SAN DIEGO — The Diocese of San Diego is making major changes to the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion to comply with COVID-19 safety protocols.
The annual diocesan liturgy, which is typically attended by more than 3,200 people, is where the bishop welcomes hundreds of catechumens and candidates from local parishes and affirms their readiness to receive the sacraments of initiation at the upcoming Easter Vigil.
“Even though we are in times of pandemic and things are difficult, we still are cherishing and celebrating this momentous occasion in the life of our Church,” said diocesan Chancellor Marioly Galván, whose responsibilities include oversight of evangelization and catechetical programs.
This year, instead of one massive gathering, the diocese will be hosting three smaller ones. The liturgies will be held Feb. 20 and 21 at Good Shepherd Parish in Mira Mesa.
All three liturgies will be celebrated outdoors, with attendees wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, and they also will be livestreamed. For health and safety reasons, there will be no posed group photos with the bishops either before or after the liturgies.
Collectively, some 256 catechumens (those who have never been baptized) and 401 candidates (those who have been baptized but are preparing to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church) from 51 of the diocese’s 97 parishes will be participating in the three celebrations. Accompanying them will be 566 sponsors and 208 parish team members.
Last year’s Rite of Election was held on March 1 at the Town and Country convention center in Mission Valley. Providentially, it took place about two weeks before the Diocese of San Diego announced the suspension of all public liturgies and California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a stay-at-home order to stem the spread of COVID-19.
The Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion represents a milestone for the diocese’s catechumens and candidates. It is preceded by almost a year of weekly Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) classes at individual parishes.
Galván said that “journeying together” as a class is an important aspect of the process, and she praised parishes for finding ways to ensure a fruitful period of study and spiritual preparation amidst the challenges of COVID-19.
“We’ve had to find creative ways of still continuing the mission and being able to continue to be those beacons of light in these moments of darkness,” said Galván, who noted that many parishes either transitioned exclusively to virtual meetings or adopted a hybrid model with virtual as well as in-person gatherings.
Christian Avila, a 24-year-old candidate at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Barrio Logan, has wanted to receive the Eucharist since his youth.
“But I always put it off,” he said about taking the required sacramental preparation.
Weekend soccer games and filming videos for his YouTube channel had been too tempting of a distraction for him. But, after committing to put God first, he enrolled in RCIA.
Though he had concerns about beginning the process during the pandemic, he recalled, “There is something that told me, ‘Hey, just do it. Everything’s going to be good.’”
And it was – even if the pandemic meant that his weekly classes transitioned from in-person, to virtual, to a hybrid model that includes a Zoom session followed by in-person Mass attendance. There were even service projects in October and November, conducted with facial coverings and social distancing.
“It’s been a journey for sure, but I had to adapt,” he said.
Avila’s 21-year-old sister, Cinthia, is also a candidate this year. Cinthia, who received her first Communion about six years ago but will be confirmed this Easter, didn’t see the pandemic as a reason to postpone her RCIA journey.
“Regardless of being a video chat or being in-person, the message is coming across,” she said.
The siblings grew up in a family divided between Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they have had experience with both faith traditions.
Cinthia recalled attending Catholic Masses with one grandfather and Jehovah’s Witness services with the other. Her Catholic grandfather died in 2011.
“I will finally be able to accomplish a promise I made to myself after my grandpa died,” she said, as she looks ahead to completing her sacraments of initiation this Easter.
Galván takes inspiration from catechumens and candidates who, in their eagerness to enter into the Catholic Church, remained committed to the RCIA process during this challenging year.
“It just goes to prove [that] when God calls you … no pandemic is going to stop you,” she said.
“Having all of these people coming into our Church in a time of pandemic … is such a huge witness and it’s so inspiring,” she said, “because you can see evidently, in such a tangible way, the work of the Holy Spirit.”
Contact individual parishes for information about faith formation classes for adults, called RCIA classes. They are available in English and Spanish, and at some locations in Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese and Tagalog. More information is available online at sdcatholic.org/office-for/evangelization-and-catechetical-ministry/ or by phone at (858) 490-8232.