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MALDEN -- Nearly 500 people preparing to enter the Church at Easter gathered at Immaculate Conception Parish in Malden March 10 for the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion. These ceremonies were one of the last steps for catechumens, who had never been baptized, and candidates, who are Christian but not Catholic, in their preparation to enter the Catholic Church.
Two celebrations were held to accommodate the 470 catechumens and candidates as well as their godparents, sponsors, and families. The first took place at 1:30 p.m. for the parishes of the Central and Merrimack Regions, and the second was held at 4:30 p.m. for the parishes of the North, West, and South Regions.
"Oftentimes, they come from smaller communities and so to be gathering in a large church with hundreds of other candidates and catechumens helps to show that God is very much at work in the Church," Father Jonathan Gaspar, archdiocesan master of ceremonies, told the Pilot after the first celebration.
Cardinal Seán O'Malley presided over each celebration, which included a Liturgy of the Word. Being the first Sunday of Lent, the gospel reading was St. Luke's account of Christ's temptation in the desert. In his homily, Cardinal O'Malley spoke of how the desert can be a place of not only temptation but also "of encounter with God."
He spoke about the movie "Contact," based on a story by Carl Sagan, about scientists stationed in the desert, where they can more easily see the stars and listen for radio signals. The scientists receive messages with instructions to build a spaceship that would take them to meet intelligent life in outer space. Cardinal O'Malley called this "a wonderful parable about Lent."
"We go to the desert because we can see better when there's not all the glare of city lights. We can hear when there's not all the distraction and the noise, and it's there that God can speak to us in our hearts and tell us how we can travel closer to him," Cardinal O'Malley said.
After delivering his homily, Cardinal O'Malley called the catechumens and their godparents forward for the Rite of Election.
The godparents affirmed the catechumens' readiness to become Catholic, and the catechumens expressed their desire to enter fully into the Church through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist. The cardinal then invited the catechumens to sign their names in the Book of the Elect. When they had done so, Cardinal O'Malley declared the catechumens members of the elect, to be initiated into the Church and participate in the sacraments at the Easter Vigil.
Next, the cardinal called the candidates to come forward with their sponsors for the Call to Continuing Conversion. He asked the sponsors whether the candidates had come to a deeper appreciation of their baptism, reflected on the tradition of the Church, and "advanced in a life of love and service." On hearing the sponsors' affirmation, the cardinal recognized the candidates' desire to be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and invited them to share the "spirit of repentance" in Lent, which leads to "the joys of the Easter mysteries."
Grace Agolia, a theology student at Boston College, leads the RCIA program at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Mission Church) in Roxbury, which this year had three catechumens and seven candidates.
"To see the amount of catechumens and candidates from all over the Archdiocese of Boston is simply breathtaking because you realize what a truly global and catholic church we are," Agolia said.
One of the candidates Agolia accompanied was Randy Birch, a Lutheran whose wife is Catholic. He said getting involved with the RCIA was "life-changing."
One of the catechumens from Mission Church was Ahmed Salem, who has a Muslim background. He came to the United States from Egypt, where, he said, he saw churches explode "on (a) weekly basis," yet Christians continued to meet.
"The model of love and peace they showed was amazing for me. So I was curious," Salem said.