Igniting the fire of faith

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group shot31512Rite of Election celebrates church’s growing family

By Katherine Long
Sun associate editor

   Jonathan Howell is no stranger to performing in front of large crowds at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse. He’s been cantoring there for about six years and regularly sings at the church’s big celebrations. But his performance during this year’s Rite of Election was something special.

   Howell, who was raised in the Episcopal tradition, said he had been thinking about converting to Catholicism for a long time when a meaningful invitation came his way.

   “I cantored at the Easter Vigil at the Cathedral last year,” he said. “At the Sign of Peace, I shook hands with Bishop Cunningham. He looked at me and said, ‘Jonathan, we’d love it if you’d join us.’ That he took that moment to personally invite me was really powerful.”

   So, in addition to serving as cantor, Howell was one of some 140 candidates who, along with 75 catechumens, their godparents, sponsors, family and friends, gathered at the Cathedral March 4 to take the next step toward full communion with the Catholic Church.

   This was the second year that Bishop Robert Cunningham celebrated a diocesan-wide Rite at the Cathedral. Usually celebrated on the First Sunday of Lent, the Rite of Election is the church’s formal acceptance of individuals who are preparing to become, as Bishop Cunningham said in his homily, “one with us in celebrating the great mysteries of our Catholic faith.”

   “Just as Abraham was called, just as the apostles were called, you, my dear catechumens and candidates, are called,” Bishop Cunningham continued. “… As you continue to listen to the voice of the Lord in your own life and, as you turn yourself over to His way of life, you become ever more one of His disciples.”   

   Following his homily, parish representatives presented their catechumens to Bishop Cunningham.

   “Bishop Cunningham, as representative of the universal church, accepts the testimony of the parish representatives as to their readiness to be received,” said Father Joseph Scardella, diocesan director of the Office of Worship. “Bishop Cunningham has to elect them, and in doing so he is affirming God’s call in their lives.”

   Catechumens’ names were read aloud and they were invited to come to the altar with their godparents to sign the Book of the Elect. By signing the book, the catechumens expressed their desire to receive the sacraments. The bishop greeted each catechumen, then blessed the group.

   Similarly, candidates participated in the Call to Continuing Conversion. Their names were also read aloud and they, along with their sponsors, were greeted and blessed by Bishop Cunningham.

   This year, the largest group came from St. Matthew’s Church in East Syracuse, with eight catechumens and 11 candidates organized by RCIA coordinator Linda Zaepfel. Pastor Father Joseph Clemente says that he makes a point of talking about initiation — or as he calls it, “God’s adoption process” — on a regular basis at his parish.

   “I believe that a church without converts is a dead one,” he said. “We say that the Catholic church is a ‘welcoming church,’ but what does that mean concretely? It means bringing people into the family, inviting them into beauty that they won’t find anywhere else. … Faith is not just knowing and believing, it is also about being connected to the community.”

   That sense of community is one of the many reasons Matt Payne, along with his wife and four daughters, felt called to enter the RCIA process.

   “We feel very welcome at St. Matthew’s,” he said. “We enjoy the tradition [of the Catholic Church] and the emphasis on the idea that we impact the community by the way we live our lives.” Payne, who was raised in the Episcopal church, said that seeing his wife and daughters standing on the altar with the other catechumens brought tears of joy to his eyes.

   The experience was equally moving for Christina Osborne, another candidate who said St. Matthew’s has come to “feel like home.”

   “It was so overwhelming to sit in the Cathedral with all these people who are at the same place in life as I am,” she said. Osborne is also eagerly anticipating the Easter Vigil, when the Sacraments of Initiation will be celebrated and she will officially become a member of the Catholic church.

   “Going through the [RCIA formation sessions], the weeks have flown by,” she said. “But now it feels like Easter’s never going to come! I am just so looking forward to that day.”


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