A catechumen smiles as her name was called during the ceremony.
A catechumen smiles as her name was called during the ceremony.
At 58, Arvind Baliga considers himself very blessed. He has a loving family, he is in good health and he enjoys his work as a physician.

But when he talks about what’s been missing in his life, he readily admits it’s Jesus.

It was the realization that he wanted to bring Jesus into his life and fully participate in the Mass with his family that led him to join the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, the Catholic Church’s official process for preparing persons to enter the faith.

“I have a hole in my soul,” said Baglia, who is Hindu but has never practiced his faith.

He said he was very willing to marry his wife in the Catholic Church and raise their children in the faith. “That was never a question,” he said, acknowledging that he attends Mass with his family in St. Mary of the Lakes Church, Medford.

PHOTO GALLERY:2022 Rite of Election

But “I didn’t feel complete since I couldn’t receive Holy Communion. I want to fill that hole,” he said, “and be complete.”

Baliga and 162 other men, women and young people from around the four-county Diocese took the next step in their journey to becoming Catholic when they gathered March 6 with Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, for the Rite of Election. 

At the Rite of Election, the catechumens, supported by their sponsors, godparents, family members and parish ministers, declared their intention to become fully initiated “Catholic Christians” when they receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil, which this year is April 16.

Others who will be taking a significant step in their journeys to the Catholic Church are the R.C.I.A. candidates, those who have been baptized as Catholics or in other Christian faiths, but did not have any further religious instruction in the Catholic faith.

This year, the Diocese reports having 77 non-Catholic candidates and 290 Catholic candidates  who are taking part in the Call to Continuing Conversion in their parishes, marking the beginning of a time of intense spiritual preparation leading up to the Easter Vigil when they will receive the Sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist.

‘A Catholic Christian’

In his homily at the Rite of Election, Bishop O’Connell reflected on the importance of a name.

In the Rite of Election, Bishop O’Connell said, “The name we focus upon today is that of Christian, Catholic Christian. The name Christian means ‘follower of Christ.’

“Being a Catholic is how we do that, through the Catholic Church and its teachings, worship, practices, customs and laws,” he said. “Sometimes a name trumps other things. It is important. It is significant. It carries with it a depth of meaning and purpose and identity.”

Bishop O’Connell observed that it is common to hear people say that “religion does not really matter” or refer to themselves as being spiritual but not religious. He said it would not come as a surprise if any of the catechumens had been asked why they are joining the Catholic Church “with all that is going on – with the scandal of abuse that seems so widespread, the doubting of bishops and Church leaders who try to cover it up, with the hatred the people are voicing against the Catholic Church.”

At the same time, the Bishop also said that people who are Catholic are asked why they remain in the Church for those same reasons.

“To be a Christian, to become Catholics and to be known by that name means something to you who are catechumens, something far deeper and far more convincing than the wounds of any scandal or crisis or cover-up,” he said. “You see through all that darkness a light that burns far brighter, a light of faith in the Lord, the grace and hope he gives; the power to overcome sin and turn death into life."

Milestone Moment

In the Rite of Election ceremony, Denise Contino, diocesan director of the Department of Catechesis, presented 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,” she said. “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 asked the godparents and the assembly to affirm that the catechumens are sufficiently prepared to be enrolled among “the elect” (the name given to the catechumens following their participation in the Rite of Election). The catechumens declared their wish to enter fully into the life of the Church, and their names were read aloud as a parish RCIA team member presented each Book of the Elect.  The books had been signed by the catechumens earlier in the day in their local faith communities during Rite of Sending ceremonies.

Journeys of Faith

Melissa and Janixa Colon believe that the special bond they share as sisters and as friends has been further strengthened as they prepare for Baptism in St. Rose of Lima Parish, Freehold.

“It’s been a nice experience to share with Melissa,” Janixa said, noting that while their mother is Catholic, their father is Christian and they have other family members who are Catholic, neither she nor Melissa had ever been baptized. Once they become fully Catholic and receive their Sacraments, the sisters look forward to raising their families in the faith.

Janixa said she is happy to have a better understanding of the Catholic faith through the RCIA, adding that she chose Mary Magdalene as her Confirmation name. Through her research, she was heartened to learn how God forgave her and how he forgives everyone “even when we make not-so-good choices.”

Looking around the Co-Cathedral, Melissa said she was surprised to see so many people “who are like me” in the RCIA.

Born and raised in Turkey prior to arriving in the United States, Umut Eskin is familiar with the customs of the Islamic faith tradition. But during the past two years, the now Hamilton resident has developed a deep interest in Christianity and the Catholic faith. He found a home in St. David the King Parish, Princeton Junction.

For Eskin, what has made the greatest impression was learning more about the “sacrifice that Christ made for all of us by dying on the Cross.”

“That’s really something,” Eskin said. “It’s amazing.”