A Closer Walk

Catechumens and candidates from parishes across the diocese came together March 8-9 to celebrate the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion. The Rite of Election is the second step in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and takes place during the first Sunday of Lent. Through the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, catechumens and candidates make their intentions known to the church community their wishes to become members of the Catholic faith.

Bishop James Moynihan welcomed catechumens and candidates at St. Paul’s Church in Oswego and at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse. Bishop Thomas Costello presided over the Rite of Election liturgy at St. Patrick’s Church in Binghamton and St. John the Baptist Church in Rome.

Linda Buckley, RCIA coordinator for St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish in Mexico, said the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion is an important event for those interested in joining the church. “This is where people commit to being Catholic. This is when they make their decision in public,” Buckley said. “Until now, they were just considering joining the church. We have been teaching them about the sacraments and they have been discerning if this is what they want.”

Individuals seeking to join the Catholic Church who have never been baptized are called catechumens. Catechumens participate in the Rite of Election by signing the Book of the Elect, which will be blessed by the bishop. All catechumens will receive the sacraments of baptism, holy communion and confirmation at the Easter vigil. Jackie Colangelo, a catechumen from St. John the Baptist Church in Rome, said she started going to Mass with her husband. “I was coming to Mass with him and I really enjoyed it. I made the decision on my own to become Catholic,” Colangelo said. “I feel as though I’m coming closer to God.”

Individuals who have been baptized in another faith or were baptized Catholic but never received confirmation or holy communion are called candidates. Candidates celebrate their Call to Continuing Conversion when the church recognizes their desire to receive the sacraments. George Coote, a candidate from St. John the Baptist Church, has always had ties to the Catholic Church. “I was married in this church in 1960,” Coote said. “My wife is Catholic and the rest of my family is Catholic. I’ve volunteered for the food pantry and helped with other things,” Coote said. “Last year, I was diagnosed with lymphoma and the people here prayed for me and I pulled though it. It’s now in remission. I thought now is the time to join the church.”

Dave Bradshaw, a candidate from St. Joseph’s Church in Oswego, said he had been attending Mass at the parish for a long time and decided to join the RCIA program. Bradshaw said the group spent time working with Father James Cesta, pastor of St. Joseph’s, and learning about the Catholic faith. “I hope we are ready,” Bradshaw said. “I think the Catholic religion is my choice because it has everything I want.”

The Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion should be a day of joyous celebration, Bishop Costello said in his homily at St. John the Baptist Church on March 9. “If church is ever fun, this is the day,” he said. “The Rite of Election is our church at its very best.” Bishop Costello said the catechumens and candidates have prepared themselves for this moment. “Those two groups pay us the complete compliment. They have all come to know us, learn from us and respect us — so much so that they want to join us,” said Bishop Costello. “What we are doing is coming together to test their mettle and responding to them.”

The readings for the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion illustrated God’s faithfulness to his people, Bishop Costello said. “God keeps his convenant,” he said. “God is compassionate to those who keep the convenant.”

In his homily at St. Paul’s Church on March 8, Bishop Moynihan talked about the large numbers of individuals seeking to join the church through the RCIA. “A major element of the RCIA process is this weekend. There are 160 catechumens and 278 candidates — 438 individuals in all – publicly making known they are ready to be advanced into the church on the vigil of Easter,” Bishop Moynihan said. “They are all learning about the truth, the truth of Jesus Christ.”

Bishop Moynihan said many people throughout history have been chosen by God to serve a purpose. “Why did God choose Abraham? Because he wanted Abraham. God chose Joseph over his brothers, Jacob over Esau and Mary over all other virgins. My dear catechumens and candidates, God has chosen you to be numbered among his elect. You are probably thinking, ‘Why me?’ It is not given to us to understand what God does and why He does it. Jesus is a great gift to a world that did not deserve Him, but He continues to be a gift to God’s elect,” Bishop Moynihan said. “You are among God’s chosen ones. What an incredible grace.”

Bishop Moynihan was presented the catechumens by the parish coordinators in the Northern Region. Each coordinator read the names of the catechumens to the bishop and they stood in front of the altar. The bishop addressed the godparents and catechumens. “God’s holy church wishes to know whether these catechumens are sufficiently prepared to be enrolled among the Elect for the coming celebration of Easter. And so I speak first to all of you, their godparents,” the bishop said. “Have they faithfully listened to God’s word proclaimed by the church? Have they responded to that word and begun to walk in God’s presence? Have they shared the company of their Christian brothers and sisters and joined them in prayer?” The godparents replied, “They have.”

After asking the assembly to support and pray for the catechumens through the rest of their formation, Bishop Moynihan invited the catechumens to publicly respond to the call to the Catholic Church. “Therefore, do you wish to enter fully into the life of the Church through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the eucharist?” the bishop said. The catechumens answered, “We do.” The catechmens signed their names in the Book of the Elect and the bishop blessed the book. Bishop Moynihan walked around the sanctuary with the Book of the Elect, showing the assembly the names. The bishop returned to the altar and declared the catechumens members of the Elect who would receive the sacraments at the next Easter vigil. The catechumens were then given a round of applause by the assembly and congratulations from their godparents.

Following the Rite of Election was the Call to Continuing Conversion. Parish RCIA coordinators read the names of the candidates for recognition. After all the candidates and their sponsors took their places before the altar, Bishop Moynihan asked the sponsors about the readiness of the candidates. Once the sponsors said that the candidates were advancing in their study of Scripture and their knowledge of the traditions of the church, the bishop performed the Act of Recognition. “My friends, the church recognizes your desire to be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and to have a place at Christ’s Eucharistic table. Join with us this Lent in a spirit of repentence. Hear the Lord’s call to conversion and be faithful to your baptismal convenant,” the bishop said. The bishop asked the sponsors to continue to support the candidates. The sponsors then affirmed their candidates with congratulatory handshakes and hugs.

Dudley Sanders, a candidate from St. Joseph’s in Oswego, was very enthusiastic about being one of the many participating in the Call to Continuing Conversion. “I came from a Protestant background and I didn’t go to church. My fiancée is Catholic and I started going to church with her. I realized that if we have children, I want to bring them up in one religion,” said Sanders. Catechumens and candidates will prepare for formal initiation into the Catholic faith through a period of purification and enlightment during Lent. The newly initiated will start their full participation in catechetical activity and Sunday eucharistic celebrations at Easter. Once they receive the sacraments, the newly-initiated Catholics will continue their study through a period of post-baptismal catechesis or mystagogy during the Easter season.

Bishop Costello said all Catholics must act as examples for the catechumens and candidates during the Lenten journey. “I say to you catechumens and candidates — by your presence, you challenge us. You challenge us to be what we claim to be. To put our money where our mouth is. For that challenge, we thank you,” Bishop Costello said. “We will care for you as we all transition toward Easter. Friends, church is never better than it is this afternoon.”

The following are the totals of individuals from each region of the diocese welcomed during the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion on March 8 and March 9.

Northern Region: 13 catechumens and 11 candidates from 6 parishes Southern Region: 39 catechumens and 73 candidates from 23 parishes Eastern Region: 22 catechumens and 48 candidates from 11 parishes Western Region: 86 catechumens and 146 candidates from 43 parishes Diocesan Totals: 160 catechumens and 278 candidates (438 total)

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