Cardinal Wuerl welcomes catechumens during the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion March 5 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The liturgy was the first of two during which 1,118 people from 95 parishes and four university campuses will be welcomed into the church. (CS PHOTOS BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN)
Cardinal Wuerl welcomes catechumens during the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion March 5 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The liturgy was the first of two during which 1,118 people from 95 parishes and four university campuses will be welcomed into the church. (CS PHOTOS BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN)

As she stood in front of the crowded Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on March 5 to declare her intent to enter the Catholic Church at Easter, Amanda Parsh was on the verge of tears.

“That’s when it actually hit me,” she said.

Formerly a member of the Pentecostal Church, Parsh, who is preparing to enter the Church at Our Lady, Star of the Sea Parish in Solomons, became interested in Catholicism when a friend offered to pray a rosary with her before an appointment that she had been worried about. After the prayer, her anxiety was suddenly gone, and she felt calm and peaceful.

Parsh is one of the 1,118 people in the Archdiocese of Washington from 95 parishes and four universities who are preparing to enter the Church at Easter, about one-half of whom were presented to Cardinal Donald Wuerl during the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion on March 5. On March 12, a second ceremony will be held at the basilica for the others preparing to enter the Church.

In his homily, Cardinal Wuerl said seeing so many people preparing to enter the Church is, “one of the most powerful and inspiring manifestations of the Holy Spirit alive and at work in our community.”

“Your call to conversion is a visible sign that women and men, young and old, from all walks of life are continuing to hear and respond to our Lord’s invitation,” he said.

Each person preparing to receive the sacraments at Easter had different experiences that brought them there that day, perhaps through encouragement of a family member, friend, spouse or coworker, Cardinal Wuerl said. But the reason why they are all there is the same: they have been touched by the Holy Spirit, he said.

The cardinal said the rite, in which sponsors or godparents place their hands on the shoulders of those preparing to be received into the Church during the Easter Vigil, is “a visible sign of what you can’t see.”

To illustrate the reality of the ceremony and the sacraments that would follow, he pointed out the black cover on the ceiling of the basilica, which hides eight floors of scaffolding being used by artisans to complete the installation of mosaics on the Trinity Dome. Just as “you can’t see what is beyond” the black cover, Cardinal Wuerl said, they could not see beyond the outward signs that represent the reality of the Holy Spirit touching them on that day.

“I ask you to see in these signs something very beautiful…the work of God’s Holy Spirit touching your heart,” he said.

During the Rite of Election, the catechumens preparing for Baptism, Confirmation and Communion, were accompanied by their godparents to the front of the basilica, so they could both affirm the catechumens’ readiness to receive the sacraments at Easter.

“Since you have already heard the call of Christ, you must now respond to that publicly in front of the Church,” Cardinal Wuerl said, before declaring them members of the Elect.

In the following Call to Continuing Conversion, already baptized candidates preparing to be received into full Communion with the Catholic Church through the sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist were accompanied by their sponsors to similarly declare their intent to share fully in the sacramental life of the Church.

“God is always faithful to those He calls,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “…It is now your turn to be faithful to him in return.”

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Cardinal Wuerl reminded the candidates that they are not making this journey toward Easter alone.

“Take a look around this basilica and remember all these brothers and sisters who are making this journey with you,” he said.

Gloria Lenss, who is sponsoring her husband Viestus, said she and her husband appreciated that “we all have one place to come to have a shared experience” before going back to their individual parish – St. Stephen Martyr in Washington.

Viesturs Lenss said he also enjoyed how the ceremony included several different languages, since as a child in the Lutheran Church he received all of his religious education in Latvian. Lenss said he decided to become Catholic because “it really is time to bring everyone back together in one Church.”

Nestor Ndounga, who is originally from Cameroon, is preparing to be baptized at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington. He said before entering RICA, “I was completely lost.”

“This learning has changed my life a lot,” he said. While he used to place a lot of value in material things, his RCIA classes have taught him that all people are equal, regardless of being “rich or poor, black or white.” Now, he said, “I can’t wait to receive the sacrament.”