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Catechumens, candidates come closer to full initiation

By JoLynn Ryan Krempecki

Likening the RCIA catechumens and candidates to "blank canvases" on which God will create something beautiful, Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski offered a warm welcome to the 325 men, women and children who took the next step in their journeys toward full membership in the Catholic Church.

Each year, on the first Sunday of Lent, people seeking initiation into the Catholic Church gather in cathedrals around the world. Having journeyed through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults for months or even years, they begin their final preparation for the reception of the sacraments of initiation with the celebration of the Rite of Election or the Rite of Calling the Candidates to Continuing Conversion.

Here in the diocese, 100 unbaptized persons and 225 others who were already baptized and now seek full initiation, came together in St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral Feb. 29 for one of two prayerful ceremonies ushering in the period of purification and enlightenment. The unbaptized signed the Book of the Elect, while all accepted a joyous reception from the bishop and received the promise of the community’s support and prayers for them.

After welcoming the candidates and elect, the bishop blessed them as they entered a six-week period of prayer and reflection in preparation for their reception of the sacraments at the Easter Vigil. Together with their sponsors, families and RCIA teams they celebrated the call of God to the table of the Lord.

In his homilies, Bishop Bootkoski thanked the men, women and children who came because they heard and followed the Lord’s invitation to discipleship. "It heartens me," said the bishop, "to see so many people seeking meaning in life — seeking a sense of wonder, awe and togetherness — seeking the presence of God." Explaining that Jesus, too, sought out those things and did so through the community and the word, the bishop drew parallels to the lives of those being formed through the RCIA.

"Finding faith and God in the context of the community and becoming acquainted with the Scriptures has been an important part of your RCIA process," he said. "Through that process you have allowed the Lord to enter your heart and to become one with you."

The bishop compared those to be initiated at the Easter Vigil to "blank canvases" and to "blocks of marble" used by the master artist to create something of great beauty.

"Again and again the painter strokes the canvas…," he said. "Your portrait as God sees you is being painted. The artist slowly chips away at a block of marble to create something magnificent. God is asking you to change, to let go, to be the person you are called to be." The bishop explained that just as the act of creating a great work of art is slow and sometimes painful, so is the continual conversion that is asked of Christians.

"All of you have said a big ‘Yes’ to the divine artist," he concluded. "We are proud of you. Thank you for being here. May God bless you as you continue to journey with us." Reflecting on the Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion, he said, "This wonderful occasion each and every year shores up our own faith."

In a reception following the rites, Sho Nakagama credited his wife, Imelda with bringing him to Jesus. Nakagama said he always believed in the Lord and even read the Bible several times before he met his wife, but it was the example of her faith and her involvement in the Catholic Center at Rutgers that was the incentive for him to begin his own true relationship with God.

Nine-year-old Amanda Morales from St. Matthew Parish, Edison, said she first thought about joining the Church while attending a Catholic school and became committed after joining the catechumenate in her parish. She has been encouraged in her journey by her mother, Mary, and is looking forward to receiving the sacraments of initiation.

"I want to be baptized," she said, "because I want to be God’s child. I’m going to get my heart ready by obeying God and by praying."

For Renee DeLuca of St. Ann Parish, Raritan, the catalyst which sparked her interest in becoming a Catholic was her son, Christopher. He will be receiving his First Holy Communion this year and DeLuca said she has been learning and preparing along with him.

Having been initiated herself several years ago in St. Bartholomew Parish, East Brunswick, Vani Ananthan now serves as a sponsor for candidate Raven Hill, who was baptized Methodist, but raised Catholic. Many sponsors, such as Dennis O’Brien, gain just as much from the experience as they give. O’Brien, who is sponsor for his son-in-law Scott Williamson of St. Magdalen de Pazzi Parish, Flemington, said his own faith has been enriched and his prayer life enhanced, thanks to his involvement in RCIA. Together, they feel they now have a richer spirituality to offer the newest addition to the family, Williamson’s son, Gavin.

*The attached/referenced article was originally published in The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen, and is protected under U.S. and international copyright law

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