First Place Award for General Excellence, Catholic Press Association, 2013-2016

Cardinal Tells Catechumens They Bring Him Great Hope
Chris Sheridan
Francesca Marie Steward, a parishioner of Holy Family in New Rochelle, signs the Book of the Elect at the archdiocesan Rite of Election at St. Patrick’s Cathedral Feb. 18. Ms. Steward’s sponsors, Irma Palomino and Jerry Leiken, join her.

Erisa Behrami was one of the 305 catechumens at this year’s Rite of Election at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

“This is something that means a lot to me,” Ms. Behrami said in an interview after the ceremony, which took place on the first Sunday of Lent, Feb. 18. She was in the group from the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in lower Manhattan.

“I grew up without a religion; sometimes I felt like an outsider...And I love it there (Old Cathedral),” said Ms. Behrami, who was 3 years old when her family emigrated from Albania, where religion has not flourished even after the fall of communism more than a quarter-century ago.

She attended the Rite of Election with her fiancé and sponsor, Christopher Auricchio. Both are 24 years old.

Mark Ciolli, director of RCIA at Old Cathedral, said his main message during the RCIA classes is “that they grow closer to God through Jesus, that Jesus is their Lord and Savior.” Ciolli smiled as Ms. Behrami and her fiancé were interviewed, having served as the young woman’s classroom spiritual guide during her months of preparation.

Catechumen groups from 81 parishes around the archdiocese attended the Rite of Election, along with sponsors, relatives and friends. More than 1,000 people were present for the rite, at which Cardinal Dolan served as principal celebrant.

The catechumens have been preparing to enter the Catholic Church at their parishes on the Easter Vigil. The Rite of Election was conducted in English, Spanish and Chinese. It is held for people who have not been baptized or confirmed, and have not received First Holy Communion—the sacraments of initiation.

As catechumens walked up the center aisle to sign the Book of the Elect, many children in the pews walked into the sanctuary and gathered around the cardinal, at his invitation, much to his delight and that of the youngsters’ families.

At the start of the ceremony, Cardinal Dolan prayed, “Lord, protect all who are about to become your witnesses.” 

“Welcome all of you; this brings me great hope,” the cardinal said later in his homily, speaking of his joy when the Church welcomes new members.

The cardinal noted that despite the adversity the Church has encountered, centuries ago and in recent times, “you have decided to enter the Church...Thanks be to God. You have now become a member of a family we call the Church. And I want to welcome all of you—your godparents, your sponsors, your catechists.”

Cardinal Dolan expressed satisfaction with the presence of many parish priests and nuns in the pews, who were there as a sign of support for the catechumens. He later thanked administrators and staff of the archdiocesan Catechetical Office for organizing the annual event.

He also spoke about his spiritual beginnings at his baptism, near St. Louis, where he was born and raised, when he was 3 weeks old. He said when he meets the Lord, he is certain God will see him as a baptized child, not as a cardinal.

The catechumens were mostly adults, though some were teens, including Jansel Vicioso, 16, of St. Nicholas of Tolentine parish, the Bronx. “It is an important day. I have come to know much more about the Church,” Vicioso, who emigrated from the Dominican Republic four years ago, told CNY.

“I am taking the path of God. I made the decision and I’m here.”

Alberto Cruz, a catechist with the Tolentine group, said, “Within the RCIA program, this is one of the most important days—to come here to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.” Looking around at the other catechumens in the cathedral, he said, “These are all their brothers and sisters.”

Sister Joan Curtin, C.N.D., the director of the archdiocesan Catechetical Office, told CNY after the Rite of Election, “It is a new foundation for their life (catechumens). And for the whole congregation, it was a moment of grace. It’s a real international experience. We prayed in English; we prayed in Spanish; we prayed in Chinese.

“And that’s just a taste of the universality of the Church.”


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