By Dan McWilliams
Bishop Richard F. Stika greeted more than 100 newcomers to the Catholic Church on Feb. 13 in the Rite of Election ceremony for the Chattanooga and Five Rivers deaneries held at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
“A total of 244 catechumens and candidates from all four deaneries will be coming into the Church at this year’s Easter Vigil,” said Sister Timothea Elliott, RSM, director of the diocesan Office of Christian Formation.
Sixteen Chattanooga and Five Rivers parishes took part in the Feb. 13 Rite of Election. A second Rite of Election on Feb. 14, for the Cumberland Mountain and Smoky Mountain deaneries, was canceled because of anticipated bad weather.
At the beginning of the Feb. 13 ceremony, the bishop called the event one of his favorite in the diocese.
“I enjoy this a whole lot,” he said. “You see people from around the diocese, people who want to become Catholic, and those who want to be baptized, so it’s just joyful.
“The day is a special one, and not only for the bishop,” he said.
“I think it should be for the whole Church, the Catholic Church in East Tennessee,” Bishop Stika said. “People see something attractive by us as Catholics and as Christians, and they want to join us.”
The event’s full name is the Rite of Election of Catechumens and the Call to Continuing Conversion of Candidates. Catechumens who have never been baptized will receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil. Candidates who have been baptized will be confirmed and receive the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil.
At the Rite of Election, Sister Timothea presented the catechumens to Bishop Stika and said that “they ask that … they be allowed to participate in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist.”
RCIA leaders from deanery parishes introduced their catechumens, and the bishop asked godparents whether the catechumens had listened and responded to the Word “proclaimed by the Church” and “shared the company of their Christian sisters and brothers and joined with them in prayer.”
The catechumens then pledged “to enter fully into the life of the Church” through the three sacraments of initiation.
Each RCIA leader brought forward his or her parish’s Book of the Elect for Bishop Stika to sign, afterward the bishop greeted the catechumens and godparents.
Sister Timothea then presented to the bishop “the candidates who seek to complete their Christian initiation.”
Several of the newcomers spoke following the Rite of Election about their decision to join the Catholic Church.
“I’ve been working on it a long time,” said Matthew Sanders, a candidate from St. Patrick Parish in Morristown. “[The ceremony] really meant a lot to me, because it felt like the next step in my journey. It really emphasized to me that I was going in the right direction.”
Tony Thomas, a candidate from St. Bridget in Dayton, called the Rite of Election “very special.”
“It filled a void I’ve been searching for my entire life,” he said. “I was born and raised in the [Baptist] church, but Catholicism just seemed to be exactly what I’d been called to by God, so today was very, very special for me. I converted to Catholicism, and this is very important. I feel like this is what God called me to do and where I need to be.”
Michael Land, a candidate from Holy Spirit in Soddy-Daisy, has been considering joining the Catholic Church for decades.
“I’ve been coming to the Catholic Church for 36 years and just now joining, so it means a lot,” he said.
Jada Haden, a catechumen from Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Chattanooga, said she has been thinking of joining the Church for almost six years.
“It was a blessing, for sure, a long time coming,” she said of the Rite of Election.