It was on March 1, 2020, the First Sunday of Lent, when Bishop Frank J. Dewane presided over the annual Rite of Election at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. This annual tradition is a formal Rite in which catechumens are presented and their names are entered into the Book of Elect.
The 170 catechumens, individuals who are unbaptized but willing to join the Catholic Faith, with an additional 209 candidates, those previously baptized, who also participated in the formal ceremony and were welcomed during the celebration for answering the call to continuing conversion.
At the time, the 379 were expecting to be welcomed at the respective Parishes during the Easter Vigil on April 11, 2020. The COVID-19 Pandemic put those plans on hold when Churches closed to the public celebration of Mass, and then until protocols and guidelines were established to ensure the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and First Holy Communion could be done safely and properly for all.
By early September 2020, nearly all 170 catechumens had formally entered the Church at their home Parishes. The catechumens are part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). These individuals are unbaptized and unchurched and inquired about becoming part of the Roman Catholic Faith. Often catechumens have begun to seek and understand God in their lives and have been led by the Holy Spirit to become Catholic. RCIA is not simply a course on Catholicism; it is a journey of discovery and Faith.
At St. Agnes Parish in Naples, a group of 20 catechumens fully entered the Church on Aug. 23, 2020. Wearing a mask, Father Bob Kantor used separate cotton swabs to apply the Sacred Chrism for each Confirmation. For the Baptisms, he applied the Holy Water from the far side of the font so as to maintain social distancing.
“It was a happy and joyful Sunday night,” Father Kantor said afterwards. “It was important to have other people there to witness as they entered fully into the Catholic Faith. It was also good for those present at Mass to be inspired by the new people coming into the Church and to give their support.”
When RCIA classes were paused, religious educators across the Diocese adapted and met virtually to continue the education and faith formation of their charges. This was done by reviewing the Sacraments and closely examining the Sunday Scriptures. Regular phone calls to catechumens and candidates were made to offer support during the intervening period, to serve as a comfort and to provide updates as to when the Sacraments would be available.
For candidates, those who have been baptized with the Trinitarian formula, the Catholic Church does not require re-Baptism. Candidates have already experienced a journey of Faith and hold a basic understanding of how Jesus leads us to the Father through the work of the Holy Spirit. 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.
To accommodate candidates who expected to receive the Sacraments at the Easter Vigil, it was deemed appropriate that they receive these from Bishop Dewane in the fall as he resumes Confirmations at the Parishes. Therefore, these Sacraments will be conferred on the date the Bishop is already scheduled to visit a Parish for Confirmations.