A Milestone Moment

March 9-15, 2006
A Milestone Moment
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Rite of Election celebrated at Immaculate Conception Church in Fulton

On Saturday, March 4, Immaculate Conception Church in Fulton marked a very special occasion. Close to 100 people came to witness the commitment of 22 catechumens and candidates representing four parishes in the Northern Region of the diocese as they participated in the Rite of Election and celebrated the Call to Continuing Conversion. During the first weekend in Lent, these individuals joined 413 others representing 63 parishes at ceremonies held at churches in each region of the diocese. These people went 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.

Father Joseph Scardella, director of Ministerial Formation, Liturgy and RCIA, explained that the bishop stands as a representative of the diocesan and universal church in accepting the catechumens’ and candidates’ readiness to be received into the church and to receive the sacraments. It is a ceremony of the affirmation of their call to discipleship. “Being in the presence of the bishop is very special to them,” said Father Scardella. “Having the bishop affirm their desire to be a part of the church is just awesome for them.”

Father Scardella said that when the candidates and catechumens go to the regional celebrations, they realize how many other people are entering the church and they are overwhelmed by the numbers. “The bishop feels the same way,” said Father Scardella. “It gives him a boost. To see that people are still hungry for Christ and having that need met in our church is a wonderful experience.” The Rite of Election is the third stage in the journey to becoming Catholic and is the period of purification and enlightenment, coinciding with Lent. The Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion are celebrated at the beginning of this stage. This period ends with the celebration of baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil.

During his homily, Bishop James Moynihan said, “There’s probably as many different reasons for being Catholic as there are members of the church, including varying degrees of chance, choice and conviction. Some of us were born Catholic, others joined the church as adults, still others left the church at some point, and then returned. What is it that the Catholic Church offers to its one billion members that cannot be obtained anywhere else? One benefit the Catholic Church offers is the Holy Eucharist -— the sacrament of the real presence of Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity under the appearance of bread and wine. There are many characteristics that set it apart from other Christian bodies. Let me mention one more. The Catholic Church, more than any other, gives fitting honor to the Mother of God. Catholics are known for the honor they give to the Virgin Mary; and she plays an irreplaceable role in God’s plan of salvation.”

The bishop told those gathered that the day marked a milestone for the catechumens and candidates. “On this weekend, we celebrate the Rite of Election — their election — a major element in what we call the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. On this weekend in the Diocese of Syracuse, 146 catechumens and 289 candidates, a total of 435 individuals in all, will publicly make known that they wish to be fully received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil celebration. For a number of months, they have been under instruction, not only in the intellectual aspects of what it means to be a Catholic, but also in the practice of being a Catholic.

“My dear friends, today God is calling these catechumens and these candidates to be numbered among His elect, His chosen ones. You say how can this be? Why these and not others? Why has God throughout history continually chosen one person in preference to someone else? Surely we cannot understand all that God does or why He does it. All we know is this: that Jesus Christ was God’s gift to a world, which certainly did not deserve Him, and that Jesus continues to be a gift to each individual person. These catechumens and these candidates will be God’s continuing gift to their families, to their communities, and to their Church”

The catechumens signed the Book of Elect, signaling their willingness and preparedness to unite with the Catholic Church. After the invitation and enrollment of the catechumens’ and candidates’ names, the bishop asked the candidates to respond clearly to the call of Christ in the presence of the whole church. The candidates, who have been baptized in the Christian faith, were also presented to the bishop seeking to complete their Christian invitation and celebrate their Call to Continuing Conversion.

Mary Ann Donaldson, a parishioner of Immaculate Conception in Fulton, decided to participate in the RCIA program after losing her mother, husband, and sister all in the last four years. “I was searching for something to make me more relaxed and whole,” said Donaldson. “I have wanted to do this for myself on and off for most of my married life. I had been a Protestant and had grown away from my religion as time went on. I know this is the right thing for me to do.” As a candidate, Donaldson will participate in Christian initiation and celebrate the Call to Continuing Conversion during the Easter Vigil.

Catechumen Rose St. Andrews is finally free to worship as she pleases. Once married to a man who forbid her to attend church, she now attends Immaculate Conception Church in Fulton. “I enjoy the people there, and I enjoy spending quality time with God,” said St. Andrews. “I want to get closer to God. I feel very comfortable with my decision.”

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