HARTFORD – About 250 adults of all ages have reached a milestone along the way to entering into the Roman Catholic Church within the Archdiocese of Hartford.
The 250 catechumens and candidates, representing nearly 50 parishes in the archdiocese, were presented to Archbishop Leonard P. Blair during the combined Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, which was celebrated Feb. 18, the first Sunday of Lent, at the Cathedral of St. Joseph.
Each year, people are presented to the archbishop at the cathedral before taking their final steps to being received into the Catholic Church on Holy Saturday during the Easter Vigil Mass. As members of Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) programs, many have been studying the Catholic Catechism for Adults in preparation for the sacraments of initiation.
“Catechumens” are those who have not been baptized in any faith tradition and are preparing for full initiation into the Catholic Church through the sacraments of baptism, the holy Eucharist and confirmation.
“Candidates” are those who have already been baptized, either into the Catholic faith or into another Christian tradition, but are seeking to complete their initiation into the Catholic Church through the Eucharist and confirmation.
In his homily, Archbishop Blair spoke directly to the catechumens, making the connection between the waters of the great flood in the time of Noah and the waters of baptism that they will receive at the Easter Vigil Mass.
“Baptism is an outward sign,” the archbishop said, but “the outward sign has to be matched by a personal commitment on our part, by a heartfelt desire, by an act of faith, by resolve to do what Jesus requires, what Jesus asks us to do, what Jesus commands. What does Jesus ask? That we repent and believe.”
Those who have been baptized have entered the ark of the righteous, the archbishop said. “But here’s where Lent comes in. We have to remember that we all continue to be human and we all continue to be subject to the human condition. We are all frail and we are all weak.”
“St. Augustine understood this very well, that we are saved and yet we continue to be sinners,” Archbishop Blair said. With the Holy Spirit we have already begun to be like God, but “the old Adam is still within us.”
The pilgrimage of the Christian life, the archbishop said, is to grow ever more like Christ and less like Adam and Eve. “Lent is meant to be a start and a hopeful reminder,” he said, “of the great spiritual battle that rages in the world and in human hearts until the end of time.”
Archbishop Blair also shared Pope Francis’ Lenten message for this year by quoting Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold.” (Mt 24:12) Jesus cautions that amid great trials, false prophets will lead people astray, and the love that is the core of the Gospel will grow cold in the hearts of many.
In our own time, faith and morals are undermined with such ferocity, the archbishop said, that “to be baptized today and be a person of faith requires commitment and it requires courage.”
Quoting Pope Francis, the archbishop noted that the Church offers both “the often bitter medicine of the truth” and “in the Lenten season the soothing remedy of prayer, almsgiving and fasting.”
Prayer shines a bright light on what we’re really like and the truth of what we need to be, the archbishop explained. Almsgiving sets us free from greed and helps us to regard our neighbor as a brother or sister. Finally, fasting revives our desire to obey God, who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger.
Following the homily, Father James A. Shanley, episcopal vicar of the Northern Vicariate and rector of the cathedral, presented the catechumens to the archbishop during the Rite of Election. As their names were called, signifying they were “chosen in Christ,” the catechumens stood and were affirmed by their godparents and the entire assembly. They declared their intention to enter fully into the life of the Church through baptism, were invited to the altar to “enroll” or sign their names in the Book of the Elect and were referred to thereafter as “the elect.”
During the Call to Continuing Conversion, Father Shanley presented the candidates to the archbishop. As their names were called, they stood in the pews and were affirmed by their sponsors and the assembly.
People of all ages participated in the liturgy, including many young adults who were open to sharing their faith journey.
Brandy Pavano, age 25, of St. Paul Parish in Kensington, is a candidate whose next steps are to receive the Eucharist and confirmation at the Easter Vigil. Raised a Lutheran, she was exposed to the Catholic faith through her husband Michael, who is her sponsor.
She considered converting to Catholicism last August, just around the time she experienced problems in her pregnancy. She had reason to believe she might miscarry, but was comforted by the Blessed Mother in a dream, she said, then was told by her doctor the next day that she had a viable pregnancy.
“I was thinking about it before, but that’s what confirmed for me that I was making the right decision,” said Brandy, who expects to deliver her first child April 5, just a few days after the March 31 Easter Vigil.
Her husband Michael added, “I was always understanding of Brandy, whether she converted or not. But now we love sharing our faith together and we go to Mass together. And we look forward to raising our son Daniel as a Catholic, when he comes.”
Licia Spina, 27, of St. Timothy Parish in West Hartford, is also a candidate who is working toward the sacraments of holy Communion and confirmation. She said her father is an atheist and her mother is a Catholic. “They wanted me to formulate my own beliefs,” she explained. “Ultimately, I decided this is the faith I choose. I want to be part of a parish. I’m glad this happened because it forced me to choose.”
Eleanor Lecours is a member of St. Timothy’s RCIA team and is Spina’s sponsor. “Licia is a very deep, reflective young woman who came to us searching for something deeper,” Lecours said, “and when she came to St. Timothy’s, she felt a real sense of welcome. It’s been a privilege to be her sponsor.”
Ricardo Ordomez, 32, of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Meriden, said he was baptized as a child in Peru but wants to receive the Eucharist and make his confirmation. His sponsor could not attend, so an entire row of parishioners from St. Rose sat in the pew behind him as stand-ins for his sponsor.
“I’m here because I want to follow the road to God and be like him, follow his orders, his rules and be a good human being,” he said. “I feel like I need to change my life, do better and grow.”
Nicole Perone, archdiocesan director of adult faith formation, helped coordinate the liturgy and instructed participants in English. Ana Maria Hernandez Alstrum, archdiocesan director of Hispanic catechesis, also coordinated and instructed them in Spanish.
Perone said she is always touched to see people visibly demonstrating their commitment to the faith.
“It gets me every time to see adults choosing the Catholic faith,” she said “because, as a cradle Catholic, you don’t always think about it [this way]. So when you get to see adults here in all different stages of their lives with their families, coming to this point, I think it’s really profound.”