A sunny spring afternoon reflected the warm and hopeful atmosphere pervading Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral on March 10, as more than 70 Alaskans seeking full communion with the Catholic Church gathered with Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne to celebrate the Call to Continuing Conversion and the rite of election. Adult catechumens, unbaptized children and candidates for full communion took their places in the nearly full church.
The rite, which is customarily celebrated on the First Sunday of Lent, began with a gathering song as the archbishop, and Deacons Gabriel Ruiz and Gustavo Azpilcueta made their way to the sanctuary. Deacon David Van Tuyl of Holy Family Cathedral was master of ceremonies, helping those gathered to follow the intricacies of the annual rite.
A worship guide for the event was prefaced with the following address to the soon-to-be Catholics: “You have been sent from our parish community to be received by Archbishop Paul Etienne. As you walk forward into a new life with Christ within this community, you affirm your earlier promises to know, love and follow Christ. Today your sponsors, godparents, RCIA team, and the community will also affirm your journey as you move into your final preparation period toward the Great Vigil. While this journey is one of conversion of heart and mind for you, it is also a conversion experience for each person and community who accompanies you. After the archbishop declares you ‘elect of God’ you will return to your parishes as disciples ready to say ‘yes’ to all Jesus asks of you.”
The celebrated consisted of 18 adult catechumens (those never baptized), 32 adult candidates (those who have been baptized but not confirmed) and 23 children.
The reading from the Gospel of St. Mark spoke of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness after 40 days of fasting. Alone and hungry, though filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus rebukes the devil. Not satisfied with Jesus’ refusal of his many offerings of power, the devil eventually leaves him, for a time.
Archbishop Etienne, in his homily, welcomed the elect.
“I am grateful that you are listening to the voice of God in your life and doing your best to follow where the Lord is leading,” he said.
Referencing the scriptural account of the Israelites’ journey in the desert, he spoke of God’s faithfulness through our journeys to the Promised Land of God’s kingdom and all its fullness.
“Journeying into the desert is a story of our entire life,” he said. “Lent is really a time for us to attune our hearts, our minds and our ears to God.”
“A lot of stuff can get in the way and distort our ability to hear and to see and to understand, even to love,” he added. But despite human weakness, God is always present with his faithful and with the church, the archbishop affirmed.
“We have our own moments of fidelity and infidelity. We have our clear moments when we know God has answered our prayer,” he said. The goal, he noted, is to attune our hearts and eyes, our entire being to the presence of God, so we can respond with gratitude.
Archbishop Etienne then challenged those assembled to completely surrender their lives to God — to put themselves in God’s hands.
“In each of you and in this church, God will continue to do great things,” he said. “We are glad you’re here.”
The candidates were then publicly presented through a roll call. Following were affirmations by their sponsors attesting to their fitness for full communion with the Catholic Church. The archbishop asked the candidates of their desires to join the church, and they were invited forward to shake his hand.
The liturgy continued with a similar roll call and presentation of the catechumens, those not yet baptized.
Catechists from each parish presented the Book of the Elect, containing the names of the unbaptized who desire baptism at the Easter vigil. The archbishop signed the book, thereby recognizing their desire for full communion with the church and all that this entails.
Both catechumens and the elect will be received into the church at the 8 p.m. Easter vigil on April 20 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral in Anchorage.