By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published February 19, 2016 | En Español
Pat DeJarnett from our archdiocesan Office for Divine Worship manages to keep careful tabs on many of the statistics for our rites, so I knew that her projections in reference to this particular ceremony would be accurate. She told me the other day that the total number of our candidates and catechumens would probably break a record for our archdiocesan Rite of Election ceremony this year, adding that there were still a couple of parishes yet to call in their figures. She just beamed, and I must admit so did I. What a wonderful threshold for us to cross as it suggests that the Lord continues to bless the work of evangelization within this local Church.
I indicated to Pat that we may simply be experiencing the grace of what many refer to as the “the Francis effect” as people recently have continued to find our Church a very welcoming community.
In all honesty, I would likewise have to be the first to admit that we have also suffered the loss of far too many Catholics during this past year who may have stepped back from the practice of our faith for a variety of different reasons. They should never be forgotten in our prayers and our affection. Ours must not, however, simply be a numbers game, but always a work of the Spirit.
Pope Francis has engendered a lot of positive curiosity in the Catholic Church, which serves to encourage people to return to the practice of our faith or to explore the possibility of joining our religious family. In spite of the very positive energy of this pontificate, the work of evangelization always remains a local task—a personal endeavor for us all. Having an endearing and gregarious pope is no substitute for having a community of welcome and warmth. Pope Francis can charm the masses who meet him or watch him in the media, but only loving local Catholics can turn the pontiff’s popularity into a personal invitation to faith. In that regard, I thank all of you who have given our Church such a positive image in our parishes, schools and institutions. Your own good example, your warm kindness, your joyful witness of faith and your open invitation have borne much fruit in bringing people closer to the Church in north and central Georgia.
The Rite of Election in the Archdiocese of Atlanta continues to reflect the bright vibrancy of our multicultural community. At this year’s rite, we welcomed some people wearing their native garb, speaking languages other than English, accompanied by family members who are already Catholics—sometimes we even welcomed entire families. Each parish took great delight in presenting its candidates and catechumens as signs of the parish’s vitality. The parishes presented their written records of the RCIA activities as an indication that the Rite of Election is an annual celebration of the sacramental energy of their community. I kissed each book as I do the Book of the Gospels at Mass since those records are clearly good news indeed.
Our candidates and elect will return to their communities and continue their preparation for the Easter sacraments, and they will be the vivid lights that brighten those communities during the season of Lent.
Take a moment to meet some of these fine people joining our community and personally encourage them during these next several weeks. They represent the future of our local Church, which continues to shine wonderfully throughout these 69 Georgia counties—thanks be to God!