The Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion was celebrated March 6 at St. Joseph Cathedral in Burlington with 40 persons in attendance who are seeking full communion with the Catholic Church at Easter.

Traditionally celebrated on the First Sunday of Lent each year, the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion is a ritual of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults where those who are preparing to receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist (catechumens) are “elected” by the Church – or approved to complete their final spiritual preparations for those sacraments. Those who are already baptized in another Christian denomination and wish to be received into full communion of the Catholic Church and receive Eucharist or confirmation at Easter are also encouraged by the bishop to complete their preparations and continue on the journey of conversion.

As chief shepherd of the Diocese of Burlington, Bishop Christopher Coyne has the responsibility of overseeing the sacramental life of the local Church in Vermont – including the Sacraments of Initiation. Because he can’t physically be at every baptism in the state, he appoints others (pastors of parishes) to ordinarily assist him with this responsibility, but the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion is another way he carries out this responsibility, by meeting “ritually” with those adults who are preparing to receive the Sacraments of Initiation at Easter.

Forty people participated in the Rite of Election at St. Joseph Cathedral, the most in the seven years since the bishop has led the statewide Diocese. On Easter Sunday evening Bishop Coyne will be at Norwich University to welcome four young men and women into the Church while also confirming three more cadets. These seven young people were unable to participate in the Rite of Election.

The 40 catechumens and candidates who gathered with family, friends and sponsors for the Rite of Election at the cathedral is only a small number of those in Vermont who are entering the Church at this time. “It is reminder to me of the enduring call of the faith of the Church to people who are seeking meaning and hope in their lives and the offer of eternal salvation in Jesus Christ. Times and circumstance may change, but the Church endures through the ages,” Bishop Coyne said.

According to information parishes provided to Josh Perry, director of the Office of Worship for the Diocese of Burlington, there are 58 people involved in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults process throughout the Diocese this year (16 catechumens and 42 candidates).

“Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, we would see between 40 and 50 people involved in the RCIA process at parishes each year,” he said. “In 2021, as we were still in the midst of the pandemic and were coming off an uptick of cases from the winter months, we cancelled the Rite of Election at the Cathedral and the bishop allowed pastors to celebrate the Rite of Election because of the circumstances.” Thus, the Office of Worship didn’t have an accurate count.

The number this year is slightly more than the norm, and Perry suggested Covid had something to do with that. “People are yearning for connection with others and for meaning in the midst of all this uncertainty, physical distancing and quarantines/isolation,” he said. “Our parish communities provide both that connection and meaning. At the end of the day, though, one’s journey to the Catholic faith is prompted by the work of the Holy Spirit in each person’s life. God calls us first, and the Holy Spirit helps move each one of us respond and work toward conversion.”

In 2020, 18 catechumens and candidates attended the Rite of Election; in 2019 there were 22.

The Office of Worship made an intentional push this year to get people to come to the Rite of Election, sending parishes registration forms and an RCIA survey. In addition, Administrative Assistant Nicole Hamilton reached out individually via email or phone to each parish that had not responded to the survey or sent in a registration form.

“The RCIA process is a hidden gem in the Church, and one of my goals in the Office of Worship in the near future is to inspire the re-introduction of the RCIA in places where it has been dormant for some time,” Perry said.

The Catholic Church in the United States will be undergoing some revisions to the RCIA process in the coming years, as the ritual book containing the RCIA rituals and the national guidelines on the catechumenate process are revised and updated, Perry explained. “This will be a natural time for parishes to look again at their RCIA program in their own communities and get their community involved in refreshing or re-igniting the energy around the topic of bringing adults into the Church through the Sacraments of Initiation. The Office of Worship will be providing opportunities for such formation, and I hope clergy, catechists, and parishioners take the time to learn more about the RCIA and the Church’s process for accompanying those who are seeking entrance into the Church of God. We all have a role to play in bringing others to God.”

Having nearly 60 people involved in the RCIA around the Diocese this year is a blessing, Perry enthused, noting catechumens and candidates are from every part of the state.

“I always say having an active RCIA process in a parish – even if it’s one or two people per year – is of great benefit not only to the people being initiated, but to the entire community,” he said. “Our communities see new people coming to the Catholic Church through the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist – and the RCIA invites them to be a part of the initiation process, so it can increase the excitement and enthusiasm as they witness that new life in the parish. The RCIA helps us reclaim the joy and enthusiasm of being missionary disciples.”