About 500 people preparing to be welcomed into the Catholic Church at Easter gathered at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on March 10 for the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, celebrated by Washington Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville. That group was about one-half of the 1,073 people in the Archdiocese of Washington who are preparing to become full members of the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil. The remaining half will attend the March 17 Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, also held at the basilica.

The Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion serves as the closing ceremony for the Period of Catechumenate for those participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), in which the participants declare their intent to enter the Church at Easter. During the celebration, the names of each of the catechumens and candidates who intend to enter the Church at Easter are recorded in the “book of the elect.”

As she welcomed everyone to the basilica for the liturgy, Jem Sullivan, the Secretary for Education in the Archdiocese of Washington, said, “We rejoice with our brothers and sisters who are responding to the call of Jesus Christ to live a new life of faith and holiness.”

Representatives from parishes across the Archdiocese of Washington process into the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for the March 10 Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion. (CS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann)

During the Rite of Election, godparents accompanied catechumens, or non-baptized people, to the front of the basilica. There, the godparents placed their hands on the catechumens’ shoulders and affirmed that they are prepared to enter the Church at Easter. The catechumens stated their desire to enter fully into the life of the Church, and Bishop Dorsonville declared them to be members of the “elect,” whom God has called to enter the Church.

During the Call to Continuing Conversion, sponsors accompanied candidates, who are already baptized Christians preparing to be received into full Communion with the Catholic Church, to the front of the basilica and placed their hands on their shoulders as they declared their readiness to be confirmed and receive the Eucharist. Afterward, the congregation applauded as a sign of welcome and support to those who will be entering the Church.

Bishop Dorsonville, who was joined by Washington Auxiliary Bishops Michael Fisher and Roy Campbell, Jr., called the liturgy “a moving expression of faith” and said, “Anyone privileged to witness this Lenten ritual will find their faith deepened as they watch.”

Candidates and catechumens gathered behind the National Shrine's altar to declare their intent to enter the Catholic Church at Easter. (CS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann)

During a difficult year for the Church, Bishop Dorsonville said those who “chose to respond to God’s immeasurable generosity and call of grace  become eloquent reminders to the rest of us of the blessings that come with persevering in faith.”

Bishop Dorsonville emphasized the importance of the celebration of the Eucharist, which the catechumens and candidates are preparing to participate in for the first time at Easter.

“The celebration of the Eucharist is the first and most important center and ground of our spiritual life,” he said. “… We follow the person of Jesus Christ.”

Another important element of entering the Catholic Church is joining a parish, which serves as a “little base community of faith,” Bishop Dorsonville said. He noted that the catechumens and candidates were not attending the Rite of Election on their own, but instead were surrounded by people who are supporting them, such as godparents and family members.

“That is what the Church is about: community,” he said. At the conclusion of the liturgy, he encouraged sponsors and godparents to continue accompanying the catechumens and candidates as they attend Mass and become a part of their parish.

“This is a beautiful beginning, but every single Sunday, the Lord will be waiting for you,” he said.

That sense of community is what attracted Michael Garrett, a young adult entering the Church at St. Peter’s Parish in Washington, D.C., to the Catholic Church. He grew up Protestant and said he had, “always been a person who prays and has a relationship with Jesus Christ, but I wanted to do this with others.”

Garrett’s wife is Catholic, and he made a last minute decision to enter RCIA after driving by St. Peter’s and seeing a sign inviting people to participate. He said his grandpa had converted to Catholicism when he was about 75 years old, but Garrett “didn’t want to wait that long to share in this with [his wife].”

“Within the first [RCIA] class, I felt very at home,” he said, noting all of the young and passionate people he has met at St. Peter’s. Even in a year of difficulty for the Church, “it didn’t affect me at all,” he said, because “the Church is made up of humans.”

“I felt so drawn to this,” he said, describing himself “like a snowball in an avalanche” since beginning the RCIA process. “I am so excited to be a part of it. There is no scandal that will pull me away.”

Bishop Dorsonville greets a woman who is preparing to enter the Church at Easter. (CS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann)

For Gina Greenwood, who will be entering the Church at St. Mary of the Mills Parish in Laurel, Maryland, her baptism is not the only exciting event happening this spring, as her first child is due at the end of March. In addition to the fact that she had always felt a sense of peace when she attended Mass with her husband, she said her baby is a part of the reason why she decided to enter the Church this year.

“We were really praying for a baby, and the fact that we were blessed with this baby made me want to give back to God and that relationship with God,” she said.

Tim Lelian, who is preparing to enter the Church at St. Nicholas Parish in Laurel, Maryland, said he used to jump from one Protestant church to another while his wife and children attended a Catholic parish.

“I never got quite the satisfaction that I needed,” he said. “…I felt like it was dividing our family somehow.”

Because he wanted to attend the same Church as his wife and family, and he felt there was no other Church that had as good of a reputation as the Catholic Church, he decided it was time to join.

“I’ve met people along the way who are Catholics who have encouraged me through their deeds to me, who have made me have a very positive view of the Church,” he said, also noting that in Kenya, where he is originally from, the Catholic Church has “a very good reputation.”

“The Catholic Church is associated with a lot of good deeds,” he said, noting that it sponsors charities, schools and hospitals there. “It has always drawn me to be a member. But this year, I said, ‘Let me take the final step and join.’”

Leilian described the Rite of Election as “an overwhelming experience.”

“I thought it was just going to be a small event, but being here, witnessing the entire congregation, the bishop, it’s an honor,” he said. “I feel myself, I am obligated as a new member to follow the traditions of this great Church.”