Public Testimony -- Placing their 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. Jeff Bruno photos
Public Testimony -- Placing their 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. Jeff Bruno photos

By Rose O’Connor | Correspondent

“What a great joy it is for me to be here with you today,” Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., said as he greeted the 180 catechumens from all four counties of the Diocese who gathered in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, Feb. 14, the First Sunday of Lent, for the Rite of Election.

To see photo gallery on this story, click here.
To read Bishop O'Connell's homily, click here.

The catechumens were joined by their godparents, sponsors and families as they filled the Diocese’s mother church.

The Rite of Election marks a milestone in the faith journey for those men, women and teenagers participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, or the RCIA.  At the Rite of Election, the catechumens publicly announce their intention to become a fully initiated member of the Catholic Church and will receive the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist) in their parishes at the Easter Vigil on March 26.

“You are now the ‘elect’ and this is your ‘election,’” Bishop O’Connell said in his homily. “That is who you are and why you are here and that is the reason you have brought godparents and sponsors with you. Together, we are the Catholic Church -- the community of the Catholic faith --- in its present and future reality.”

Bishop O’Connell continued, “You are a Christian who has chosen and has been chosen to remain in Jesus Christ, like branches on a vine, and that name and identity will be enable you ‘to bear fruit’ as Scripture says. You believe that without him ‘you can do nothing.’ In this your Father, your Creator ‘is glorified’ as you ‘become my disciples.’ As good and wonderful as your life has been up to now, your new name and new life in Christ, signal that his ‘joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.’ Catechumens, members of the elect, choose now to remain in his love, signified by your rebirth.” 

Bishop O’Connell reflected upon the Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent, where Luke details how Jesus enters the desert and encounters Satan. Jesus, who spends the 40 days and 40 nights fasting and in prayer, proves to be victorious over the temptation of evil.

“My sisters and brothers, we enter the desert of Lent like Jesus, led by the Holy Spirit, to face our devils, our temptations head on.  But we are not alone.  We go with Christ and with his Church and we do so during this special Year of Mercy.  Seeking God’s mercy and love, we move through the desert to Calvary and to the empty tomb of Easter.  What a beautiful journey it is.  And how blessed are you who make it.”

Following the homily, Stephen Bulvanoski, the coordinator of RCIA for the Diocese of Trenton, 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.  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.”

The catechumens, now referred to as the elect, attested to the beautiful journey and shared their feelings of joy and anticipation.

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 read the name aloud and another parishioner presented the Book of the Elect, which included the catechumens' inscribed names.

Following the ceremony, the elect enjoyed sharing stories on their journeys of faith.

Laciana Tinsley and her mother, Vitoria Moreland, visited many different Christian denominations before finally feeling at home in the Catholic Church in St. Katharine Drexel Parish, Burlington.

“[Becoming Catholic] kept tugging at my heart and at my daughter’s heart,” Moreland shared. “This is where we want to give our lives over to Christ.”

Tinsley and Moreland’s sponsor, Libby Villari, commended the mother and daughter on their commitment to the RCIA. “They are very hungry to know the truth about God and about Christ and his Church.”

Deborah Scuottio, who hails from St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Farmingdale, was raised Jewish but felt drawn to the Catholic faith as she and her husband participated in Pre-Cana in preparation for the Sacrament of Marriage.

Like Moreland and Tinsley, she spoke to the encouragement and assistance provided by the parish community.

“It’s amazing the support I have,” she stated of her parish RCIA team. “Everybody is there for me and any questions I have, they are always willing to lend an ear.”

Bruce Evans from St. Pius X Parish, Forked River, also addressed the role of the godparents and sponsors. “You feel the support everywhere you go, as soon as I leave my church in Forked River, I know I am not alone out there.  The love and support is great.”

While the elect prepare for the reception of the Sacraments with their parish family, they also share the significance of these milestones with their own families.

“My daughter is in the second grade and she is preparing for Communion,” Jason Dailey from St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, Hamilton, explained. “It’s really special for us as a family.”

The Rite of Election is also very special to Bishop O’Connell, as he reflected on the significance of the celebration.

To look out and see the cathedral practically filled, he said, “I don’t think it gets any better than that.”

“To see every seat taken in the cathedral and to know that the entire diocese represented here in one gathering, nothing like this happens any other time in the year.”

The elect will finish their preparation with their parish teams and will be in full communion with the Church at the Easter Vigil.

“This is becoming real to me, this is real,” Moreland acknowledged as she looks forward to the Easter Vigil and receiving the Sacraments.

“I can’t wait and I look forward to see that God is going to do with my life,” she said with emotion. “I’m just so excited for the future.”