Sheer  Joy -- Placing thier hand on the shoulder of their respective catechumen, sponsors give witness to Bishop O'Connell, publicly stating that their catechumen is ready to receive the Sacraments of Initiation. Joe Moore photos
Sheer  Joy -- Placing thier hand on the shoulder of their respective catechumen, sponsors give witness to Bishop O'Connell, publicly stating that their catechumen is ready to receive the Sacraments of Initiation. Joe Moore photos

By Rose O’Connor | Correspondent

For Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., it was a “great thrill” for him to see a filled St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, the afternoon of March 5, the First Sunday of Lent and welcome the 196 catechumens who gathered with their godparents, sponsors and family members for the Rite of Election.

“It is a sign of hope for our Church,” the Bishop said.

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The Rite of Election marks a milestone in the faith journeys of the catechumens, those men, women and teenagers, who are participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults processes in their parishes, and is the occasion when the catechumens publicly declare their intention before the Bishop to become a fully initiated member of the Catholic Church.  The catechumens will receive the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist) at the Easter Vigil on April 15.

“You are in final stages and final phases of your journey for full entry and full union with the Church,” said Bishop O’Connell.  “It’s a sign of great unity to come here from all parts of the diocese to be part of this process, the Rite of Election, and as your Bishop, I welcome you.”

In his homily, Bishop O’Connell referenced William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet then posed the question, “What’s in a name?”

“The name that we focus on in the Rite of Election is that of Catholic Christian,” he stated as he spoke to the enormous gravity one’s name holds.

“Names are important, significant. Names carry with them a depth of meaning, of purpose, of identity,” he said.

“My sisters and brothers, to be a Christian, to bear that name to become a Catholic and to be known by that name, means something.  It means something special to you our catechumens; it means something to your godparents, and to your sponsors. It means something to the community of faith who surround you now, the community of faith that is in your parish, when that community of faith looks at you and offers you the witness of their lives, that lends you their support and their prayers as you take on this new name, Catholic.  The name of Catholic Christian is what you have come to believe in, your faith. What you are called to be in this world, and, therefore, how you plan to live out the rest of your lives. God says to you in this Rite of Election, I have called you by name.  You are mine.”

“My sisters and brothers, your name, Christian, your identity, Catholic, and with all the baptized in the Church draw from the person of Jesus Christ,” Bishop O’Connell said. “You are Christians who have chosen and who have been chosen to, from this day forward, to remain in Jesus Christ and in his Church.  So catechumens, members of the elect, as your Bishop, I invite you to remain in Christ’s love.  Seek him by the name you have chosen, the Catholic Christian.  So what’s in a name?  The time has come for you to tell, for you to show the whole world what it means.”

Following the homily, the Rite of Election ceremony continued with Stephen Bulvanoski, the diocesan coordinator of the Rite of Christian Initiation, presenting the catechumens to Bishop O’Connell.

“Most Reverend Bishop, Easter is drawing near, so the Catechumens, whom I now present to you, are completing their period of preparation.  They have found their strength in God’s grace and support our community’s prayer and example.  Now they ask that after the celebration of the Scrutinies, they be allowed to participate in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist.”

Bishop O’Connell then addressed the godparents and the assembly, where they affirmed that the catechumens are sufficiently prepared to be enrolled among the elect.

After the catechumens formally declared their wish to enter fully into the life of the Church through the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, their names were enrolled; as a member of the parish RCIA team read the names aloud, another team member presented the Book of the elect, which included the catechumens' inscribed names. The Book of the Elect was signed by the catechumens earlier in the day during parish Rite of Sending ceremonies.

Among the elect who was willing to share his thoughts on why he wanted to become Catholic, Tarkan Ardic from St. Catherine Parish, Middletown, said, “I came to Church one Sunday and fell in love with it and wanted to stay.”

Ardic, who originally hails from Turkey, told of how his three children, whom he is raising by himself, have all been baptized Catholic.

Along with Ardic, St. Catherine RCIA director Jackie Callahan praised all catechumens who are seeking entrance into the Catholic faith.

“It is a privilege to be here and it’s a privilege to live a life of faith in Christ,” said Callahan. “God gives us life and he gives it to us through the Church. [The catechumens have] chosen to take this faith journey.  They know this journey will lead to the Promised Land.”

The catechumens from St. Dominic Parish, Brick, commented on how fulfilling their parish R.C.I.A. experience has been and they are grateful that they have been able to share their journeys to the Catholic Church together.

Elect Sandra Allen noted that she had been raised Jewish but had never practiced the faith and that at some point she “decided to learn more about the Catholic faith.”

“I’ve met a lot of great people,” Allen said.

Fellow elect Holly Ann Lees said she is raising her three children in the Catholic faith and decided that for herself it “was the right time” to pursue her own faith journey.”

Elect Caitlin O’Neil told of how she grew up in a Catholic family, but was never baptized.  After meeting her fiancé, a New Jersey native, at Johnson and Wales University, Rhode Island, she moved to New Jersey and started attending his Catholic parish. “I feel like it was the right time.”

Elect Jacqueline Kessler found her R.C.I.A. experience to be “amazing and eye opening.”

“I’ve made friends and couldn’t have asked for a better group to go through this journey with,” she said.

Deacon Ed Buecker, who oversees the R.C.I.A. in St. Dominic Parish, attested to the special relationship that has formed among the elect.

“These folks are extremely spiritual and are a great inspiration for the daily Catholic and the Catholic that sit in the pews.  They are a great example because of their great spiritual nature and how the Holy Spirit has really entered their lives.”

Allan Denbo from Sacred Heart Parish, Mount Holly, credits the Holy Spirit for leading him to the Catholic faith.

“The Holy Spirit has worked miracles in my life.  The Holy Spirit drew me into the process,” he said, then shared how he looked forward to “receiving the Body and Blood of Christ at the Easter Vigil.”

Marge McGinley, R.C.I.A. coordinator in Sacred Heart Parish, spoke of how proud she is of this year’s 11 R.C.I.A. catechumens prays that her group “has found peace” with their place in the Catholic Christian faith community.

“I feel at home in a Catholic Church, this is the place for me” Shirley Wen, a catechumen from St. David the King Parish, West Windsor, simply said.

Fellow catechumen David Sodbinow, who was raised Buddhist, regards his desire to become Catholic as “a calling.”

“I’m thankful that it has happened and I’m committed on this journey to eternal life,” said Sodbinow.

St. David the King Parish RCIA director Nanci Bachman feels fortunate to be a part of the process.

“It’s really a blessing to journey with them-to see their faith grow, to see my faith grow and continue to grow.  As they ask questions, it reminds me how many blessings we have in the Catholic Church. I really love being part of this process. To see their joy, how they support each other, it’s really a blessing to see this.”

The catechumens will now travel back to their home parishes and finish their final preparations before becoming fully initiated members of the Catholic Christian Church at the Easter Vigil on April 15.