Describing the Catholic Church, the Irish novelist James Joyce once said, “Here comes everybody,” and that was reflected in a March 17 liturgy at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, as people of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life filled the largest Catholic church in the United States.

At the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion held on successive Sunday afternoons at the National Shrine, the nearly 1,100 people in the Archdiocese of Washington preparing to become full members of the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil offered “one of the most powerful and inspiring manifestations of the presence of the Holy Spirit alive and at work in the Church,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archdiocese’s apostolic administrator who presided at the March 17 gathering.

As has been the case for many years in the archdiocese, the numbers were so large that one-half of them participated in the first ceremony, with the rest at the second one.

Cardinal Wuerl delivers the homily at the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, held March 17 at the National Shrine. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

In his homily, the cardinal addressed the catechumens preparing for Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist, and he also acknowledged the candidates, already baptized Christians preparing to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church.

“Your presence here,” Cardinal Wuerl said, “is a visible sign, that women and men and children, young and old, still are listening, hearing and responding to the Lord’s invitation, ‘Come follow me.’ Where He (Jesus) is found today is in His Church, in the people of God.”

Pointing out the symbolic nature of the rites, he said, “As you step forward into the sanctuary today, that movement is a visible sign of the movement of the Holy Spirit (in your lives).” And he said that when godparents would place their hands on the shoulders of catechumens, and later when sponsors would do the same for the candidates, “that’s a sign of the Church’s support.”

Noting that the catechumens and candidates had been accompanied by family members, friends and parishioners, including those helping to prepare them for the sacraments, Cardinal Wuerl said, “As you continue on this Lenten journey, you never walk alone.”

Moments later, parish representatives read out the names of each of the catechumens, who stepped forward with their godparents to the sanctuary, where they were greeted personally by the cardinal. After they were presented and affirmed by their godparents and the assembly, the catechumens affirmed their intent to receive the sacraments of initiation, and they were recognized as members of the elect.

Cardinal Wuerl greets catechumens and their godparents during the Rite of Election at the National Shrine. The catechumens were recognized as the elect and at the Easter Vigil will receive the sacraments of initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

In the Call to Continuing Conversion, the candidates were presented and came forward with their sponsors when their parishes’ names were called, and they were affirmed by their sponsors and the assembly and welcomed as candidates for full communion and completion of the sacraments of initiation. Like the catechumens before them, they stood together as a multitude in the sanctuary.

Earlier in his homily, the cardinal had encouraged them as they gathered in the sanctuary, to see not only a large number of people, but to “see the movement of the Holy Spirit guiding you on this great pilgrimage of faith.”

An overhead view of part of the 1,100 people preparing to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church during Easter Vigil Masses at parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Washington. Groups of the catechumens and candidates gathered in the basilica's sanctuary during the March 10 and 17 liturgies.
(CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

Afterward, Sara Blauvelt, the director of catechesis for the Archdiocese of Washington, said she was especially moved by “the sheer scope of people being called by the Holy Spirit, and people willing to accompany them, from all walks of life… (and to see) others stepping up to be with them and to be joyful witnesses.”

The lesson there, she said, is “that God longs for the love of everyone, and He’ll keep calling, waiting for us to answer.”

Before the Mass, as leaders of parish RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) programs prepared to process to the altar, Cathy Ziegler – a pastoral associate at Mount Calvary Parish in Forestville, Maryland – said it was very inspiring “just to see that people are still searching for God in their lives, and they’re coming to the Church.”

Susan Timoney, the associate dean for undergraduate studies in the School of Theolgy and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America who helps teach in the RCIA program at St. Peter Parish on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., noted, “People come to the Lord because of friends, neighbors and family, and the grassroots work of the Church, and this is the proof.”

Describing what it meant to her to see the witness of faith of the crowd of people preparing to become full members of the Catholic Church, Timoney said, “They’re such a sign of hope, particularly in these difficult days for the Church, because people are still encountering Jesus in the Church and choosing to come to the Church. They’ll continue to be part of the renewal. I think the lesson Catholics can learn (is) the Church is where we encounter the Lord most fully.”

Sameer Patel, preparing to be baptized, confirmed and receive the Eucharist with his wife Zeena and their young sons Zayd, Rayn and Raif at the Easter Vigil at the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Maryland, said, “For me and for my family, I think the most attractive aspect to the faith that I have found is that it’s a message of hope.”

Before the liturgy, he had wondered whether his family, which has roots in India, would stick out in the ceremony. Afterward, Patel noted, “It was a very multicultural group of people, coming from various different languages, backgrounds and cultures. That was very heartwarming to me, that it’s a religion of humanity, not a religion of a specific area of the world, and that was beautiful to me.”

In an opening procession at the March 17 Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion at the National Shrine, parish presenters carry the Books of the Elect that contain names of people who will be baptized at their parishes during the upcoming Easter Vigil.
(CS photo/Mihoko Owada)