The largest ever group of women and men set to enter the Catholic Church within the Diocese of Venice at the Easter Vigil were recognized during the annual Rite of Election at Epiphany Cathedral on the first Sunday of Lent on Feb. 26, 2023. This annual tradition is a formal Rite during which catechumens are presented and their names are entered into the Book of Elect.
The 216 catechumens (individuals who are not yet baptized) were joined by an additional 351 candidates (already-baptized Christians preparing for confirmation and First Eucharist). The candidates participate in the formal ceremony and are recognized during the celebration for answering the “Call To Their Continuing Conversion.” The Cathedral was at near capacity as family members were also present to show their support.
The Rite of Election was presided over by Bishop Frank J. Dewane who said he was impressed by the large number of catechumens and candidates, noting that the 567 are the most ever set to enter the Church in the Diocese in a single year through the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults (OCIA) program.
Bishop Dewane complimented each for making the commitment to publicly announce the call of the Holy Spirit in a particular way by becoming active members of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Venice. “You are the brave and courageous; the Spirit of the Lord is working within you.”
The catechumens and candidates, who were recognized by Bishop Dewane, are on a continuing journey that will culminate when they come into full communion with the Catholic Church at the April 8 Easter Vigil Mass in their respective Parishes.
The group represent 47 Parishes in the Diocese of Venice and are accompanied by tens of thousands of others across the country that will also join the Catholic Church this year. Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers, St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, Ave Maria Parish in Ave Maria, and Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee had the largest groups of catechumens and candidates.
Bishop Dewane acknowledged the sacrifice each catechumen and candidate has made in recognizing the voice of God in their lives, prompted by the Holy Spirit, to come forward on this journey of learning about the Catholic Faith.
“This happens in your heart,” the Bishop said. “Leave your heart always open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and the voice of God. Listen to what the Lord is asking of you.”
By recognizing the Lord’s presence in your heart, it must change you in fundamental ways, Bishop Dewane said. The presence of the Lord in your life must impact how you live, how you treat yourself, how you treat others, and how you are going to live the life to which the Lord has called you. During the coming weeks of Lent, the Bishop encouraged the catechumens and candidates to seek the Lord in Sacred Scriptures as they develop and grow in building their relationship with Jesus Christ.
“We must go out from these four walls (of the Cathedral) and be doers of our Faith out in society,” Bishop Dewane said. “We have respective roles – responding and answering – as we are called, made in the image and likeness of God, to give witness to Jesus Christ.”
The catechumens are part of the OCIA, which is for those who are unbaptized and unchurched, who come to inquire about becoming part of the Roman Catholic Faith in a process that takes about a year. Often 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. OCIA is a journey of discovery and faith. This is most commonly done in three distinct phases: discernment, acceptance into the catechumenate along with purification and enlightenment.
Each catechumen will go through a series of scrutinies during which they examine their readiness to accept Christ and the Catholic Faith in the form of the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation). This time culminates at the Easter Vigil when the catechumens are received through Baptism into the Catholic Church. The final period of the OCIA is the time of “Mystagogy” (post-baptismal catechesis). During the weeks following the Easter Vigil, the newly initiated live more profoundly their experience of Baptism and the Eucharist as they begin the journey of discipleship and their growing union with Christ.
For candidates, those who have been correctly baptized with a Trinitarian formula, the Catholic Church does not require re-Baptism. Candidates have already experienced a journey of faith and understand 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.
The candidates are invited to the Cathedral for the Rite of Election as a form of welcome, but because they are already in the Book of the Elect as baptized Christians, they do not bring their names forward. To symbolize that baptism, and as a sign of their continuing conversion, they come forward and make the sign of the cross with holy water.
Everyone is encouraged to pray for and welcome the catechumens and candidates at their own Parish as they continue their journey of discovery in their Faith.