SOUTH END -- More than 540 people preparing to enter the Church this Easter gathered at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross with family and supporters on the First Sunday of Lent, Feb. 17, for the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion.
Catechumens -- those who have never been baptized -- participated in the Rite of Election and candidates -- those who are Christian but not Catholic -- participated in the Call to Continuing Conversion, at both ceremonies.
Due to a large number of catechumens and candidates joining the Church, the archdiocese held two ceremonies for the different regions, West, North and South regions at 1:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Central and Merrimack regions at 4:00 p.m.
Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley noted in his homily that similar ceremonies happened that day across the United States.
"Today it is a very special joy to welcome our new brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church. In the some 200 cathedrals in the United States, bishops are gathering today with this year's cohort of new Catholics -- adults who have been led by the spirit to join our community of faith," he said.
"There are about 150,000 who will be participating in the Rite of Election, on this the First Sunday of Lent, in the Cathedrals of the United States, so it is a very special day for all of us," he said.
In his homily, Cardinal O'Malley spoke directly to the catechumens and candidates.
"We welcome you and we thank you for responding to the call of grace that leads you to this commitment of discipleship in the Catholic Church," Cardinal O'Malley said.
He celebrated also the Catholic identity catechumens and candidates embraced that day by expressing to intention to join the worldwide community of the Church.
"We are more than one billion Catholics in the world. Don't worry, you are not going to have to learn all the names," he said.
"Catholic means universal, and that attribute certainly describes our Church and betokens God's universal love, which recognizes no boundaries or divisions, but simply one family of faith," he said.
After his homily, the cardinal began the Rite of Election.
First, the cardinal asked the godparents if the catechumens had faithfully listened to the word of God proclaimed by the Church, responded to the word by walking in God's presence, and shared the company of their Christian brothers and sisters while joining them in prayer. The cardinal then asked the catechumens if they wished to enter the life of the Church through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist.
The catechumens entered their names into the Book of the Elect, as the congregation sang "Amazing Grace."
"I now declare you to be members of the elect, to be initiated into the sacred mysteries at the next Easter Vigil," the cardinal told them.
In the Call to Continuing Conversion the cardinal asked if candidates had come to a deeper understanding of their baptism, reflected on the tradition of the Church, and advanced a life of love and service to others.
As the godparents had stood behind the catechumens placing a hand on the shoulder of each, sponsors did the same for the candidates, and responded, "They have."
Speaking to The Pilot afterward, Cardinal O'Malley said the laypeople in the Church should welcome new members of the Church through a focus on teaching the faith through example and Church programs.