash over her.
On April 19, at the Easter Vigil Mass at St. Mary Magdalene Parish, she’ll also be confirmed and receive her First Holy Communion.
Bujold, 32, will be one of about 1,000 new Catholics brought into the faith in the Diocese of Phoenix. In 2012, the latest year for which national figures are available, there were 41,918 adult baptisms and 71,582 people received into full communion with the Church.
Raised by a nominally Catholic mother and a non-practicing Jehovah’s Witness father, Bujold did not receive any religious instruction growing up. In fact, there were frequent arguments about religion in the home.
“I always believed in God — they taught me to believe in God,” Bujold said, “but we never went to church or anything.”
She hopped from one youth group to the next as a teenager. As a young adult, she felt like she didn’t need to go to church. At one point, she didn’t feel that she even needed God.
Bujold, a registered nurse, met her police officer husband Daniel — a cradle Catholic who no longer practiced the faith — when she was 22 and working in a hospital emergency room. The couple married in a non-religious ceremony in Sedona three years later.
“We never went to church in the beginning of our relationship,” Bujold said. “We had some really difficult times the first few years. Looking back on it, I know now it’s because we did not have God in our marriage.”
The two separated for nine months in 2012. During the separation, Daniel felt compelled to go back to the Church. He went to confession and started going to Mass. Those actions led to a reconciliation of a different kind.
“It made me realize that I needed to give our marriage another chance,” she said.
Daniel invited her to go to church with him.
“I had a lot of misconceptions about the Church in general,” she said. What she found once she stepped inside the Gilbert church was something entirely different than what she expected.
“The first time I set foot in St. Mary Magdalene, I felt something in me I hadn’t felt before,” Bujold said, choking back tears as she recalled a moment of grace that broke through the darkness.
She signed up for the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) and began to learn about the beauty of the Catholic faith.
“It’s been amazing,” Kasandra said. “I’ve loved going to these classes and I cannot wait until the Easter Vigil.”
The Easter Vigil is celebrated in Catholic churches throughout the world on Holy Saturday, the evening before Easter Sunday. Catechumens, candidates, sponsors, families and friends gather for the Service of Light where the blessing of the new fire and the Paschal Candle takes place. After the Liturgy of the Word, the catechumens and candidates are presented to the parish community.
Baptisms, and confirmation take place after that. At communion, the new members of the Church receive the Eucharist for the first time.
Celebrating for 50 days
Laura Cristiano, who received a master’s degree in theology from Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, is Bujold’s sponsor. She said she is happy Bujold has responded to the call of Christ in her life.
“It’s really inspiring and it makes me even more grateful for my Catholic faith,” Cristiano said. “She’s really had to overcome some challenges on her way to becoming Catholic that being a cradle Catholic I never encountered.”
The Easter Vigil falls this year on April 19 — which happens to coincide with the birthday of Bujold’s grandmother.
“My grandmother was a very devout Catholic,” Bujold said. “It means so much to me to enter the Church on that day — it’s hard to even express it in words.”
While much of the world sees Easter as a one-day affair centering on candy and colored eggs, Cristiano emphasized that Catholics celebrate the feast of Easter for 50 days.
“During the 40 days of Lent, we try to turn away from sin and respond to the grace of conversion that God gives us,” Cristiano said. “The more we prepare ourselves, the more we can enter into the joy of Easter.”
All 50 days of Easter are celebrated as though they were Easter Sunday. The people of God once more sing “Alleluia” and end the penitential time of fasting and self-denial that characterize Lent.
Forty days after Easter Sunday, the Church celebrates the Ascension of Christ into heaven. Ten days after the Ascension, the Church celebrates Pentecost, the official end of the Easter season.
“The Easter season is just the best part of the whole Church year,” Cristiano said. Families can spend this time talking about the significance of Easter and all that Jesus Christ did to save the world from sin and death.
“What a great joy that is that we will get to spend eternity with all of the people that we love and with Jesus and the Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit whom we love most of all,” Cristiano said.