A decision for a lifetime


Rite_of_Election_2Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion celebrated throughout the diocese

By Claudia Mathis
SUN staff writer

A total of 89 catechumens and 199 candidates celebrated the Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion throughout the Syracuse Diocese the weekend of Feb. 9-10. They began the final stages of their journey towards baptism or entering into full communion with the Catholic Church at Easter.

Father Joseph Scardella, director of Ministerial Formation, Liturgy and RCIA, said there are many reasons why people have a desire to become Catholic. “People see us as a stable church and also as a church of traditions,” said Father Scardella. “They also see the examples of family members or neighbors. And, many people are searching for God.”

The Rite of Election is an annual liturgical celebration in which catechumens (the unbaptized) and candidates (already baptized and on the journey to full communion with the church), declare their intentions and their commitment to receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist or to be joined fully to the church. The liturgical rite is held on the first Sunday in Lent.

The Rite of Election is the third stage in the journey to becoming Catholic and is the period of purification and enlightenment. It coincides with the Lenten season, which is a season of baptismal preparation and renewal. It marks the end of formal study of the teachings and practices of the church. The Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion are celebrated at the beginning of this stage. This period ends with the baptism, confirmation and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil.

The usual length of preparation is from one to two years. Some people need more time than others to prepare for the lifetime commitment that comes with membership in the Catholic Church.

Maria Schultz, director of RCIA at Immaculate Conception Church in Greene, said that candidates and catechumens in the Southern Region of the diocese take two years to complete the stages. “We like them to experience a full liturgical year before they are received into the fullness of the church,” said Schultz.

Stefanie and Forest Hartman, as candidates from Immaculate Conception Church in Greene, have participated in the RCIA for the last two years. Their two young sons are also candidates. Far from their roots in the Midwest, the Hartmans feel like they are a part of the church family at Immaculate Conception. “Our parish family has been supportive and welcoming,” said Forest.

Raised a Methodist, Forest said his perceptions of Catholics changed after he and his wife developed a close relationship with a Catholic couple when they arrived in Greene from the Midwest. “We were impressed with their overwhelmingly positive behavior,” said Forest. “They were welcoming and friendly beyond belief.” Not long after meeting the couple, the Hartmans attended a Mass at Immaculate Conception and then attended the parish’s church picnic.

Stefanie, also raised Protestant, couldn’t be happier that her husband is enamored with the Catholic Church. She felt a pull toward Catholicism at a particularly dark time in her life. Stefanie delivered a stillborn baby in 1995 and miscarried another baby in 1996. “My church wasn’t comforting to me,” said Stefanie. “I began to read the pope’s encyclicals. It felt comforting and everything made sense. Eventually, God started guiding us through everything and I also felt that Mary was there. I felt close to her.”

Stefanie said that she feels she has grown quite a lot in the last two years. She feels that she is a better wife and mother and looks up to Mary as a role model.

The Hartmans believe they have made a good decision in joining the church. “It feels like a safe place and like it’s the true church,” said Stefanie.

“We hunger for the experience of the Eucharist,” said Forest.

Candidate Christopher Connolly has been attending Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Vestal since last May. Connolly also looks forward to receiving the Eucharist and delving into the traditions and ministries of the church. “The history of the church provides so much room for growth,” remarked Connolly.

Connolly spent three years investigating the teachings of the Catholic faith before making the decision to join the church. “It came to a point where I felt I couldn’t put it off any longer,” said Connolly. “I no longer felt opposed to the fact that the Catholic Church is the universal church.”

After making a decision to join the church, Connolly attended classes in earnest. “It was a very positive experience,” he said. “I felt a continuing sense of knowing that I belonged.”

Connolly said that he felt an overwhelming sense of warmth when he attended the Rite of Election ceremony at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Endicott on Feb. 10. Even though a sudden blizzard prevented Bishop James Moynihan from attending that day, Connolly said he felt the ceremony was very nice. He said when the blizzard was over, the sun began to shine brightly through the stained glass windows to the left of the altar. “I feel very much at peace,” said Connolly.

Sarah Arena, a candidate from St. Anne, Mother of Mary Church in Mexico also thought highly of the Rite of Election ceremony she attended at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse. “It was wonderful,” she said.

Raised a Lutheran, Arena married a Catholic man 16 years ago. When she attended Mass with her husband over the years, Arena said she felt moved by and wanted to participate in the Eucharist. “I’ve grown attached to the Catholic religion,” said Arena.

Arena mentioned several factors that make the Catholic Church so appealing to her. “I like the fact that it emphasizes not being lazy about your religion,” said Arena. “It also encourages everyone to be a good person and it helps you to become closer to God.”

Catechumen Sarah Raymond, at 13 years old, is being sponsored by her grandparents Carl and Linda Hahn, parishioners at St. Augustine Church in Baldwinsville. Sarah attended church with her grandparents at a very young age. Linda recalled how Sarah showed an interest in Catholic teachings and often asked if she could attend religious education classes.

Sarah is very excited about becoming baptized at Easter.

“She’s gone willingly to the classes,” said Linda. “I’m very pleased that she will be baptized.”

Catechumen James Petty Scanlon of St. Mary of Mount Carmel/Blessed Sacrament Church in Utica feels that when he is baptized at Easter it will be the culmination of a long journey. Introduced to the Catholic Church when he first attended Mass at St. Mary of Mount Carmel/Blessed Sacrament with his fiance, Scanlon believes that joining the church will help to strengthen his family. He and his wife have a seven-month-old child.

After attending classes, Scanlon has learned to love the rituals and traditions of the Catholic Church. “When I attend Mass it feels like a meaningful and true religion,” said Scanlon.

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