A large number 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, Feb. 18, 2024. This annual tradition is a formal Rite during which catechumens are presented and their names are entered into the Book of the Elect.
The 316 catechumens (individuals who are not yet baptized) were joined by an additional 346 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 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 the large number of catechumens and candidates was impressive, noting that the 662 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, topping the 2023 total of 567.
“The Diocese is blessed and graced by the presence of the catechumens and candidates,” Bishop Dewane said. “That 662 is a massive number for a Diocese our size.”
The group was complimented by Bishop Dewane for making a 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. “All of you should see the strength and demonstration of the Holy Spirit in bringing you together for the Rite of Election.”
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 March 30 Easter Vigil Mass in their respective Parishes.
“As you prepare, come to realize the Lord calls you to continue your journey,” Bishop Dewane said. “That doesn’t end at the Easter Vigil. That is a continuation of the journey that the Holy Spirit has prompted from each one of you and continues to prompt you in your daily lives. If you listen and pay attention, you will come to evidence the Holy Spirit in your life to become more that man or woman of God the Lord calls us all to be.”
Bishop Dewane encouraged each catechumen and candidate telling them that they are each given a task by the Lord to continue to be the leaven to their family and those around them.
“Each one of you has received a call to holiness,” the Bishop said “What are you doing to be ever more holy? Your response is found in the Word of God. You must be aware and know that Word of God; that it is the voice of the Lord in your heart and soul. Let these words grow and resonate in your heart!”
Many who participated in the Rite of Election expressed their joy in joining with others on this important step in their faith journey. One candidate from Holy Cross Parish in Palmetto said, “What a beautiful celebration! I will remember the Rite … the rest of my life. With a deep sense of awe and gratitude I thank Almighty God for blessing me so!”
The group of catechumens and candidates come from 47 Parishes/Missions 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. The largest groups of catechumens and candidates came from the following Parishes: Jesus the Worker in Fort Myers, Our Lady Queen of Heaven in LaBelle, St. Peter the Apostle in Naples, Holy Cross in Bradenton, Ave Maria in Ave Maria, Our Lady of Guadalupe in Immokalee. St. Leo the Great in Bonita Springs, and St. Katherine Drexel in Cape Coral.
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.