‘I felt the hand of God touch my shoulder’
BAY RIDGE — Janette Alvarado was praying one day when a wonderful sensation suddenly came over her.
“I felt the hand of God touch my shoulder,” she recalled. The moment not only filled her heart with hope. It also marked a turning point in her life.
Alvarado, a native of Mexico, decided at that moment that God was calling her to become a Catholic.
She was one of the hundreds of people who came to St. Patrick’s Church, Bay Ridge on Sunday, March 6, to take part in the Rite of Election — a prayer service in which those who are enrolled in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) in the Diocese of Brooklyn took an important step on their journeys toward becoming full members of the Catholic Church.
“I feel good, very excited about today,” said Alvarado, who goes to church at Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Red Hook.
Technically, the Rite of Election marks the church’s election, or choice, of catechumens who are now judged to be fit and ready to take part in the final and all-important step — receiving the sacrament of baptism. The ceremony signals that they are no longer considered catechumen and are now elected.
Another Rite of Election service took place Sunday evening at Immaculate Conception Church in Jamaica Estates.
The elect will receive the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil in their home parishes on Holy Saturday, April 16.
The Rite of Election service also signifies that the Bishop has accepted them. A highlight of the prayer service came when a book containing all of the names of the catechumens, the Book of the Elects, was presented to Bishop Robert Brennan.
“Am I ever glad you’re here! Bishop Brennan told the congregation. The influx of newcomers replenishes the church, he said. “The world is so much stronger with new members of the Catholic Church,” he added.
There are two categories of people who take part in RCIA: catechumens and candidates.
Catechumens have never been baptized into any Christian faith and wish to join the Catholic faith and receive the sacraments of baptism, holy Communion, and confirmation. Candidates have been baptized into the Catholic Church or were baptized into other Christian faiths but never received the sacraments of Holy Communion and Confirmation and are now seeking a full life in the Catholic Church.
Like catechumens, candidates will also receive their sacraments at the upcoming Easter Vigil. While catechumens took part in the Rite of Election, a second, separate ceremony, called the Call to Continuing Conversion, is held for candidates.
Father Joseph Gibino, vicar for evangelization and catechesis for the diocese, said the catechumens and candidates have been hard at work. “It has involved various stages that led them to this moment. Those stages have included listening and that encounter with Christ that we hope will now take full root in their hearts,” he said.
Each participant had a personal story to tell about the journey of faith.
Luis Ayala was not raised in the church, but his parents sent him to Catholic schools when he was young because they felt it provided a safer environment for students. He is a graduate of Christ the King High School in Queens. “I’m familiar with all of the rules of the church, he said.
Still, being so close to the church and not being able to partake in the sacraments made him feel excluded.
Ayala thought about it for a few years and then made his decision to join the church. “I felt the time was right,” he said. He will be baptized at Saints Peter and Paul Church in Williamsburg.
Djane Bien-Aime, a candidate who goes to Mass at St. Jerome Church in East Flatbush, came to observe the Rite of Election. She grew up as a non-Catholic in Haiti aware that it is a predominantly Catholic nation.
“I waited for this time for very long — the meeting between me and God,” she said, adding that becoming Catholic “is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
THE PATRON SAINT OF CONVERTS: JOHN HENRY NEWMAN
Cardinal John Henry Newman is the Patron Saint of Catholic Converts, as he himself left the Church of England to become a Catholic priest and a cardinal later in life. Cardinal Newman was born in 1801 and died in 1890. Newman’s beatification was proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI on Sept. 19, 2010, during his visit to the United Kingdom.
His canonization was officially approved by Pope Francis on Feb. 12, 2019. Cardinal Newman tried to move the Anglican church to become more in line with its Catholic roots through the Oxford Movement but came to believe later in life that the Roman Catholic Church was where his faith lay and converted over in 1845.