It was exactly a year ago when 24-year-old Caroline Ward attended Mass for the first time with her Catholic boyfriend.
She described herself as a church hopper, but said she was a religious person on her own.
“I grew up Methodist and then tried some non-denominational churches, but nothing ever stuck or felt right. I always felt like something was missing.”
After attending Mass a few times, she said something just clicked.
“This was where I was supposed to end up,” she explained. “I truly feel like God led me to my boyfriend who showed me the church. It was the best feeling and I am so appreciative of the journey and feel so much peace now. This is what I was searching for.”
Ward was one of 415 people in South Carolina to take part in the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, which was held during the first week of Lent and celebrated in four different locations within the diocese. The 2021 ceremonies took place at St. Mary Magdalene in Simpsonville, Corpus Christi in Lexington, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, and St. Michael in Murrells Inlet.
The Diocese of Charleston announced that 115 catechumens and 300 candidates are seeking entry into the Church this Easter.
During the rite, catechumens, those not previously baptized in a Christian faith, publicly state before the bishop their intent to join the Church. Their names are recorded in a book and they become the “elect” for the remainder of Lent.
Catechumens receive the sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. Candidates, those who have already been baptized, receive the sacraments of Eucharist and Confirmation and enter into full communion with the Church.
Michael Martocchio, director of the diocesan Office of Catechesis and Christian Initiation, said the number of people entering the Church is about average; there wasn’t a sharp decrease in people seeking to become Catholic despite the pandemic.
“It is down from last year, but not by much and it is more than we had in 2019. So this shows a normal trend for the most part. I think it shows that the Gospel has not stopped due to the pandemic. It is a testimony that people are adapting to these challenging times,” he said.
Martocchio praised this current group for persevering with their faith-based goals even though things looked different this year.
“The in-person contact was limited so the experience was not the same,” he said. “So much of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program is about forming bonds with people in the parishes and that was challenging, but I am proud of the churches for finding ways to make this a success despite the limitations.”
The Rite of Election ceremony looked a little different as well this year. Martocchio explained that everyone maintained six feet of separation and the Cathedral ceremony was split into two groups at two different times. Everyone wore masks and there was plenty of hand sanitizer available.
Martocchio even swapped out clean pens for used pens as people signed the elect book. He said that only candidates, catechumens and sponsors were allowed to attend in person.
As for Ward, the aspect she is most excited about in becoming Catholic is receiving the Eucharist.
“What I love about the faith is that everything is focused on God. Mass is quiet, personal and intentional. There is something so beautiful to me about Catholicism.”
Ward will also be baptized Catholic. “This was something I’ve always known I wanted to do but it never felt right or like I was ready. I am so glad I waited until I found the Church and now I feel more ready than ever to fully commit. I am excited to attend Mass, get involved in my church, and have a community to help me grow in my faith.”
Ward will be a parishioner of the Church of the Nativity on James Island.