SAN DIEGO — “This is a moment when the Church says to you: ‘Welcome! We are overjoyed to have you.’”
That is how Bishop Robert McElroy greeted 924 men, women and children over the weekend in three liturgies, called the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, attended by nearly 3,000 faithful.
At these annual liturgies, catechumens and candidates are presented to the bishop and proclaimed prepared to receive the sacraments of initiation at their parishes at Easter Vigil, ready to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. Catechumens are those who have never been baptized, while candidates have been baptized but have yet to receive their First Communion or confirmation.
On March 5, the diocese held this liturgy in the Imperial Valley for the first time, at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Imperial. Previously, participants traveled to San Diego to take part in this celebration.
Auxiliary Bishop Ramón Bejarano welcomed 11 candidates, five catechumens and six children candidates and catechumens. They came from five parishes and communities: St. Anthony of Padua, El Centro Catholic, Catholic Communities of Brawley and Westmorland, Sacred Heart Mission in Heber, and St. Joseph in Holtville.
A total of 96 people attended the ceremony, including 22 sponsors, 19 parish team members and 33 guests.
The following day, the diocese held two liturgies at Good Shepherd Church in Mira Mesa. A total of 31 parishes and communities participated in the 1 p.m. ceremony and 36 participated in the one at 3 p.m., some seated in a section outside the church building because the inside was packed. Bishop Robert McElroy was accompanied by Auxiliary Bishop Bejarano as well as Auxiliary Bishop John Dolan.
The total for all three liturgies: The Church welcomed 244 catechumens, 632 candidates, 48 children catechumens and candidates from 75 parishes and communities. They were supported by 893 sponsors, 301 parish team members, and 703 guests, bringing the total number of people who attended them to 2,821.
At one moment in each liturgy, the bishop asked the candidates and catechumens to stand with their sponsors. The rich diversity of the incoming faithful could be seen at once — they represented many races and ethnicities, young and old, some holding squirming infants in their arms.
Also during each liturgy, a representative from each parish holds a “Book of the Elect,” which the bishop signs. Brenda Chopin carried the book for Our Lady of Angels Parish in San Diego.
She’s served there for 31 years, starting with singing in the choir when she was in high school. She’s been a catechist for the last 15 years and attended the liturgy with the RCIA class she leads.
What did the celebration mean to her?
“This allows me to share a little of the many gifts the Lord has given me,” she said after the 1 p.m. liturgy, as she was rounding up her class for a photo. “Bringing them here, they can see that our faith involves more than just the people in our parish; it involves a community that is very big.
“The bishop brings us all together so we can enjoy this celebration with family members and sponsors,” she added.
That was definitely the case for Rosalyn Sepulveda, one of her students. She was there with her cousin, Mario Alberto Bravo, while another cousin, Jacelle Lilia Beltrán, also in the class, was not able to attend.
“I think it’ really important to confirm my faith and see all the other people coming for their conversion,” Sepulveda said. “I think it’s really beautiful.”
Another family member, Margarita Guillén, was on hand as a sponsor.
“It’s important to be present, supporting them in this great step in their life,” Guillén said, “to make sure that we welcome them to the Church and to continue to push them to have a great future.”