Rite of Election: ‘Looking for truth led me to the Church’

Bishop Barry C. Knestout with one of the catechumens in the Western Vicariate. He celebrated the Rite of Election at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Salem, Feb. 17, 2024. (Photo/Ryan Hunt)

As they were called by name, they rose to stand, one by one.

A man from Blessed Sacrament, Norfolk. A woman from Church of the Ascension, Virginia Beach. A family of four, each called in turn, from St. Jerome, Newport News.

More than 100 catechumens from 31 parishes across the Eastern Vicariate, along with their sponsors, families and friends, gathered Sunday, Feb. 18, at St. Pius X, Norfolk, to celebrate the Rite of Election.

Due the breadth of our diocese, Bishop Barry C. Knestout presides over three celebrations of the Rite of Election – all held over the course of the first weekend of Lent – each year, one in each vicariate, giving all the chance to attend.

This year, the Rite of Election was held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Salem (Western Vicariate), and at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Richmond (Central Vicariate), on Saturday, Feb. 17, before the final gathering of catechumens in Norfolk on Sunday.

“Sometimes we may feel alone,” Bishop Knestout said, addressing the congregation at St. Pius X. “But all we need to do is look around and see that there are so many making this journey with us.”

It took only a glance to confirm it: The pews of the sanctuary were filled from end to end, both with those seeking baptism and with those who have supported the catechumens along the way. At the altar, a line of representatives stood, one from each parish – from Star of the Sea, Virginia Beach, to St. Olaf, Williamsburg. Each held a red leather-bound book, called the Book of the Elect, in which the catechumens had inscribed their names.

“It’s a very beautiful rite,” said Teresa Lee, director of the diocesan Office of Christian Formation. “The catechumens are publicly expressing their desire for baptism, and the community is attesting to their readiness.”

“It’s wonderful to see them all, with their families. It’s very uplifting to see how many people there are who are excited about joining the Church,” she said.

More than 540 catechumens in our diocese hope to receive the sacraments at the Easter Vigil this year. The latest numbers of catechumens are: 189 in the Eastern Vicariate, 132 in the Western Vicariate, and 225 in the Central Vicariate.

“Their dedication, their searches, their joys and struggles, have been a source of inspiration to all who have journeyed with them,” Bishop Knestout said. “We ask God’s continued blessing upon them today.”

Parish leaders in the Central Vicariate hold the Book of the Elect during Rite of Election at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Richmond, Feb. 17, 2024. (Photo/Michael Mickle)

A time of preparation

Since the start of Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) classes in the fall, catechumens and candidates have spent time in study and in prayer, reflecting on their own stories and on how God has called them into a new life, Lee said.

“The Rite of Election marks the time of their final preparation before they receive the sacraments,” she said.

Randall Crum, a parishioner of St. Jerome who was serving as a sponsor and as a godfather at the celebratory rite, said that he himself was a convert 30 years ago.

“I was always raised a Christian,” he said. “But when I was in the military, I was always traveling, and I got away from my faith.”

He was invited to go to Mass with a friend while stationed in Korea, he said.

“When I got out of the military and went to college, I started going to the Newman House. It filled that void,” said Crum.

He and his wife, Lien, have raised four children in the Church, he said. Today, they give back by volunteering with their parish’s RCIA program.

“It’s been a challenge,” he said, “but it’s been a wonderful, joyous experience.”

“Each group brings its own gifts, and its own experiences, and its own expectations,” said Cass Hooker, director of evangelization at St. Pius X.

“We’ve had a younger crowd this year, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know them immensely. It’s fun for myself and my team to see how they grow and change, and how they come together as a group,” she said.

Bishop Barry C. Knestout celebrated the Rite of Election in the Eastern Vicariate at St. Pius X, Norfolk, Feb. 18, 2024. (Photo/Vy Barto)

A faith-filled journey

Koren Karlsen, 35, a catechumen from St. Pius X, said her faith journey began a few years ago, when she decided to move from Richmond to Norfolk.

“After my father passed, I had a lot of troubles, spiritually,” she said. “I was ready for new surroundings, and I have always loved the water.”

Her life took an unexpected turn, she said, when a friend’s grandmother came from Washington, D.C., for a visit last spring.

“She’s Catholic, and she wanted to go to Mass,” Karlsen explained. “So we did a Google search and found that St. Pius X was the closest church.”

Karlsen and a few friends accompanied her friend’s grandmother to the Easter Vigil Mass at St. Pius X on April 8, 2023.

“That was the first time I had ever been to a Catholic church,” she said.

Afterwards, one of her friends asked her if she would consider joining him at an orientation class of RCIA.

She was not sure what she would find, she said, but she felt drawn to attend.

“I started in the fall, and I’ve been coming since,” she said. “Just meeting the people here, and hearing their stories, and being able to ask questions, and experiencing this journey with them – it has been an amazing experience,” she said.

One year after attending her first Mass, Karlsen will be receiving the three Sacraments of Initiation – baptism, first Communion, and confirmation.

“I’m excited about it,” she said. “It’s been a beautiful journey.”

Looking for truth

It was a passion for reading and for science that brought Daniel Williams, 45, a candidate at St. Pius X, to the Catholic Church. In 2022, he, his wife, and their two sons were living in California, when Williams picked up a copy of “The Beginning of Infinity,” by atheist physicist David Deutsch.

“It’s a fascinating book; it’s about photons, and time, and the multiverse, and quantum mechanics,” Williams said.

In the book, the author describes time in the multiverse by evoking an image “of a being that sits above everything and sees all the different paths that reality can take – who can see past, present and future,” Williams explained.

“I put the book down and said, ‘he just described what God is,’” Williams said.

Williams was inspired to see if there were any Christian writers who wrote on similar subjects and found G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis. From there, he discovered St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.

“As I continued to read and explore, I found that the Catholic Church has been thinking about these hard questions about the world, about the nature of God, since the very beginning,” he said.

In June 2023, he and his wife moved to Norfolk to be closer to their parents. During that summer, he told his wife, who was raised Catholic, that he was considering joining the Church.

“She was shocked,” he said, laughing. “She wasn’t aware that I was considering it. She was excited for me.”

He joined RCIA at St. Pius X, and “it was the class – meeting people with similar stories, being able to ask questions, learning with a group – that tipped the scales,” he said.

“If you actually look for the truth, you will wind up at the Catholic Church,” he said. “When I started looking for the truth, I was led to the Catholic Church.”


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