COLUMBIA—Lori Wheeler of Lake Wylie was almost overcome with emotion as she signed the Book of the Elect at St. Joseph Church on Feb. 20.
Wheeler, a member of All Saints Mission in Lake Wylie, is coming into the church as a catechumen along with her husband, Shane Wheeler, and son, Dustin Wheeler.
The family joined hundreds of others who took part in the annual Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion ceremonies around the Diocese of Charleston Feb. 19-21.
“It’s taken me a lifetime, and now I’m almost there,” Mrs. Wheeler said as she stood beside her sponsor, Toni Elliott, after the ceremony. “I always wanted all of us in the family to come into the church together, and they decided to come with me this year.”
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone celebrated the Rite of Election for the Piedmont deanery at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville on Feb. 19; the Midlands deanery Feb. 20 at St. Joseph Church in Columbia; and the Pee Dee, Coastal and Lowcountry deaneries on Feb. 21 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston.
The Rite of Election is traditionally held each year on or near the first Sunday of Lent. Catechumens and candidates publicly declare their intent to enter the Roman Catholic Church at Easter Vigil services.
At that time, catechumens celebrate baptism, holy Communion and confirmation, the church’s sacraments of initiation. Candidates are people who have already been baptized in another Christian tradition and are received into full communion with the Catholic Church.
Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM, diocesan director of Catechesis and Christian Initiation for Parishes and Schools, said 625 people took part in the ceremonies this year. The Sister of Sts. Cyril and Methodius said this was an increase of 120 catechumens and candidates over 2009, and the number has increased steadily for the past three years.
The rows of the elect and their sponsors stood three deep at St. Joseph, and nearly filled the entire Cathedral sanctuary at the Charleston liturgy.
“Isn’t this a great problem to have?” Bishop Guglielmone asked as he looked over the Cathedral crowd.
Sister Pamela said this year’s increase is partly because of a growing number of Catholics in the diocese.
“People are finding a real attraction to Catholicism right now, because the message of the church is very clear,” she said. “We have the Gospel and also a rich tradition, and there’s also a strong attraction to the celebration of the Eucharist. People are feeling a spiritual void and looking to more than cars and jobs and paychecks for fulfillment.”
She said more people are also coming into the church because of an increased focus on outreach and evangelization.
At the ceremonies, Bishop Guglielmone’s homily centered on Lent and its focus on spiritual reflection, prayer and discipline.
“No one is asking you or me to go off for 40 days by ourselves, but the church is asking us to take this season seriously,” the bishop said. “We need to celebrate what Christ has done for us, and focus on our mission for Christ.”
Bishop Guglielmone said prayer, fasting and almsgiving during Lent are meant to strip away life’s distractions.
“Our task is to discover the will of God for each and every one of us, to live it and fight off temptations,” he said.
He said the season has special meaning for the elect because they are seeking to grow closer to God by joining the church.
“You are saying yes, I want this sacramental life so together we may all continue to walk the Lord’s way, and create His kingdom on Earth,” he said. “That’s the Father’s will, but it only happens if we walk in His way together. The people of the Diocese are praying for you this season, and we’re coming together to express our affirmation for those who want to be fully part of our community.”
Mr. Wheeler said he was touched by the Midlands rite and inspired by the bishop’s homily.
“It feels very good to be doing this together with my family,” he said. “It’s very fulfilling.”
Tony Longobardo of Johnston, who is the director of religious education for St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Edgefield, attended the Columbia celebration with two candidates from the parish.
“This ceremony is so important because the people are recognized by the bishop, and they’re given encouragement to make the next 40 days as fruitful as possible,” he said. “It’s an important step in the process of living, sharing and giving themselves up fully to the experience of being a Catholic.”
Lisa Bland, a candidate from Edgefield, said she was moved by the rite.
“I was looking and felt like I was missing something in my life, and learning about the Catholic Church has been so fulfilling,” Bland said. “I feel a real sense of peace.”
Kim Deschaine, also a candidate from Edgefield, said the Rite of Election is an important step after many years of searching and study.
“I feel closer to God than ever now,” she said.