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 Massive Liturgy Welcomes Those Becoming Catholic This Easter

By Denis Grasska

SAN DIEGO — At this year’s Easter Vigil, the Diocese of San Diego will grow with the addition of more than 1,200 new Catholics.

At the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, held March 10 at Golden Hall, catechumens and candidates were welcomed by Bishop Robert W. McElroy and pronounced worthy to continue their journey toward the sacraments of initiation.

An annual celebration, the Rite of Election is the largest diocesan liturgy. More than 4,000 people were in attendance, including godparents and sponsors, family members, pastors and parish RCIA teams. Seventy-six of the diocese’s 98 parishes were represented.

“The Rite of Election is a special moment in the life of our Local Church,” said diocesan Chancellor María Olivia Galván, who also directs the diocesan Office for Evangelization and Catechetical Ministry. “It’s an occasion when we see the work of the Holy Spirit moving in and throughout our parish communities.”

This year, there were 1,222 catechumens and candidates — an increase of 159 from last year. Catechumens are those who have never been baptized and will be receiving all three sacraments of initiation — baptism, confirmation and Holy Communion — at their parishes on Holy Saturday. Candidates are those who have already been baptized, but have yet to be confirmed and/or to receive their first Communion; they will receive those sacraments alongside the catechumens.

“The journey of each person preparing to enter fully into the Catholic Church is inspiring for us all,” Galván said. “We have children as young as 7 and adults over the age of 70 responding ‘yes’ to the Lord.”

Katherine Birmingham and Patrick Rucker, both candidates from St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Vista, were among those present at the rite.

Reflecting on the size of the crowd gathered for the liturgy, Birmingham said it was “kind of mindboggling.”

“I didn’t really know that there were this many churches or this many Catholics in San Diego,” said the former Jehovah’s Witness.

“It’s a pretty auspicious day,” opined Rucker, who journeyed from agnosticism to faith after much self-reflection and spiritual searching. “[The Rite of Election is] kind of a milestone on a long, hard road out of hell, really.”

He added, “It’s like we’re part of something way bigger than us and none of us feel alone anymore.”

Amanda Esposito, a candidate from Nativity Parish, said the Rite of Election made her feel proud to “a part of this big, global community.”

Though a non-denominational Christian, Esposito has been attending Mass with her Catholic husband for a few years.

“It’s really neat to know that everyone’s going through the same steps today and we’re all going through this together,” Esposito said, just as the liturgy was about to begin.

During the Rite of Election, the diocesan bishop asks the catechumens and candidates to declare their readiness to enter the Church. After their preparedness is affirmed by the godparents, sponsors and assembly, he declares the catechumens to be “members of the elect, to be initiated into the sacred mysteries,” and he exhorts the candidates to “hear  the Lord’s call to conversion and be faithful to your baptismal covenant.”

In a departure from previous year’s celebrations, the bishop signed each parish’s Book of the Elect, containing the names of that parish’s catechumens, during the liturgy itself rather than at the group photo sessions held immediately before and after the ceremony.

In his homily, Bishop McElroy reflected on the Lenten season as “the time in which we see the grace of God purifying us with love,” a time to cast aside everything that distracts us from God and to see ourselves with God’s eyes.

Noting that this particular Lent also represents “a unique moment” for the elect and the candidates, he urged them, “Look around you today and see the work of God in the lives of His people. Look around you and see the men and women who journey with you ... Look around you as you begin your own pilgrimage into the desert, not alone, but supported by the whole of God’s people. Look around you and feel the grace of God’s presence touching the earth with a power beyond imagination.”

Father Peter Bosque, pastor of St. Therese Parish in Del Cerro, was among the many pastors attending the rite with their catechumens and candidates.

Describing himself as “honored and joyful” to be there supporting “these dear people” in his parish’s RCIA program, Father Bosque said he expects others to be as serious about the faith as he is — and the catechumens and candidates certainly fit that bill.

“To watch these people who have already been to church this morning, prayed and reflected afterwards, then to come here, it’s always inspiring,” Father Bosque said.

Those preparing to enter into full communion with the Church are also a source of inspiration to Galván.

“My hope,” she said, “is that they continue to light the path for others to follow Christ, that the joy that envelopes their hearts as they prepare to be fully initiated this Easter forever remains in their lives and serves as a catalyst to proclaim the Good News to others.”

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