On Sunday we were preparing to welcome some 850 new Catholics to the Church when the weather turned nasty: we canceled the ceremonies, which normally are events of great joy. The sanctuary overflows with the participants, each full of anticipation. They look forward to Easter and being received into full communion at the Easter Vigil.
The Rite of Election marks the beginning of the final, more intense phase of their preparation. Based on the testimony of godparents, sponsors and catechists, the Church “elects” the catechumens and candidates to continue the journey of faith toward full communion. This election by the Church is founded on the election of these individuals by God who acts in and through the Church.
You should rejoice with me that the Church continues to grow! The numbers indicate that our priests and RCIA teams are hard at work: there are 269 new catechumens (those seeking Baptism) and 581 candidates (those already baptized Christian), the largest number since 2004.
While I am sorry that it was not possible to welcome them personally to the fullness of faith, I use The Catholic Review to extend congratulations and a heartfelt welcome. Bishop W. Francis Malooly, western vicar, who would have conducted the ceremonies for the Western Vicariate at the Basilica of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, and Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski, eastern vicar, who was prepared for the same task at St. John Neumann Church in Annapolis, and Bishop Denis J. Madden, urban vicar, who was going to be with me at the Cathedral, join in the greetings.
Congratulations to the new members of our family! With your sponsors and witnesses we continue to pray for you, that God may bless your efforts at prayer and continue to uphold you as you go more deeply into the faith you have embraced.
This expression of the gift of faith is a great reminder also of the gift of religious freedom that we have. Recently, Mr. Seamus Hasson, of Washington, D.C., came for a visit. He has written a most interesting book, “The Right to be Wrong,” about religious freedom. It is a book from which I hope to quote often. After lunch, I guided him to the Basilica, which Pope John Paul II described as, architecturally, the “worldwide symbol of religious freedom.”
Mr. Hasson then joined a number of other pilgrims, some 40,000 so far, who have visited the historic Basilica since it reopened after a two-year restoration in November of last year. The interest of so many can serve as a reminder for us to continue to pray in thanksgiving for these gifts: both of our faith and the freedom to express it openly.
May God bless all of you in your Lenten journey!