Catechumen Gabriele Nieves, left, holds the Book of the Elect which she signed during the Rite of Election celebrated in St. Anthony Church, Hamilton. At right is Nieves’ godmother, Maria Ribeiro. Mary Stadnyk photo
Catechumen Gabriele Nieves, left, holds the Book of the Elect which she signed during the Rite of Election celebrated in St. Anthony Church, Hamilton. At right is Nieves’ godmother, Maria Ribeiro. Mary Stadnyk photo
It’s been six years since Christina Cannon first started contemplating entering the Catholic Church, and there is one thing of which she is now certain.

“This is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now,” Cannon, of St. Dominic Parish, Brick, said after the Rite of Election that was held in her parish the first Sunday of Lent.

Cannon was among the 132 adults and young people from throughout the Diocese who marked a milestone in their Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults journey as they participated in the Rite of Election in their respective parishes Feb. 21.

PHOTO GALLERY: RITE OF ELECTION IN ST. DOMINIC CHURCH, BRICK

PHOTO GALLERY: RITE OF ELECTION IN ST. ANTHONY CHURCH, HAMILTON

The Rite is traditionally a diocesan event celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., in which catechumens declare their intention to become fully initiated in the Catholic Church with the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil. After the catechumens formally declare their wish to enter into the Church, they are referred to as “the elect.”

Because of pandemic restrictions this year, the Bishop delegated that the Rite of Election be celebrated at the parish level.

Neither the change in plans nor the pandemic dampened the spirit of RCIA students, said Deacon Ed Buecker, parish RCIA coordinator.

“Their faith level remained the same. They were really faith-filled,” he said of the parish’s two catechumens and three candidates – those who have been baptized as Catholics, or in other Christian traditions, but have not yet celebrated the Sacraments of Initiation (Confirmation and Eucharist).

There are 54 non-Catholic candidates and 169 Catholic candidates in the Diocese of Trenton this year.

Pilgrims On A Journey

Cannon recalled how her faith journey began when she first met her husband several years ago during a difficult time in her life. “We used to pray together and that would help me to feel so much peace and calm.”

Sherry Margolies said she felt “honored, privileged and grateful to have been accepted” and now be among the elect. While she said it had always been in her heart to become Catholic, her interest grew after her adult son was baptized Catholic a few years ago.

“He told me about the RCIA,” she said. “They teach you so much and they make you feel so comfortable and wanted.” Once she is baptized, Margolies said she looks forward to becoming closer with God and with fellow parishioners.

Community was at the heart of Gabriele Nieves’ decision to enter into the Church, too.

Nieves, 14, took part in the Rite of Election in St. Anthony Church, part of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton. Her path began when she started attending Mass with her best friend, Melissa Ribeiro. She said she was particularly drawn to the music and singing and hearing about the life of Jesus through the Readings. 

Nieves joined the RCIA in October 2019, but her journey to the Church was interrupted by the pandemic. Still, she continued to learn first in-person and then through a virtual format, she said, noting that topics she found particularly interesting included Confession, the forgiveness of sins and how to pray the Rosary, which has become a favorite devotion. 

Most importantly, she said, “I learned that we are not alone, that God is always with us.”  

Faith Milestone 

In his homily, Msgr. Thomas N. Gervasio, pastor of the Hamilton parish and diocesan vicar general, reflected on how the election of catechumens is cause for great joy.

“Each elect has a story of how the Lord was at work in their lives, inviting them to a life of faith in the Catholic Church,” he said.  Along with elect Nieves, the parish has two baptized candidates who will complete their Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil and another two candidates on Pentecost Sunday, May 23.

“Today, Gabriele and catechumens throughout our Diocese leave the Church not as catechumens but as God’s elect,” Msgr. Gervasio said, adding that elect does not come about by “any casting of ballots but  by God’s own initiative.

“Whatever the story, the Lord says to the elect, ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine. … It was not you who chose me but I who chose you to go and bear fruit that will remain,’” Msgr. Gervasio said, quoting Scripture

Video interviews by freelance photographer Rich Hundley contributed to this story.