SAN DIEGO – Almost 4,000 people gathered March 1 for the Diocese of San Diego’s annual Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion.
At the massive liturgy, which is held annually in Lent, the diocesan bishop is presented with the catechumens (those who have never been baptized) and the candidates (those who are baptized but not fully initiated) who will be entering into full communion with the Catholic Church at their parishes during the Easter Vigil Mass.
Seventy-two parish communities were represented at the liturgy by a total of 380 adult catechumens, 760 adult candidates, and 102 child catechumens and candidates. They were accompanied by their godparents and sponsors, as well as by parish RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) team members and other guests.
All of the catechumens and candidates have their own stories of what led them to the Catholic Church. But, for many of those who spoke with The Southern Cross, family played an important role.
Tessa Castaneda of Mission San Diego de Alcala Parish and her son are both candidates this year.
Both Castaneda and her husband were baptized Catholics, but had fallen away from practicing their faith. However, their daughter Elizabeth attended Mass on several occasions with her grandparents and expressed a desired to be baptized. At Elizabeth’s request, her father began taking her to Mass and, as a result, the two began attending regularly. Her father would later begin the RCIA process; he received the sacrament of confirmation last year.
“I wanted to come with them one weekend and, ever since then, I’ve come every Sunday,” Tessa said.
Of her daughter and husband, she explained, “They brought me back to the Church.”
Jared Fraher, a catechumen from Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in San Diego, was not raised in any faith tradition. But, when he met his wife about 15 years ago, he began attending Mass with her and the couple have raised their children Catholic.
It may have taken a while, but Fraher believes that the time is right time to enter the Church.
“I kind of just feel called right now to finally dive in and just become that leader of my family,” he said.
Alexander Fettel, a member of St. Agnes Parish’s RCIA team, was baptized last Easter and is serving as sponsor this year.
It was about four years ago that Fettel began reflecting on the existence of God, came to accept that He truly does exist and found convincing support for that belief in St. Thomas Aquinas’ famous five proofs for the existence of God.
Today, Fettel is actively discerning a call to priesthood.
“I don’t know if I’m going to go into it,” he said, “but … I want to discern that as an option.”
In his homily, Bishop Robert W. McElroy shared a Lenten message inspired by the Gospel account of Jesus’ temptation by the devil after 40 days of prayer and fasting in the desert. The bishop also reflected on the fact that each person has been entrusted with a unique mission from God.
“I hope and I pray that, in these 40 days when we are all traveling in the desert together, we may confront those elements of our lives that keep us from God, which are barriers to seeing God’s presence in our lives and, then we open our eyes to see the brilliance and the splendor of God which lies all around us,” he said.
After his homily, using the prescribed words of the ritual, Bishop McElroy declared the catechumens to be “members of the elect, to be initiated into the sacred mysteries at the next Easter Vigil,” and he urged the candidates, “Join with us this Lent in a spirit of repentance. Hear the Lord’s call to conversion and be faithful to your baptismal covenant.”
This year marked the first time in a decade that the Rite of Election has been held in a location other than Golden Hall in downtown San Diego, where it has been celebrated 20 times over the past 27 years.
“I believe that it’s going to be a nice change,” said Walter Moss, RCIA coordinator at St. Agnes Parish, just before his parish group took its pre-liturgy photo with Bishops McElroy and Auxiliary Bishop John P. Dolan.
“Change should be welcomed,” he added. “Change brings something fresh and new, and that’s a wonderful experience.”