Stuffed to overflowing, the sanctuary of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels offered a powerful symbol to the Elect, their sponsors and initiation directors who filled it for two Rites of Election March 9.

“I kept also thinking,” said Alec Caligagan of Blessed Junípero Serra Church in Camarillo, “how collectively we can all make such an important difference in our lives and in the lives of others. It was a very powerful moment.”

More than 1,500 adults and youth from the archdiocese gathered for the two liturgies celebrated on the first Sunday of Lent, which marked their transition from the catechumenate into the Elect. They will now participate in the final period of preparation — including the Scrutinies on the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent — before receiving sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil.

Sunday’s two ceremonies were powerful reminders about “God’s call of each person to follow Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Gomez told those assembled. “We have to know who we are and what God wants of us, and what it means to be successful. We can overcome temptations. Jesus showed us how, because he suffered.

“We have to trust in God, too, for God saves sinners. We have all the means to follow Jesus. It is what it means to be successful. And the catechumenate is a beautiful adventure.”

Adventure well describes Alec Caligagan’s journey, which includes 21 years of military service. He met his wife 14 years ago and soon their three children were born, one of whom died. While Alec has always been able to talk with God, “it was always with anger” after the loss of his child.

But with the help of his wife, Alec has begun to accept and to let go of the control he had over his life. “Without her I wouldn’t be here and she kept pushing me in the right direction,” he said. “Now life is better. I have found an acceptance and great joy in trying to place my faith and love in God’s hands.”

The initiation process, he said, “has reinforced what I feel I have wanted to be part of. That transformation has made my whole life better, finding that love is there, not trying to figure things out, and just accept. Every single minute I thank the Lord and I am in a place where I think one person can make such a difference. With faith, things are just better.”

Yong Vu, a second-year graduate student working toward her doctorate in chemical engineering, had often heard that religion and science were not compatible. She learned otherwise when she enrolled at Cal Tech in Pasadena and met her roommate and sponsor, Monique Gougeon — “a very religious person.”

Hoping to improve her English, Yong also attended church services. There, learning of the wonders of creation and its great beauty helped her to see another perspective, especially as she and her roommate talked. She found herself also wanting to attend Bible study and Mass.

Last summer she joined the RCIA at St. Philip the Apostle with Notre Dame Sister Teresita Keliher, RCIA director. “I feel now that God is with me in all I am going through,” said Yong. “It is so nice to have God backing me up in life.”

Also coming from another tradition, Milton Garb was born and raised Jewish. But it was the influence of his wife Sandy that has made a huge difference. “Our favorite prayer,” smiled Milton, “is ‘mea culpa.’”

He has been deeply affected by the fulfillment and enjoyment that Sandy and her parents, “cradle Catholics,” have found in their faith.

One morning not long ago Milton woke up early and just sat thinking as Sandy came in. He told her that he felt drained and needed to be fulfilled. The couple went to the parish office at St. Denis, Diamond Bar, and met with Father Francisco Ho Seok Jin; he in turn put him in contact with Angie Perez, RCIA director. Milton and Sandy read together about the faith so that he could learn more.

And he has not stopped learning. “I am the oldest,” he said, referring to his RCIA group, “and I find a sense of peacefulness in it. At 69 years of age I feel the warmth in this and am at peace. I am the richest person in the world, and even more over the last 15 months of RCIA.”

Penance makes him feel even better. “I am excited about confession, about Communion, he said, noting he chose John Paul II “to be my saint.” And he credits his wife and life-experiences in making a difference in his life.

“Sandy is a perfect role model,” says Milton, “and I am just happy to become a good Catholic.”