Rite of Election brings thousands of Catholics-to-be together for prayer and blessings.

Their desire to join the Catholic Church may have been inspired by a relationship with a particular person, or a group, or the search for a meaningful relationship with God. 

They are the Elect, those men, women and youth who will receive their sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil. Last weekend, approximately 1,500 of them from parishes in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles participated in Rites of Election, celebrated at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and in the Santa Barbara Region.

This year’s group represents a very “typical” number, according to St. Joseph of Carondelet Sister Roseanne Belpedio, director of the archdiocesan Office for Worship. “They are studying to receive not just one, but three sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation,” she says. “They will be fully initiated into the church at that point.”

Celebrated by Archbishop José Gomez, along with Cardinal Roger Mahony  and auxiliary bishops, the two afternoon multicultural celebrations at the Cathedral featured songs, readings and prayers (in English, Spanish and Chinese) followed by all the Elect and their sponsors making way towards the altar for presentation and a blessing. The sanctuary was filled to capacity; only friends and family members remained in the pews.

“As you can see, we are a big family,” said Archbishop Gomez with a laugh to the crowd that surrounded him on the altar.

“Today was just an amazing day not just for me, but my fiancé and his family,” said Casie Varner from Holy Name of Mary Church in San Dimas. Raised in a Protestant church, Varner checked out the RCIA process because her husband-to-be, Michael DeSalvio, had been raised Catholic. “I went to one RCIA meeting and instantly felt welcomed and I knew this was the place for me,” said Varner. 

With DeSalvio as her sponsor, she feels that this experience “has brought our relationship closer. We talk about what we studied at class with each other afterward. We are learning more about each other because of it.”

For DeSalvio, walking with his fiancé is giving him the opportunity to explore his faith more deeply. “I look at the sacraments in a different light now that I am older,” he said. “I’m very interested in reading the Bible and I see how to apply [those lessons] to my life.”

Seeing faith in others is inspirational, especially when it’s the faith of a child. “I was raised Pentecostal and as I got older, I didn’t feel connected to that faith,” said Pam Paterson of St. Bernadine of Siena, Woodland Hills. But when she sent her son Garrett to the preschool at St. Bernardine’s, she saw how the community lived their faith. 

“It just felt right, the right place to be,” she said. With Garrett in first grade, Paterson is proud to be coming into a church that will soon welcome her son at his first Communion next year. “I feel that both of us are on the same path but at different ages,” she said.

Joining the church can be a family affair, as witnessed in the case of the Reed family of Santa Clarita.

When son Elijah was 14 years old, he was “having some problems and asked if we could go to an Irish church,” explained dad John. Not raised Catholic but of Irish descent, the family (including mom Mindy and daughter Savanna) went into the nearest church they could find: St. Clare Church in Santa Clarita. 

Not knowing where to go or what to do --- and with the service just about to start --- the family floundered in the vestibule before Msgr. Ed Renehan, pastor emeritus, came to their aid. “Here was this wonderful welcoming man with a thick Irish accent taking time to chat with us,” he said. “That sold us immediately.”

As it happened the next RCIA session was scheduled the next week, and the whole Reed clan immediately signed up. John and Mindy say they are learning just as much from their kids (Elijah is at Alemany High School) as they are during the weekly meetings. “They help teach us which is amazing for a parent,” said John. “Doing this as a family is a wonderful experience that I never thought would ever happen in my life.”

Still, for others, God’s quiet voice comes to them in a very intimate fashion. A recovering alcoholic for more than 25 years, Dawn Kelly had a tradition of doing a 10-day silent retreat at Holy Spirit Center in Encino. She was introduced to the center when she attended a women’s’ AA weekend years ago and had made centering prayer a part of her life.

During a retreat two years ago, she felt a great desire to be a part of a church community. So she “did some research” and attended various churches in the neighborhood. “A lot of them were very nice communities but they didn’t speak to me as much as the Catholic Church did,” she said of St. Bernadine of Siena where she is now in the initiation process. 

“I’m really looking forward to what the future brings,” she said. “And I’m glad that my church community will be a part of that with me.”

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