Casey Pryor had attended a large Protestant church for 20 years.
But this weekend, the 57-year-old Yakima man switched, prompted by new Catholic friends who visited him in the hospital last year while he suffered from nearly fatal bleeding in his throat.
“They came and saw me in the hospital, man,” said Pryor, who has liver disease and hepatitis. “A lot. It was encouraging.”
This Easter morning, Pryor will join 14 other adults and adolescents from Holy Family Parish and thousands more across the globe in waking up to their first day as official Catholics.
“Every parish on the planet is doing a vigil of some kind,” said Bishop Joseph Tyson, head of the Yakima Diocese.
The timing is no coincidence.
For 1,700 years, since the earliest organized days of the Catholic Church, adults and adolescents have ceremonially joined at Easter to officially begin their spiritual life with baptisms, first communions and confirmations on the same day Christians of all stripes believe Jesus Christ rose from the grave in Jerusalem so long ago.
“In the way Jesus rises from the dead ... our people enter the church for a more real life,” Tyson said.
Some parishes hold the special services, called vigils, in the wee hours of Easter morning, some at midnight, others the evening before, all to cap a year’s worth of classes on Catholic theology.
The process is called the Rites of Christian Initiation for Adults, though many adolescents who grew up in Catholic churches and already have been baptized will receive their first Communion and confirmation on Easter weekend. Same goes for some of the adults, who have been baptized in other Christian denominations.
Either way, the rituals carry a hefty spiritual weight in Yakima County, where 47 percent of the religiously affiliated are Catholic, according to the Nashville, Tenn.-based Glenmary Research Center.
This year, the 41 parishes in the seven-county Yakima Diocese welcomed roughly 185 new members through Easter vigils, most of them Saturday evening with candlelight processions.
Tyson himself delivered the rights to seven at St. Paul’s Cathedral. St. Joseph’s Church initiated four. Holy Redeemer welcomed 20.
Holy Family held its vigil after sundown Saturday as the new members walked by candlelight from the church’s 20-foot cross near Tieton Drive across the parking lot and into the sanctuary.
Holy Family also included several of the new members in a foot washing ceremony at a Last Supper Mass last week.
All have different reasons and back stories that led to their yearning for a spiritual change.
Jessica Berman, 26, had attended the services of a variety of denominations with friends throughout her life.
However, about three years ago, she was inspired to explore Catholicism deeper after witnessing the dedication of her boyfriend, Joseph Gonzalez, with whom she has a 1-year-old daughter.
Now, she wants the family to be on the same page spiritually and, after her stint in the Navy, finds comfort and meaning in the liturgical structure of Catholic worship.
“It’s the same every single time,” she said. “I’m never confused by what’s going on.”
She also senses an indefinable and indescribable presence at Mass.
“There’s something else here but I just can’t explain it,” she said.
Gonzalez will not be there to congratulate her, she said. He is currently stationed in Kuwait, also with the Navy.
Maxine Larson, 85, grew up Presbyterian but did not participate seriously in church life for many years because “I wasn’t sure about the whole thing.”
Her sons ended up attending Catholic churches and, as she aged, she grew more aware of her mortality and developed spiritual yearnings, she said.
“I’m just going down the other side,” she said with a laugh.
Pryor insisted he liked his old church, which he declined to name, and doesn’t think less of it now.
“It does good for a lot of people,” he said. “I just wanted more.”
At first, he was simply touched by the concern of the Holy Family members he hardly knew.
Last September, he spent 14 days in the hospital with a nearly fatal bout of esophageal varices, a swelling and bursting of blood vessels in the throat. It was a symptom of his liver cirrhosis, said the recovering alcoholic, who has been sober for 30 years.
He lost 70 pounds and will need a liver transplant in the coming months.
He had been attending Holy Family for a year or so before his hospital stay in support of his Catholic wife, Chris. They have been married three years and have eight children combined.
Still, he was hurt when not one friend from his former congregation visited him, though dozens of Holy Family members came. One of the priests left a church picnic to anoint him with oil as he lay in the hospital bed.
However, Pryor’s attitude grew more theological, he said, after he began the weekly religious education courses. To him, he had found the way.
“I’ve decided to become a Catholic … because I want to be more like Jesus Christ,” he said.
• Ross Courtney can be reached at 509-930-8798 or firstname.lastname@example.org.