Called to conversion brings families to Christ

LEXINGTON — For the Sakaras of Hopkins, this year’s Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion ceremony for the Midlands Deanery was definitely a family affair.

The Sakara siblings — Alyssa, 11, Jessica, 13, and Corey, 19 — all took part in the annual ritual at Corpus Christi Church in Lexington on Feb. 28.

They joined 556 other people who took part in ceremonies around the Diocese of Charleston, according to figures compiled by the diocesan Office for Evangelization, Catechesis and Christian Initiation, directed by Sts. Cyril and Methodius Sister Pam Smith.

Sister Pam estimated that a total of 575 people will come into the church this Easter, as some did not attend the rite of election. This will be the highest number they have had in 10 years, when they recorded about 475 entrants, she said.

The Piedmont deanery held its service at Prince of Peace Church in Taylors on Feb. 27. Three services were held March 1: the Coastal deanery at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charles ton; Lowcountry deanery at St. Francis by the Sea Church on Hilton Head Island; and Pee Dee deanery at St. Michael Church in Garden City.

Rite of Election ceremonies for catechumens and candidates traditionally take place on the first Sunday of Lent. During the celebration, both groups declare their intent to enter the Roman Catholic Church and come into the church at Easter Vigil services.

Catechumens will celebrate all three of the church’s sacraments of initiation: baptism, Holy Communion and confirmation.

Candidates have already been baptized in another Christian tradition and will experience the rite of reception into full communion with the Catholic Church.

Alyssa and her siblings are all catechumens. Their mother, Debra Sakara, has attended RCIA classes and will make her confirmation in May. The family attends St. Joseph Church in Columbia.

“The ceremony was very special. It’s great that we can all do this together,” Mrs. Sakara said.

“I thought the ceremony was really nice, especially the music,” Alyssa said. “I’ve been going to church every Sunday since last year, and I’ve been feeling like I’m really getting closer to Christ. Every time I go, I understand more. I’m really looking forward to the ceremony at Easter.”

Franciscan Father Paul M. Williams, pastor of St. Martin de Porres Church in Columbia, celebrated the Rite of Election at Corpus Christi.

During his homily, Father Williams said Lent holds special meaning as a season of preparation not only for the candidates and catechumens, but for all Catholics.

“As John the Baptist would say, this is a time to make crooked ways straight,” he said. “We are called to take this season seriously so we may be properly prepared to celebrate the awesome event of Easter.”

Father Williams said people entering the church at Easter will face spiritual challenges afterward. He compared their experience to attending an uplifting spiritual retreat and then returning to normal life when it was over. Their challenge, he said, is to maintain the enthusiasm for their Catholic faith that led them to fully enter the church.

“The Easter vigil for many of you will be the pinnacle, but then you’re going to have to come down off the pinnacle,” he said. “My advice to you is to be a person of prayer. Satan is going to want to take your joy away from you, but root yourself in prayer and God will give you strength to complete the journey. God gives us grace and it empowers us to be that light shining in the midst of darkness.”

Father Williams said it is necessary for Catholics to spend as much time listening for God’s word as they do talking directly to God in prayer.

“Without prayer, we can do nothing.  We can’t have an intimate relationship with God,” he said. “We have to be able to listen, and through listening in time of crisis you will somehow be able to say words to comfort those in sorrow. Somehow in crises you will hear the voice of the Lord, for nothing is impossible with God. Be silent and still, and let God speak to you.”

Jonathan Fletcher of Columbia said the Rite of Election was special for him because he was able to share it with his sister, Penny Hyder of Aiken.

They are both candidates who have been attending RCIA classes, but this is the only part of the process they have experienced together, he said. Jonathan attends St. Joseph Church.

“To be able to go through that service together is something that was priceless for both of us,” he said. “The Rite of Election is just one more step closer to full communion with the Catholic Church. As part of the whole, it is precious and thrilling … the building of stone upon stone leading to the Easter Vigil is nothing short of glorious.”