Hundreds prepare for baptism with Rite of Election

BOSTON -- The start of Leon's journey to being baptized in the Catholic Church began with an unexpected confession.

An international student at Boston College from China, Leon visited St. Ignatius Parish and saw that confessions were being offered. He had never confessed before, and decided to try it, though he did not really know what he was doing.

The confessor, Father Paul McNellis, gave him a blessing and invited him to visit later. He did so, and learned that Father McNellis was a Vietnam War veteran who knew much about China and Southeast Asia. Leon talked a lot with him and later became a student in his classes, and through his mentorship he decided to join the Catholic Church.

Fellow Boston College student Elliana, a sophomore originally from Arizona, transferred to BC because she was seeking a more Catholic community. Although her family are not practicing Catholics, she had attended a Catholic high school, and she got to know the Church through her then-boyfriend's family.

"I really loved the community of it, and I decided I wanted to look more into it and get more involved, and I did, and I decided I wanted to convert," she said.

Part of the group of catechumens from Boston College and St. Ignatius Parish in Chestnut Hill, Leon and Elliana were among the more than 300 future Catholics who gathered with Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Feb. 26 for the Rite of Election.

Taking place on the first Sunday of Lent, the Rite of Election is one of the last steps of preparation for catechumens to enter the Catholic Church. They will be baptized, receive their first Communion, and be confirmed at the Easter vigil.

The catechumens from parishes across the archdiocese gathered for the bilingual Rite of Election, which began with a Liturgy of the Word. The readings were from the first Sunday of Lent, including the story of the fall in Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew's account of Jesus being tempted by the devil.

In his homily, Cardinal O'Malley described Lent as a "baptismal retreat" accompanying Jesus during his 40 days fasting in the desert.

"It's a time for us to look at our spiritual GPS and to recalibrate if we are straying from the path, to turn back to God and to deepen our own conversion," the cardinal said.

He said that the Genesis story is not really about stealing fruit but about "that human desire to put ourselves ahead of God."

"Discipleship is about striving to trust and obey our loving God rather than putting ourselves first," Cardinal O'Malley said.

He emphasized the importance of prayer and community, which together lead to holiness.

"Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not a solo flight. It's being part of a community," he said.

He called the Rite of Election "an important moment for all of us."

"It reminds us that the Lord is calling us. He has chosen us for a life of discipleship together. May this Lent help all of us to embrace our full identity as Jesus' disciples in the Church, to live joyfully and courageously follow the Lord in faith, hope, and love," the cardinal said.

"Welcome aboard," the cardinal said, concluding his homily.

The catechumens were called by name to come forward with their catechists and godparents. The catechists carried their Books of the Elect, containing the names of the catechumens in their respective communities.

When they were assembled before the altar, Cardinal O'Malley posed questions to those present. The godparents vouched that the catechumens were ready to become Catholic. The assembly promised to support the testimony about the catechumens and include them in prayer. Finally, the catechumens affirmed their desire to enter fully into the Church through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and reception of the Eucharist.

Cardinal O'Malley then declared the catechumens members of the elect, to be initiated into the Church and participate in the sacraments at the Easter Vigil.

Speaking after the Mass, Elliana said she was not expecting so many people to have their names called for the Rite of Election. She contrasted it with how "You hear a lot about how the community is dwindling, there's not as many people."

"It was really awesome to see this many people coming into the Catholic Church, let alone just here to support (us)," she said.