By Lou Baldwin

Special to The CS&T

PHILADELPHIA – Over the weekend of Feb. 28-March 1, the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul was filled, not once, but three times, as Cardinal Justin Rigali presided at the annual Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion for catechumens and candidates from throughout the Archdiocese.

“God has implanted His call deep within your hearts and you have responded ‘yes’ to the marvelous power of God’s love,” Cardinal Rigali told the Saturday evening assembly, comprised of catechumens, candidates, sponsors, godparents, catechists, family and friends from Philadelphia-North and Delaware County vicariates.

“The seeds of God’s work have taken root in your lives, as evidenced in your practice of prayer and service and your desire to learn the teachings of the Catholic faith,” the Cardinal said.

In all, 452 catechumens and 561 candidates from 183 parishes were listed as attending the ceremonies, according to Maryanne Harrington, director of the archdiocesan Office for Formation of the Laity. All were adults and teens who have been attending parish RCIA programs in preparation for their reception of the sacraments either during the Easter Vigil or during the Easter season.

Generally speaking, the catechumens, who were never baptized, will receive the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist and confirmation at their parish at the Easter Vigil. The candidates, who were validly baptized in another Christian denomination, will receive first Eucharist and confirmation at the Easter Vigil. Candidates who were already baptized Catholic will have confirmation conferred on them by Cardinal Rigali in the Cathedral on Pentecost Sunday. Candidates receive the sacrament of reconciliation before the Easter Vigil; it is not necessary for catechumens, because baptism wipes away all prior sins.

This year’s class of catechumens and candidates is larger than last year, according to Harrington, with a noticeable increase in catechumens. “Every year it is exciting, with so many wonderful people coming into the Church,” she said.

Robert May, a candidate from St. Mary Magdalen Parish, Media, credited his sponsor for encouraging him to complete his sacraments and continue his journey as a Catholic.

“It was a powerful ceremony and I’m very, very happy to be here,” he said.

Katie Badie of Our Lady of Fatima, Secane, and a freshman at Archbishop Prendergast High School, said she was nominally raised Catholic, but not officially so, and didn’t really know what the faith was all about until the RCIA program.

Jamie Taylor, a catechumen at Our Lady of Calvary Parish in the Northeast Philadelphia, is part of a team. She and her sister, Melissa, both decided to come into the Church and have attended RCIA together. “It is very interesting. You learn a lot,” she said.

Parishes that had high numbers of catechumens or candidates included Holy Innocents, Visitation B.V.M. and Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Philadelphia; St. Norbert, Paoli; and St. Andrew, Newtown.

At Holy Innocents, a multi-national parish that had 10 catechumens and 18 candidates, the secret is hospitality, said Father Thomas Higgins, the pastor.

“The parish is very welcoming and we’ve been able to extend that welcome to people coming into the Church,” Father Higgins said. “One of the keys to bringing people into the Church is making them feel at home.”

Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, which is almost entirely African-American, had no candidates, but 18 catechumens, compared to eight last year. The pastor, Franciscan Father Paul Kuppe, said most of the catechumens come in through the parish school, where the majority of the students are not Catholic. Many children come to the school completely unchurched. Through participation in the liturgies, the choir and other programs some become interested in joining the Church. “The purpose of the school is, after all, evangelization,” Father Kuppe said.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.