Split across three different sites in Brooklyn and Queens, more than 600 people shook hands with Brooklyn bishops Feb. 25 as a sign of welcome to the Catholic Church. Stretching from the Flatlands to Douglaston, the candidates seeking to update their union with the Church attended the Rite of Calling the Candidates to Continuing Conversion.
Auxiliary Bishop Witold Mroziewski had comforting words for nearly 200 candidates gathered at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church, Jamaica.
“It is my wish that they will focus their minds on the cross of Christ during this Lenten season,” said Bishop Mroziewski. “It is very important to follow the steps of Christ and to have a hope that the Resurrection gives life, which is eternal for all of us, for the people of faith.
“So those young people and those catechumens, they are hope of our Church in Brooklyn and Queens. I would say to the very vibrant community in Brooklyn and Queens that we are together in one faith and one hope. Our hope is Christ Jesus.”
During his homily, Bishop Mroziewski also expressed how the diocesan Church is filled with joy that the candidates have followed their calling to become full members of the Church. He shared how the diocese will continue to be a part of this new chapter in their lives beyond the Lenten season.
“Our diocese offers many programs to the candidates and the neo-catechumens,” he said. “Also to each person who comes – the door of the Church is open. Christ opens this door and says go into the deep.”
The multi-lingual event reflected the diverse community of candidates that studied the teachings of the Catholic Church as part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program. Candidates are people who have been baptized but have not received their other first sacraments.
Whether they were immigrants or first-generation Americans, their desires to enter the Catholic faith united them on a Sunday afternoon with their sponsors, family members and Church community as a symbol of the new family they would join during the Easter Vigil – the universal Catholic Church.
For young adult Chrissy Milanese, the power in the numbers joining her in the process towards receiving the Eucharist and Confirmation brought her peace of mind.
“The whole experience of being here and kind of going through the year-long RCIA process is exciting,” said the candidate from Divine Mercy parish in Williamsburg. “I was just telling Father (Tom Vassalotti) who came with me. We’re a very small group at Divine Mercy. There’s only about eight of us and we’re all at different phases of the process. Being here and hearing that there’s 600 others that are at the same stage, makes it very real and it’s exciting.”
She said that even though many years have passed since she’s been away from the Catholic Church as young girl that she always had what she referred to as a restlessness or instinct that she was being called. She took the first step in faith and reached out to the Catholic community at the University of Notre Dame Law School.
“Time can go so quickly and it’s so easy to lose track of where you are and your purpose and your intentions,” added Milanese. This has been just a really big blessing for me.”
The candidates have been studying the Catechism and reading Scripture under the instruction of their catechists accompanying them throughout the process. The parish-based support is what catechist Eluise Lingat called the best part of the faith formation journey that she shares with her 16 students at St. Bartholomew, Elmhurst.
“I have a good assistant and the parish supports us which I think is one of the best things about it,” said Lingat. “Our pastor Father Rick (Beuther) is amazing and he’s been there to guide us in whatever we need to do.”
Her student-candidate Dulce Garcia will be receiving Confirmation and the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil. She said her teacher, parents and godparents inspired her confidence to keep learning about the faith.
“They showed me to learn my prayers because God is going to help for the future,” said Garcia. “God is always going to be there for you.”
The afternoon ceremonies were held at three sites, two in Queens – St. Nicholas of Tolentine and the Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston with Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Chappetto, and one in Brooklyn – St. Thomas Aquinas, Flatlands.
Each ceremony consisted of presenting the candidates to the community, having the sponsors and Church confirm that they’re ready to receive the sacraments, and then ending with prayers over the candidates.