Sunday, February 10, 2008

"Election" Day

Primaries and caucuses might be dominating the news-cycle, but in this first weekend of Lent, candidates of a different sort are taking the church's center stage... and not just in the States, either.

Across the globe, the annual journey of adults seeking reception into the Catholic fold enters its home stretch on this First Sunday with the traditional Rites of Election. Held in every diocese the world over -- whether in the cathedral or a larger parish church -- the local bishop personally welcomes each of the catechumens (those to be baptized) and candidates (those already baptized yet awaiting confirmation/first Eucharist) who will receive the sacraments at the Easter Vigil.

Given the number of those to be received, each accompanied by their godparent/sponsors, most local churches hold the rites several times over, and in some places they either spill over beyond this weekend or other clerics (auxiliary bishops, regional vicars or deans) are called upon to preside at regional celebrations of the rite.

The US church invariably welcomes "tens of thousands" of adults each Easter, with the figures invariably reporting over 150,000 completing the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) annually in recent years. In the archdiocese of Los Angeles alone, last year saw 1,300 catechumens and almost 1,500 candidates, and in Stateside Catholicism's new boomtowns of the South and West, parish RCIA intakes frequently number more than 30, with some bringing in yearly groups of 70 or more.

(It's worth reminding, too, that in the cycles after the US' abuse storm began in 2002, a significant number of journalists who'd been assigned to report on the crisis in various locales ended up converting.)

As another batch of "new blood" prepares to complete the long, meaningful, and oft-difficult journey to full communion, credit needs to be given where it's due. Numbers and energy of this sort don't just appear out of thin air, and more than any other force, this weekend's events owe their vigor and hope to the commitment, enthusiasm and hard work that, by the thousands, sees directors of religious education and volunteer catechists devoting long hours, great skill and loads of heart to their classes and their communities at large.

As with most of the church's best, the degree and quality of their investment is largely hidden from the pews (and, usually, even further from the front-pages). Especially on this day, though, here's hoping they get the thanks and appreciation they've well-earned... no less than 150,000 times over.

PHOTO: Diocese of Portsmouth (1); St James Cathedral, Seattle (2)