Erica Erwin

Candidates and cathechumens gathered at St. Peter Cathedral on March 11 to participate in the Rite of Election.
Photo by Erica Erwin.

On Sunday, March 11, men and women from around the Diocese of Erie stepped forward to declare their intention to become members of the Catholic Church. Each of the 132 people who came forward has been on his or her own journey. But each was ready to participate in the Rite of Election of Catechumens and the Call to Continuing Conversion of Candidates in one of two locations: St. Peter Cathedral in Erie, and St. Francis Parish in Clearfield.

The event is part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, the official process of instruction and prayer in which adults are formally accepted into the Roman Catholic faith. Non-baptized persons are catechumens; the term candidate is used for adults who are already baptized but who did not receive the sacraments of confirmation and Eucharist in the Catholic Church.

Bishop Lawrence Persico told those gathered at St. Peter Cathedral that Jesus is speaking to them, and that their lives have a unique role to play within God's plan.

"The cost of discipleship can be great," Bishop Persico said in his homily. "Yet, one thing is certain. The journey will lead you to discover meaning, hope and life if you remain rooted in the life of the God who calls you this day and teaches you how to live."

For Maxwell Kerr, a candidate who was baptized and grew up in the Methodist faith, Sunday was a milestone in a journey that began in August 2018. Over the course of a few days, Kerr, his brother, and his father hiked about 40 miles from property the family owns in Titusville, to Mercer — the place where his great-great-great grandfather enlisted in the Civil War. Kerr plucked a book off his dad’s shelf to take along to pass the time: “Thoughts in Solitude” by Thomas Merton.

As he walked and read, “there was an overwhelming sense of (God’s) presence I entered into,” said Kerr, now a 21-year-old senior philosophy major at Gannon University. “I understood the reality of God in the world on that trip.”

Kris Nielsen had a similar experience during a visit to the Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Lewiston, N.Y., a couple of years ago.

“I got a weird feeling and I didn’t want to leave,” said Nielsen, who will be baptized at the Easter vigil with other catechumens. “I wanted to learn more about what I was seeing there.”

Sunday’s celebration came at a time when some Catholics are questioning their faith in light of the sexual abuse crisis, but both Nielsen and Kerr are undeterred.

“It’s easy to blame the divine,” Kerr said, “but the divine is not doing these things.”

Catechumens and candidates will complete their entry into the Catholic Church when they receive the sacraments at the Easter vigil in their parishes April 20.