By Arlene Edmonds
Special to The CS&T
PHILADELPHIA – Gerda Diaz and Felix Gonzalez are engaged to be married and want to start their new life on the right foot. Bette Jo Rose assists those interested in the Catholic faith to learn more about it. Maria Thomas entered the Church a year ago and is looking forward to her two adolescent daughters doing the same this Easter Sunday.
These are just some of the stories of those who were present for the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion liturgies held at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul Feb. 20-21.
Nearly 900 adults participated in the celebrations. While Saturday’s liturgy was for those in the Philadelphia-South Vicariate and Chester County, Sunday’s liturgies were for those from the Philadelphia-North Vicariate as well as those from Montgomery, Bucks and Delaware counties.
Cardinal Justin Rigali received and blessed 487 candidates (those baptized but seeking the sacraments of Eucharist, confirmation or penance) and 408 catechumens (those never baptized). They will become full members of the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil Mass in their parishes on Saturday, April 3.
For Diaz and Gonzalez, who attend St. Peter Church in West Brandywine, Sunday’s ritual to publicly show their intention to enter the Catholic Church was an important turning point.
“It is time for me to do this,” Diaz said. “I have always been raised around the Catholic Church, and it’s a beautiful faith. I know why my family is Catholic. I would never think of joining any other faith. I like that it is a Eucharistic community because the Mass draws you closer to God and closer to the (faith) community.”
Diaz’s fiancée agreed. He said that as a father of three children he wanted to set a good example for them, and he hoped that his faith journey would inspire them to join the Church eventually. “I just feel happy and blessed to be taking this step, and I think that it will help my marriage if my fiancée and I join the Church together,” Gonzalez said.
Rose, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Assumption in Strafford, said that Sunday marked the first time she would serve as a presenter for two who were joining the Church. She works closely with her husband John, who is a deacon at her parish. She is involved in RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) and many other activities in her parish.
“I am so excited that Sarah and Kevin are coming into the Church,” said Rose, who lives in Villanova. “It is so special to share this special moment with them. My husband and I just love being involved in the life of the Church. As we share our faith, we also learn from those who come into the Church. We are sometimes challenged to grow because we may have to look up the answer to their questions. So, they come in with a curiosity and as we answer their questions we are also strengthened in our faith.”
Thomas was at Sunday’s Rite of Election as a substitute presenter for a fellow parishioner at St. Francis de Sales in West Philadelphia who was ill. She said that this was a double blessing since her daughters, ages 16 and 18, were also coming into the Church Sunday. Her youngest daughter is a catechumen while her eldest was a candidate for penance, she said.
“The Catholic faith has always (resonated) with me,” Thomas said. “I grew up in West Philadelphia around a lot of Catholics, and I would go to Mass. Sometimes I went to Mass more than my Catholic friends did. My family didn’t go to any church, so I often went to Mass by myself as a child. Then when I attended Catholic school I learned more about the faith. I drifted from it for a while. I am just happy that now I am now a Catholic, and I am so happy my daughters want the faith.”
Arlene Edmonds is a freelance writer and St. Raymond of Penafort parishioner. She may be reached at ArleneEdmonds@aol.com.