Catechumens, candidates take next step in their faith journeys at Rite of Election

Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, engages in some light banter with Father Adam Cesarek, pastor of of St. Mary Parish in Pontiac, before he signs the parish's Book of the Elect at the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion Feb. 20. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Each parish and Newman Center has taken a different path to prepare adults and children to receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil over the last year, but all of them converged at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria last weekend for the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion.

Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, presided over the prayer service on Saturday, Feb. 20, and Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka welcomed the catechumens and candidates during the ritual on Sunday, Feb. 21. There were some slight changes in the way things have been done in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but nothing seemed to dampen the joy and excitement brought to the church by the 189 people who were presented to the bishops.

To reduce the movement in St. Mary’s Cathedral, catechumens and then candidates rose and remained in place when their names were called by parish leaders. They were recognized with a round of applause and assured of prayers as they complete their preparations for the Easter sacraments. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Those who are seeking baptism come to the Rite of Election as catechumens. With the affirmation of their godparents and prayerful support of the assembly, the bishops declared them “members of the elect, to be initiated into the sacred mysteries at the next Easter Vigil.”

In addition to baptism, they will be confirmed and receive the Eucharist. The Easter Vigil is celebrated after sundown on Holy Saturday, which is April 3 this year.

Candidates are those who have been baptized and wish to complete their Christian initiation by making a profession of faith and being confirmed and receiving the Eucharist.

“WE’RE GLAD YOU’RE HERE”

Talking about how people are being vaccinated against COVID-19, Bishop Jenky told the catechumens and candidates and their sponsors that Jesus is the greatest vaccination there ever was.

“Jesus Christ, our Savior, is the forgiveness of our sins, the true antidote to everything wrong and broken, and the invitation to share our common life,” he said as he welcomed them.

“You have made the local church of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria enriched by your presence. We are glad you’re here,” Bishop Jenky said. “We hope to share forever with you in the bliss and beatitude of heaven.”

In his remarks after the Gospel was proclaimed, Bishop Tylka reminded them that it was God who chose them to be Christians, to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka greets 4-year-old Peyton Loquist, who is with Jenny Witt of St. Philomena Parish, Peoria, at the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion on Feb. 21. Peyton’s father, Cameron Loquist, will be baptized at the Easter Vigil. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“Just as Christ chose his followers, who we call Apostles, all the way up to this moment in our lives, all of us are chosen, elected, by God — brought to life and blessed to share this life with others,” he said.

“Whether it’s when we’re young and baptized as an infant or whether we’re an adult and making that choice for ourselves, the fact is that God is always choosing us,” Bishop Tylka explained. “The question is how can we respond to that choice?”

TIME OF RENEWAL

Parishes and Newman Centers reported that there are fewer people preparing to be received into the Catholic church this year — 61 catechumens and 128 candidates, as opposed to 85 catechumens and 200 candidates last year — but said the smaller numbers allowed them to meet in person.

“It’s not even a problem to socially distance, so it’s brought our group together quicker because we have been able to continue to meet,” said Barbara Roedel, director of adult faith formation and liturgy coordinator at St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island. “We only had to meet on Zoom a couple of times and that’s because somebody had been exposed to COVID.”

She added there has been a lot of excitement and joy among the group of one catechumen and three candidates, perhaps because there wasn’t an Easter celebration last year.

“It’s always a big day to meet the bishop and to see our beautiful cathedral,” she said. “So they’re off-the-chart excited, which makes it exciting for me to be part of it.”

Since Lent began more people are returning to church, too, according to Roedel, who said, “I feel like this is a renewal time. It’s an exciting time for us.”

Father Lee Brokaw, administrator of the Galesburg Catholic Parishes, said that with three people completing their Christian initiation at Easter, they’ve also been able to meet in person and spread out sufficiently.

“You have made the local church of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria enriched by your presence,” said Bishop Jenky, shown applauding the catechumens and candidates. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“I think that’s made it so much more effective,” he said. “They’ve longed for that. They’ve longed to be together to be taught, to grow, to ask questions, to go into the church and to really feel like they’re entering in.”

He said the pandemic has played a role in keeping their numbers low: “During 2020 a lot of people were just trying to survive.”

In addition, a lot of small groups in the parish and school did not meet and that’s where conversion tends to happen, he told The Catholic Post.

“I think in the future we’re going to see a lot more of that because those groups are going to start reconvening and getting together,” Father Brokaw said.

In some parishes, like St. Patrick in Washington, the RCIA team incorporated Zoom into much of the program, said Deacon Steve Racki.

“We were doing a combination of Zoom and in person, but since that last spike (of COVID-19) in December we’ve been completely Zoom,” he said. “It still seems to work pretty good. It’s nice because everybody can see and everybody can hear.”

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