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More than 400 seek to be ‘friends of God’

Catechumens from 59 parishes invited to join the ‘elect’ at annual RCIA rite

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MIAMI | When an operation restored much of her infant son’s eyesight, Aleana Noa saw it as a sign from God.

“He was born blind,” said Noa, 38. Surgery when he was 45 days old gave him 80 percent vision in his right eye and 10 percent vision in his left eye. Before the surgery, she asked Father José Alvarez, the pastor at Our Lady of the Lakes in Miami Lakes, to baptize her son.

Anthony Didato, sponsor, stands next to his catechumen, Katheria Lee, who practiced Buddhism until she felt the call to join the Catholic Church. Both are from Blessed Sacrament Parish in Fort Lauderdale.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

Anthony Didato, sponsor, stands next to his catechumen, Katheria Lee, who practiced Buddhism until she felt the call to join the Catholic Church. Both are from Blessed Sacrament Parish in Fort Lauderdale.

Catechumens sign the Book of the Elect during the Rite of Election ceremony Feb. 18. Archbishop Thomas Wenski accepted 447 catechumens as

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

Catechumens sign the Book of the Elect during the Rite of Election ceremony Feb. 18. Archbishop Thomas Wenski accepted 447 catechumens as "elect," the final step before their full initiation into the Catholic Church, during two Rite of Election ceremonies held at St. Mary Cathedral Feb. 18.

Afterward, “I knew God had intervened for him,” said Noa, who grew up in a Catholic family in Holguín, Cuba, but had never been baptized.

“I realized it was time for me to come back to God,” she said. She signed up for the Rite of Christian Initiation at Our Lady of the Lakes, and will receive the sacraments of baptism, Communion and confirmation at the Easter Vigil.

Noa was one of the 447 catechumens — people who have never been baptized — who were invited to enter the Catholic Church during two Rite of Election ceremonies held Feb. 18 at St. Mary Cathedral. The catechumens and their sponsors came from 59 parishes in the Archdiocese of Miami.

During the ceremony, the catechumens were presented to Archbishop Thomas Wenski, affirmed by their godparents and the congregation, and invited to enroll in the Book of the Elect. As members of the elect, they will spend the Lenten season in intense preparation for receiving the sacraments of initiation.

The catechumens all had different reasons for joining the Catholic Church.

James Ochoa, 32, is getting married in November. The Honduras native said that his mother and father were Catholic, but they let him decide on his own spirituality. His fiancée, Erica Del Riego, 29, was his sponsor. Her father is a deacon at St. Agatha Church in Miami.

“I want my future children to receive the sacraments,” Ochoa said. “They will get a solid foundation in the Catholic Church.”

David Miller recognized a need for God in Scott Wilson, one of his fellow workers at the City of Plantation.

“I got him to go to an Emmaus retreat,” said Miller. “It opened the door for him and he soon became involved in the RCIA program.”

Then there was Katheria Lee, a former Buddhist who was introduced to the Catholic Church by Anthony Didato, 83. He sponsored Lee the same way he had sponsored another former Buddhist, his wife, Miyoko Clubb, who received the sacraments in 2016.

“I went to a midnight Mass with Anthony and his wife,” said Lee. “As soon as I entered the church I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit.”

Archbishop Thomas Wenski told the catechumens that baptism is a gift of everlasting life.

“As a gift, it must be accepted and it becomes a task that must be lived,” he said. “Pope Saint John Paul II said asking catechumens, do you wish to receive baptism? means to ask them, do you wish to become holy?”

“Today, you are enrolled in the Book of the Elect,” the archbishop continued. “You are saying that you want to be holy.”

He noted that in Haitian Creole the word for saint is zanmi Bondye, a friend of God.

“It is our pledge that in spite of whatever trials and tribulations we may face, we walk through life as a friend of God and in the company of his friends, that is his Catholic Church,” Archbishop Wenski said.

Mary Ann Wiesinger, director of the archdiocesan office of Evangelization and Parish Life, said it was beautiful to see so many people coming into the Church.

“I’m grateful for the hard work of the pastors, catechists and sponsors who prepared the catechumens,” she said.

Catechumens, flanked by their sponsors, fill the pews of St. Mary Cathedral during the first of two Rite of Election ceremonies held Feb. 18, the Sunday after Ash Wednesday.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

Catechumens, flanked by their sponsors, fill the pews of St. Mary Cathedral during the first of two Rite of Election ceremonies held Feb. 18, the Sunday after Ash Wednesday.


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