Season of Celebration

March 4-10, 2004
VOL 123 NO. 9
Season of Celebration
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
by Eileen Jevis and Kristen Fox, SUN staff Writers

During the first weekend of Lent, over 407 individuals representing 76 parishes throughout the Diocese of Syracuse, participated in the Rite of Election and celebrated the Call to Conversion at ceremonies held at churches in each region of the diocese. These individuals went forth before the bishops of Syracuse and stated their desire to become members of the Catholic faith and publicly committed themselves to act as disciples of Christ. The Rite of Election is the third step in the journey to becoming Catholic and marks the end of formal study of the teachings and practices of the church.

Of the 407 individuals, 129 catechumens signed the Book of Elect. By inscribing their names in the book, the catechumens signaled their willingness and preparedness before Bishops James Moynihan and Thomas Costello to unite with the Catholic Church. Catechumens are individuals seeking to join the church who have never been baptized. Bishop Moynihan called forward the catechumens along with their sponsors and declared them members of the elect.

In his opening remarks, Bishop Moynihan said, “There are as many reasons for becoming a Catholic as there are members of the church. Whether it is by chance, choice or conviction; whether you were born Catholic, are entering the Catholic faith for the first time or left and returned, there are benefits to being a Catholic. And the most important benefit is the ability to receive the Eucharist, which to Catholics represents the presence of Jesus Christ.” Bishop Moynihan also spoke of the important role the Blessed Mother plays in the lives of Catholics. “The Catholic Church gives fitting honor to the Mother of God –– more than any other religion,” he said. “We honor her, we don’t worship her. She plays a significant role in the life of Jesus Christ.” Two hundred and seventy eight candidates, who have been baptized in the Christian faith, were also presented to the bishops seeking to complete their Christian initiation and celebrate their Call to Conversion. The candidates are preparing for the sacraments of the Eucharist and confirmation that will take place at the Easter Vigil. The Rite of Election and Call to Conversion ties in with the Lenten season, which is a season of baptismal preparation and renewal.

Father Joseph Scardella, director of ministerial formation for the Syracuse Diocese, said that Lent is the season for a permanent change of heart. “That’s what we ask of our candidates,” he said. As catechumens and candidates enter the final stage of their preparation for the Easter sacraments, the church community is called upon to walk with them in their journey so that all Catholics are prepared to renew the baptismal promises when Easter arrives.

Karen Kazel and her two sisters are becoming members of the Catholic faith on Easter weekend. All are catechumens and were raised without religion playing a role in their upbringing. The siblings attended Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) classes at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Syracuse. Being part of that parish has special meaning to Kazel because her grandfather helped build the church. Kazel said that she is getting married in June and wanted to get married in the Catholic Church. “I had never attended Mass before I started the RCIA program,” said Kazel. “When I attended, I really liked it.” Kazel said that the instructors of the RCIA program were very open and thorough and willing to take the time to answer questions. Her two sisters decided to join Kazel in her faith journey and become Catholic also. “One of my sisters married a Catholic and it was very important to him that she join the church,” said Kazel. “The other one has always had an interest, but didn’t want to do it alone.”

Father Joseph Salerno, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Utica, said that the adults that have been studying, praying and discerning for the past several months went before the bishops to declare their understanding and readiness of the rite. He emphasized that this rite is a very public one –– centered in the church community. Father Salerno said to his RCIA members, “Understand that the community is choosing you. You are our chosen ones, our elects. You will recognize that the church you want to become a member of is larger than just one parish. You are part of a community of people.” Father Salerno also told the candidates that being confirmed and baptized into the Catholic faith means that they are becoming espoused with the church. “It’s like an engagement,” he said. “That engagement leads to full communion with the church at Easter.” Bishop Moynihan expanded on the belief that the Rite of Election and the Call to Conversion is a community-centered event. “Elect means chosen people,” said Bishop Moynihan. “Moses reminds people of the incredible election from God. Moses’ lesson teaches us that God chooses whom He wants to be instruments of salvation. The choice is always God’s and God’s alone. He has called to the candidates and the catechumens. He has chosen them,” he said.

Shannon Kelly is a candidate from Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Utica and spent a year preparing to receive the sacrament of confirmation on Easter Sunday. Kelly received the sacraments of baptism and communion at Our Lady of Lourdes, but was not confirmed because her family moved to Alabama and lived there for several years. Now, as an adult, Kelly feels something has been missing in her life without the sacrament of confirmation. Kelly has a 12-year-old soon to be stepson who has shown great interest in her religion. “He hasn’t been brought up in any faith,” she said. “It’s very important to me that when he becomes a part of my family, he has some type of faith. He asks questions about my faith and asks me about my RCIA classes and what they’re about.” Kelly said that when she started attending Mass again on a regular basis, she was able to bring her mom who had strayed from the church, back to practicing her faith. Sarra Hale, a candidate Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Utica was baptized and raised a Baptist but learned about Catholicism from her stepmother and maternal grandmother who are Catholic. “I’ve been around the Catholic faith and enjoy the traditions of it,” said Hale. “When I have children, I want to raise them in the Catholic faith and be able to answer their questions,” she said.

