By STEPHEN O'KANE | Published February 28, 2013
ATLANTA—Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory welcomed thousands of people to the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion on Feb. 17, calling the annual service a “display of God’s grace.”
“On this first Sunday of Lent, throughout the world, people are gathered in churches and public halls such as this one to declare their desire to finalize their entry into the Catholic Church,” the archbishop said during his homily at the event, which was held at the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center off Piedmont Avenue.
“We welcome all of you and bless you for coming to this gathering,” he continued. “Your presence brings more joy to us than I can adequately express. Your names echo, and will echo, throughout this auditorium this afternoon. … Each particular name adds splendor to this celebration. Each name intensifies the happiness of this moment. But each name is actually contained in, and enriched by, the name of Christ, whose people we all are, and whose dignity we all share.”
Large parish groups sat together as bright, joyful music filled the hall. Directors and coordinators of parish Rites of Christian Initiation of Adults processed in, each with a Book of the Elect containing the names of those in their parish who will be baptized at Easter. It is an important moment of recognition for those people, many of whom have endured a long process of study and discernment.
“The Rite of Election always gives me a feeling of awe,” Rita Schieber, who works with the RCIA program at St. Lawrence Church in Lawrenceville, wrote later. “The music this year was particularly beautiful and helped the elect and candidates feel welcome and special.”
St. Lawrence will welcome more than 220 people—159 candidates and 62 catechumens—into the Church this Easter, making it one of the largest parish groups in the archdiocese. More than 1,900 will become Catholic at the Easter Vigil Mass on March 30 across the Archdiocese of Atlanta. The number is slightly lower than in recent years but still represents a significant crop of new members.
Catechumens are those who will receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist, while candidates are those who have already been baptized in a Christian denomination and therefore only receive the additional sacraments of confirmation and the Eucharist when they become Catholic.
During the Rite of Election, a representative from each parish read the names of the catechumens aloud from the Book of the Elect, which was then given to Archbishop Gregory who kissed each book. The catechumens stood with their godparents or sponsor when their names were called and then the group received a warm welcome after all the names were read.
Archbishop Gregory then asked the assembly if there were willing to support the desire of each catechumen and encourage them in prayer, saying, “Are you ready to support the testimony expressed about these catechumens and include them in your prayer and affection as we move toward Easter?” The assembly responded with a firm, “We are.”
As part of the Call to Continuing Conversion, which highlights the entry of candidates into the Church, each parish name was called and the candidates from the parish stood and were recognized.
“The Church recognizes your desire to be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and to have a place at Christ’s Eucharistic table,” the archbishop said to the candidates. “Join with us this Lent in a spirit of repentance. Hear the Lord’s call to conversion and be faithful to your baptismal covenant.”
The varied ethnicities and backgrounds of this year’s group of candidates and catechumens were expressed in many languages used in the rite, including Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese and Igbo.
Diane Maguire, the director of religious education at St. Lawrence, said the diversity of the candidates and catechumens shows the all-encompassing love of God.
“Like most of the parishes in the archdiocese, we are an ethnically diverse group but are bonded to one another in a love for God and a desire to be closer to him through the sacramental life of the Church, especially the Eucharist,” she wrote by email.
“It is a privilege to work with the adults and parents of the children in the RCIA,” she continued. “Their hunger and thirst to know Christ and understand the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church is an inspiration to me, our RCIA team and parish, especially in this ‘Year of Faith.’”
Drew Denton, the RCIA coordinator at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Atlanta, also recognizes the bonds made during the time of discernment and formation. He was surprised by the diverse backgrounds of the 2013 IHM group, which includes seven catechumens and 14 candidates in the English language group and 160 in the Spanish-language RCIA group.
“To a greater extent than with previous groups, I am struck by the variety of different roads that our folks have traveled to arrive at this point in their pilgrimage,” he wrote by email. “Some have taught at Catholic schools for years and been influenced by their work environment. Some have been drawn to the Church through spouses, fiancées or other family members. We have a whole family that has decided to be received at Easter due to the promptings of their children, who attend IHM School.”
“Others have taken a more independent route, gradually attracted by the splendor of Catholic liturgy and the truth of Catholic teaching,” he continued. “We continue to hear a lot about the New Evangelization, especially in this Year of Faith, and I think our RCIA group offers a good illustration of the many different forms that evangelism can take.”
An alumnus of the RCIA program at IHM, Denton now works with those who are making the same transition and is always inspired by the excitement surrounding the event.
“One thing I have really enjoyed this year is seeing the enthusiasm and commitment of our sponsors. Some of them choose to come to our meetings even on nights they know their candidate will be absent because they find it spiritually nourishing. This is an encouraging hint as to how the RCIA can benefit a wider circle of people than just those individuals preparing to receive the sacraments,” he said.
“My prayer is that the RCIA will, directly or indirectly, influence an ever larger portion of the parish and continue to become what it is intended to be: a model of spiritual growth and conversion for all of us, not just newcomers,” said Denton.
The candidates and catechumens now enter the final stretch of preparation, a time of continued prayer and discernment as they approach what some consider one of the most important days of their lives.
“Those of us who are Catholics already are so deeply grateful for the presence of those with whom we will share a common name, and the very body and blood of Christ at the Easter Mystery,” said Archbishop Gregory. “We thank and bless you for wanting to become one with us. You enrich us simply by reminding us of the splendor of the name that we bear by God’s grace.”