As Easter approaches in a little over five short weeks, a sure sign of its impending arrival is the Rite of Election, the next step for those entering into full communion with the Catholic Church that is held on the First Sunday of Lent.
In the Diocese of Camden, Bishop Dennis Sullivan presided over the rite at Our Lady of Hope Parish, Saint Agnes Church in Blackwood on the afternoon of Feb. 14.
Joining him were 142 catechumens, from 31 parishes, who over the past weeks and months have been preparing at their respective communities to receive the sacraments of initiation- baptism, Eucharist and confirmation- at the upcoming Easter Vigil.
With their family, friends, godparents and parish catechists beside them, the catechumens were affirmed to Bishop Sullivan that they were “sufficiently prepared to be enrolled among the elect,” and have “faithfully listened to God’s word…responded to that word and begun to walk in God’s presence.”
The entire faith congregation also responded positively to Bishop Sullivan that they were ready to “include (the catechumens) in (their) prayer and affection.”
Bishop Sullivan then met the catechumens at the altar, as each parish brought up their own Book of Elect to him, signed by each person entering the church on the Easter Vigil.
Gelen Hernandez, director of Hispanic Ministries at the Parish Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Lindenwold, is responsible for the formation of Hispanic youth and adults, and this year, she and the parish accompanied 28 youth and adult catechumens on their journey to full communion.
“Each family is very excited, and happy,” she said. She estimates that 70 percent of her parish’s congregation is of Hispanic descent.
“People (at Our Lady of Guadalupe) are asking for the faith,” she said.
For 66-year-old Janet Schafer, a parishioner at Our Lady of Peace in Williamstown, this year’s Rite of Election saw her as a member of the Catholic faith, welcoming those soon to enter. Three years ago, she was on their same journey.
“In 2013, I was at the Rite of Election, preparing to receive the sacraments of Holy Eucharist and confirmation at Our Lady of Peace,” she says.
Born Lutheran, she decided to go through the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) process after conversations with her Catholic husband, and a young woman who she would drive home after their shared class at Camden County College.
“From September to December in 2012, this young woman educated me in the Catholic faith,” Schafer said.
On the 14th, she proclaimed the first reading, from the Prophet Ezekiel.
“I was honored to be there with the catechumens,” she said. Schafer is also a lector at her own parish.
“I know what they are going through. Joining the Catholic Church has been the best decision I have ever made in my life.”