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HARTFORD – More than 220 people from 58 parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Hartford made important commitments to the Catholic faith during a moving ceremony at the Cathedral of St. Joseph on Feb. 26.
Accompanied by sponsors, godparents, family, friends, fellow parishioners and their clergy, some 53 catechumens – students of the faith who are not yet baptized – professed their intentions to be admitted to the sacraments of Christian initiation at their parishes during the Easter Vigil Mass on April 7. At that time, they will receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. The catechumens’ official declaration in this Rite of Election is the ceremonial signing of their names in the Book of the Elect, while their sponsors stand beside them with a hand on their shoulder. Catechumens are then known as the Elect.
In addition, 169 candidates – those baptized in the Catholic or another Christian faith but who have not received confirmation or Eucharist – professed their intentions to receive those sacraments at the Easter vigil Mass. Of these, 104 were baptized Catholics. During a Celebration of the Call to Continuing Education, parish representatives read the names of their candidates and placed in a basket a scroll containing those names.
"This is always a very impressive ceremony, seeing so many different people coming into the Catholic faith from so many different parishes," Msgr. Michael J. Motta, archdiocesan director of the Office of Religious Education (ORE), told the assembled participants. For the benefit of those who might be visiting the cathedral for the first time, he added, "I want you to know that the Cathedral of St. Joseph is your parish as well. It’s the primary parish of the Archdiocese of Hartford, and it’s a very special place."
As the ceremonies got under way, Archbishop Henry J. Mansell said,. "It’s a crystalline day outside. The sun is shining brightly." In his homily a few minutes later, he alluded to the sunlight streaming through the 67-foot-high stained-glass windows designed by Jean Barillet of Paris, and he marveled at how the light illumines the interior – "but not nearly as much as you in your hearts and souls, your vision of the future, illumine our Church and our world."
He thanked the participants for working hard to become full members of the faith, and he added, "You bring special light to the Catholic Church, and special edification [and] inspiration, reminding us all of the beauty of our faith, the beauty of all that we have."
As we draw nearer to Jesus Christ, he said, "We come to the heart of our lives. We come to what makes us tick. We come to an ever deeper community, with a richness in our hearts and souls. We come in the days and weeks of Lent and to our communion with one another and an ever deeper communion with our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ."
Father Robert Turner, parochial vicar at St. Margaret Parish, Madison, accompanied catechumen Hong Zhen Reilly and four other parishioners. Mrs. Reilly said it took her more than 10 years to make the decision to join the faith.
I work in the parish with my husband and I went to church with him," she said. "His whole family is a Catholic family." She saw how devout the family was, and she was aware that two of her aunts were praying for her to become a Catholic. "I always would go to church with the family, and then I thought I should become a member too, so two years ago I started to become a catechumen. I’m so happy."
Father Carlos M. Zapata, parochial vicar at Sacred Heart-Sagrado Corazon Parish in Waterbury, was proud to accompany 30 participants, including 27 candidates and three catechumens. "We have a very good team," he said. "We advertised this with much anticipation. We use a banner. We displayed the banner early in August, and we put a telephone number for those who may need to return to the Catholic Church and to celebrate the sacraments of initiation," he said.
This year’s high number is not unusual for the parish, he said. Last year they had 28 participants, and one year there were 47.
St. Mary Parish in Branford also took up a few pews, with 21 participants, including four teenagers and five children. Sister of the Sacred Heart Carolyn Severino, who has been working with two of the teens, said, "I think [the process] has done them a world of good, because they’re all very excited. I think they’re seeing this as something bigger than just what we’re doing here at St. Mary’s. It has been an exciting experience for them."
Asked what her secret was for attracting so many to the faith, Sister Carolyn said, "You know what? I pray. I pray for them as they go out [of RCIA instruction], and I pray for the new ones coming in."
Father Thomas B. Shepard is proud of the six people who participated through the linked St. Aedan and St. Brendan parishes in New Haven, where he is pastor. He said, "What’s great about this group, I think, is that it represents the diversity of our two parishes. We have two people from Africa; there are Hispanics; there’s Portuguese – a wide variety of people representing our parishes right here. I’m not only proud of them. I can’t wait for the Easter Vigil so we can celebrate together with the community."
Mary Marsan, ORE’s coordinator of RCIA, said the number of total participants had been steadily declining since 2007 but increased by about 20 percent this year over last year. "It’s not the most, but this year there is a greater number of baptized Catholics. There seems to be a heavier emphasis on that," she said.
In fact, the 104 baptized Catholics reaffirming their faith this year is the most since 2008, when there were 108. Last year, there were 62. Ms. Marsan said she was not sure why the number spiked this year but surmised that it could have something to do with Pope Benedict XVI’s call last year to prioritize a missionary movement or "new evangelization."