Expanding on Bishop Moynihan’s address to the congregation, Sister Dorothy Ung, OSF, director of the RCIA Program at St. Mary’s Parish in Baldwinsville, said that she has also witnessed a wide variety of reasons why individuals want to become Catholic. Many of the candidates that she journeys with have spouses who are already Catholic. “Many of them have been coming to church with their spouses for years but don’t feel they are a full part of the church because they cannot fully participate,” said Sister Ung. She also said that many of them whose spouses are Catholic feel that it’s important to raise their children in a unified religion as a family. Brandon Bertollini was raised in the Baptist faith and said that he decided to receive the sacrament of confirmation so that he and his wife could enjoy the same faith together. Bertollini was married at St. Mary’s Church in Baldwinsville and likes attending the same church each week with his wife. As a candidate who celebrated his Call to Conversion, Bertollini said that he learned a lot more about Christianity at St. Mary’s than he did being raised a Baptist. “RCIA helped me understand the Catholic religion more in-depth,” he said. “The Baptists are more casual in their practices. They are not as in-depth as the Catholic religion.“ Valerie Allen and her son, Brian, catechumens from Holy Family Church in Fulton, attended RCIA classes together. Allen thinks an important part of the Rite of Election is declaring publicly her intentions and personal commitment to becoming part of the Catholic community. “I always felt that you didn’t have to go to church to be a good person,” said Allen. “But I’ve also felt for a long time that there was something missing from my life.” Allen and her husband were invited to attend Holy Family Church by their brother-in-law. “He told us that Holy Family had a new priest, [Father Peter Williams] and that he was awesome. A couple of weeks later, we attended a Mass that was intended for a close friend of mine. We’ve been attending Mass ever since.” Allen said her son Brian, who is mentally disabled and suffers attention deficit disorder, really enjoys attending the RCIA meetings each week. “He sits still and listens well,” she said. “He reminds me every week about going to RCIA classes.” At Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Endicott, Bishop Thomas Costello addressed more than 100 candidates and catechumens representing 23 parishes in the Southern Region of the diocese. “Today we celebrate a call,” he said. “God has invited us to be a part of Jesus’ church. This invitation is a pure gift. It is gratuitously given by a God who loves us.” Brieyn Pero listened to Bishop Costello’s words and took them to heart. Although Pero was baptized at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Endicott and attended CCD classes throughout her youth, she decided not to attend confirmation classes when she was in high school. “I doubted I wanted to be Catholic,” she said. “I hadn’t really ever learned about other religions, so I wanted to explore a couple of them.” After exploring the Muslim religion and attending a Protestant church, Pero returned to the Catholic faith. Pero believes making her confirmation at a slightly older age versus a few years ago has made the experience more meaningful. “Now I’m the one making the commitment. It matters more to me this way,” she said.

Carol Checola, a candidate from Sacred Heart Church in Cicero, said much the same thing. “I’ve been practicing Catholicism with my husband for over 38 years,” she said. “I felt that something was missing from my faith because I couldn’t receive the Eucharist.” Checola said that she’s overwhelmed to finally be a fully participating member of the church. “Those of us who are older adults are doing this because we want to,” she said. “We get more out of it than those who are younger.” Bishop Costello reminded the congregation at Our Lady of Good Counsel to set a good example for the candidates and catechumens over the next 40 days. “These catechumens and candidates look to us for example,” he said. “They challenge us. We are to be for them what we claim we are and teach them how Christian people live, work and pray.” Jimi Williams, a candidate and RCIA member at our Lady of Good Counsel, said that the ceremony is an important stepping stone in his journey of faith. He eagerly anticipates the Easter Vigil when the RCIA process will be complete. “It will give me a sense of closure as far as spirituality goes,” said Williams.

“These catechumens and candidates will be gifts to their church, communities and families,” said Bishop Moynihan. “Their journey has been a long and arduous one, filled with false starts, detours and roadblocks along the way. There has also been a breakdown of those roadblocks and an opening of hearts. This milestone is well worth celebrating,” said Bishop Moynihan. “During this season of Easter, it’s exciting to renew our own faith and live and share the Gospel with others.”

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