Approximately 1,440 catechumens representing 167 parishes from all five pastoral regions were welcomed Feb. 17 at the Rite of Election as they began the final stage of their journey toward becoming Catholic.Significantly, the number of new Catholics-to-be is actually up from the last few years, when the total averaged approximately 1,100 new Catholics each year, according to St. Joseph of Carondelet Sister Rosanne Belpedio, director of the archdiocesan Office for Worship.“In light of the present scrutiny we are experiencing in the Church, I think it is a positive testimony to the faithful of our parishes that they have attracted so many people to seek baptism and a commitment to God in the Catholic community,” Sister Belpedio told The Tidings.To accommodate the large numbers, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels again hosted two Rites of Election, while two were held in the Santa Barbara Region. The celebration is always held on the first Sunday of Lent to present those who are preparing to receive the Catholic sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist (through the Rite of Christian Initiation process) at this year’s Easter Vigil.During the standing-room only liturgies at the Cathedral, Auxiliary Bishops Gerald Wilkerson, Bishop Edward Clark, Bishop Alexander Salazar, and Msgr. James Loughnane called forward the catechumens and their sponsors to the sanctuary for presentation, affirmation and enrollment of names. Through the Rite, the catechumens became “members of the elect,” which they will remain until they receive their sacraments and become new Catholics on Easter Sunday.“Just as Jesus was baptized and sent out into the desert, each one of us is baptized and sent out into the wilderness of this world — and we all face triumphs and temptations, just as Jesus did,” said Archbishop José Gomez, who presided at the Cathedral liturgies. “The reality is that life is not easy, especially when we make the commitment to try to be disciples of Jesus Christ in a secular society. [But] with God we can move mountains. With God, we can find the strength to do all things and overcome anything.”For 30-year-old member-elect Tamara Noriega, a parishioner at St. John Vianney in Hacienda Heights, the Rite of Election was a powerful and joyful experience. “It was really inspiring,” said an emotional Noriega through tears following the liturgy at the Cathedral. “I felt really overwhelmed by all the people who were here. It was beautiful.”A single mother of two young children, Noriega was raised in the Catholic Church most of her life, attending Catholic school and Mass, though she was never baptized. But only recently did she feel called to fully commit to her faith. The breakdown of her relationship with her children’s father compelled her to seek solace in the Church.“I used to go to church with my kids’ father a lot, and I kept going even though he stopped, and the more he separated from us the more I was called to church,” explained Noriega. “Lately God has been calling me, and I felt it was time to finally take this step.”The path toward Catholicism has been a family journey for Judy Wu and her parents, Rose and Bill Wu, who will all become new Catholics on Easter Sunday. Formerly Buddhists, they were inspired to explore Catholicism by the strong devotion to the Church displayed by Judy Wu’s brother, Michael Joseph Wu, who became a Carmelite priest less than one year ago. “As a family, we give him all our love and spiritual support,” said Judy Wu of her brother, who is currently an associate pastor at St. Raphael Church in Los Angeles. The family, who emigrated from Taiwan in 1986, said they were moved by the “very solemn and very magnificent” Rite, which further affirmed their joint decision to embrace the faith.“Even though the church is currently in the midst of so much negativity, there were still so many people who came to fill up the Cathedral, still so strong in their faith,” said Wu.One of those people is fellow member-elect Sarah Di Leva, a newlywed and parishioner at Mary Star of the Sea Church in San Pedro. Formerly a Jehovah’s Witness, she left that faith at the age of 14, and spent many years searching for a new spiritual home. Upon meeting her now-husband and sponsor Gino Di Leva, he introduced her to Catholicism by inviting her to Christmas Mass.“Over time I just found myself going to church more and more,” she recalled. “I think you can find fault in any religion, in any person — in anything really. So if people want to question me about my choice, I would say that this is my life and I’m doing what feels right for me.”{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0222/elect/{/gallery}