Hundreds prepare to become Catholic

The 2021 numbers of catechumens and candidates presented for the annual Rite of Election was 316. That is great news following a year filled with much uncertainty.

The temporary shuttering of churches for public Mass and ongoing health and safety concerns about meetings or classes could have dramatically impacted those seeking to enter the Catholic Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA).

This year’s numbers are only down about 10 percent from 2020. This is a great accomplishment considering the challenges which needed to be overcome. The largest group was from Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers and included 51 catechumens and 13 candidates.

“This was actually a great time to have RCIA because people who were part of the pandemic had a reason to question their Faith,” explained Anne Chrzan, the Diocese of Venice Director of Religious of Education who oversees the implementation of RCIA programs. “Our Church gave them a place and a reason to believe and have hope!”

The 316 catechumens and candidates, representing 40 different Parishes, were recognized during the annual Rite of Election presided over by Bishop Frank J. Dewane.

Details of the Rite of Election were adapted this year to comply with social distancing requirements necessitated by the Pandemic. There were four Deanery-based celebrations, the first on Feb. 21, 2021 at Epiphany Cathedral for the Northern Deanery, and later the same day at St. Catherine Parish in Sebring for the Eastern Deanery. On Feb. 28, additional Rites took place at Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers for the Central Deanery, and then at St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples for the Southern Deanery.

Bishop Dewane recognized the catechumens and candidates for their responding to a particular call from the Lord. “In a world full of indifference, you come forward as a faith-filled person. It marks you. You take a further step to integrate yourselves into the community of faith and worship here in the Diocese of Venice… I am humbled by all of you: by the individual who chooses God; by one who chooses their Faith; by what it is you set out to do; by the determination you have; by the sacrifices you made.”

This response to the Lord does not end at the Easter Vigil (April 4), the Bishop continued, but that response must continue to “change who you are as men and women of God.”

“Mother church is pleased that you come here today to ratify the ‘Yes!’ you have already given to follow the Lord, a ‘Yes!” to Jesus,” Bishop Dewane added. “Once that ‘Yes!’ is said then the true conversion must set about to happen. That is the next step. Do this and know it is my prayer that you will allow the love of God to inspire you throughout your life in the many good things that you do. Let it be that love of God that graces you.”

Chrzan added that the Pandemic created some challenges in RCIA program with some using online teaching options, but those were rare exceptions

“I had one DRE who was skeptical about moving forward during the pandemic, but I asked her to see what Jesus says about that and she had an entire family approach her the following week,” Chrzan explained. “Because she took it to prayer, God gave her a family to bring into the Church!”

The Rite of Election also is called the enrollment of names, because each catechumen writes his or her name in the Book of the Elect. When the catechumens from each Parish were called forward, a sheet with the signed names was presented to the Bishop. Instead of shaking hands with each catechumen, as was done in past years, this year Bishop Dewane welcomed them with a respectful bow.

Catechumens are the unbaptized and unchurched who inquire about becoming part of the Roman Catholic Faith. Many times, catechumens are those who have begun to seek and understand God in their lives and have been led by the Holy Spirit to become Catholic. RCIA is a journey of discovery and Faith. Children and teens ages 7 to 17 participate in similar groups geared to their own age ranges.

After completing the Rite of Election, the catechumens continue their spiritual formation throughout the remainder of Lent, a period of purification and enlightenment – the final, intense preparation for the reception at the Easter Vigil of the Sacrament of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist.

For candidates, those who have been baptized with a Trinitarian formula, the Catholic Church does not require re-Baptism. Candidates have already experienced a journey of Faith. In fact, many have been attending Mass with their families for years but may have never received the Sacrament of Holy Communion or the Sacrament of Confirmation or Sacrament of Reconciliation. They participate in appropriate religious education classes, often with the catechumens, and will receive the necessary Sacraments at the Easter Vigil.

Everyone is encouraged to pray for and welcome the catechumens and candidates at their own Parish and within the Diocese as they continue their journey of discovery in their Faith.