Ceremonies marking the celebration of the Rite of Election and the Continuing Call to Conversion were held in three locations across South Carolina recently.
More than 100 people searching for a spiritual home in the Upstate found the welcome mat out and the door open at St. Mary’s Church in Greenville Feb. 28, and the parish quickly filled its pews for the Saturday Rite of Election.
“This is the first time our church has been filled (for this ceremony),” Deacon Frank Farina said as he looked out over the packed church.
Father Chet Moczydlowski, dean of the Piedmont Deanery who presided over the rite because Bishop David B. Thompson was ill, told the 169 candidates and catechumens that no matter where they travel, they will always be part of a church family.
“You’re joining the Catholic Church,” he said. “The one, universal church. That is home. You will be welcome there as a matter of family no matter where you go. We are a worldwide communion.”
Father Chet also described the rich heritage and 2,000 years of tradition that the candidates and catechumens are coming into.
“You give us reason for renewing our faith,” he said. “You remind us of that which has been entrusted to us with our own baptism.”
He continued, “We look upon you with the same kind of pride as parents looking at their babies…. You give us reason for being.”
Then the catechumens came forward with their godparents to sign the Book of the Elect. After that, the candidates stepped up to the baptismal font with their sponsors to bless themselves and reaffirm their commitment to Christ.
“It was a beautiful ceremony,” said Candidate Gina Acosta. “I was surprised there were so many people here. It made me feel special.”
Candidate Lenka Spencer also was touched. “It showed the unity of the church,” she said.
That is important to Spencer, who grew up in the Czech Republic, “where you were punished if you went to church.”
Candidate Joan Spencer added, “It makes me feel like I’m a part of something bigger,” she said. “It’s a worldwide church. It crosses many boundaries.”
Father Chet said the gathering for the Rite of Election is especially significant to candidates and catechumens in the small parishes. “They feel like ‘Hey, I’m not the only one. There’s hundreds of us.'”
He called the Rite of Christian Initiation “one of the most energizing programs that we have. It’s almost like giving birth.”
Later that afternoon, Msgr. Leigh Lehocky, dean of the Midlands Deanery and pastor of St. Peter Church in Columbia, presided over the rite at his parish for an additional 220-plus candidates and catechumens.
The following day, on March 1, Msgr. Christopher Lathem, pastor of St. John the Beloved Church in Summerville and dean of the Coastal Deanery, presided over the Rite of Election ceremony at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, also due to Bishop Thompson’s illness.
In his homily, Msgr. Lathem told a standing room only that “an election has been held, and you all are winners. You have found a place where you belong, the community of the Church. We congratulate you and rejoice.”
He said that the candidates and catechumens bring precious gifts, such as new energy, new life, new understanding and new perspectives, while “veterans” bring wisdom and tradition.
“If we join together, with the gifts that you bring and the gifts that we offer, I promise you that we will let the light of Christ shine, and others will come embracing this way to follow Jesus.”