Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion Celebrated for those Preparing to Join the Catholic Church
For Richard Ezell of Amity, Easter Vigil will mark the culmination of one journey and the beginning of another.
“It’s like starting anew,” he says. “It’s like I am a new creature.”
Ezell is among 59 people around the state who will be baptized, confirmed, and receive first Eucharist during the Easter Vigil Mass. Another 45 candidates, those previously baptized in other Christian faiths, will be received into the full communion of the Catholic Church through the sacraments of confirmation and Eucharist.
“I am looking forward to baptism. I’m looking forward to confirmation. I’m looking forward to first Eucharist, and I’m looking forward to the convalidation of my wife’s and my marriage,” said Ezell. “I’m excited.”
“Receiving the sacraments, that is what I am most excited about and attending Mass every week and attending the various feast days. I just went to Ash Wednesday, and that was really special. That was my first one that I ever experienced,” said Derek Fox, from the town of Windsor, who will also be baptized at the Easter Vigil.
Fox and Ezell both reached a milestone in their journeys to the Catholic faith during the first weekend of Lent when they joined with other catechumens (those not previously baptized) and candidates in participating in the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion. Bishop Robert Deeley presided over the rite at three churches: Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Presque Isle, St. John the Baptist in Winslow, and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland.
“The opportunity to be with our catechumens and candidates is truly renewing. It reminds us that God’s grace is bountiful and touching the hearts of the people of Maine. What a gift it is to be with all of you today. I thank all of you who have guided the journey of these good people who seek now to be part of the Church,” the bishop said.
During the Rite of Election, catechumens declare their intention to enter fully into the life of the Church, while their godparents attest to their readiness to do so. The bishop then declares the catechumens to be members of the Elect, those chosen by God to be members of the Catholic Church. Their names are entered into their parish’s Book of the Elect, which the bishop signs.
During the celebration of the call to continuing conversion, the sponsors of candidates testify to their readiness to share fully in the Church’s sacraments and vow to continue to guide them on their journeys. On behalf of the Church, the bishop recognizes the candidates’ desire to be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit through confirmation and to have a place at Christ’s eucharistic table.
Each of the catechumens or candidates arrived at the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion through their participation in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), a parish-based process through which they grow in understanding of the Catholic faith and become part of their parish community.
“I really like it. I enjoy it. It’s relaxing to be there and to listen,” said Azaria Spaulding of Hampden. “I feel like I’ve learned a lot from that.”
“It’s the highlight of my week. The deacons, the Fathers, they are amazing. Especially after you have had a hectic, busy, workday, you walk into a group with other individuals, and the Fathers, it’s amazing. I learned a lot. They provide the perfect guidelines,” said Nisajith “Nish” Welikadage from Alton.
“We have so many close friends and mentors, and it’s become quite a community and a part of our lives,” said Kimberly Welikadage, Nish’s wife. “We just, both of us, love it so much.”
Kimberly was baptized at a Congregationalist church while Nish, who is originally from Sri Lanka, grew up practicing Buddhism.
Nish said he viewed Buddhism as more of a way of seeking calmness rather than a religion, but he said that throughout his life he always had a sense that there was a higher power at work. He said he had been researching various religions, but what led him and Kimberly to the Catholic faith was an experience that Kimberly had at the funeral of her uncle, with whom she was very close.
She said her uncle’s friend, a Catholic priest, presided over services at the funeral home, and she was impressed by him.
“I don’t know how to describe it. It was just very close to my heart,” she said.
She said when she began to get emotional while delivering remarks at the services, he helped her feel at ease.
"He put his hand on my shoulder just to comfort me,” she said. “I just felt such calmness, and I could take a breath.”
She said that after he removed his hand, the feeling stayed with her, and she could feel the presence of the Blessed Mother, something that surprised her.
“I’m getting emotional thinking about it,” she said. “With the Congregationalists, we don’t have any tie to her really, so it was very emotional and really put me back on my heels a bit.”
She said although she and Nish had never talked about Catholicism, before long, they both concluded that it was what they had been seeking.
“We both kind of realized that the other one was thinking the same thing. I said, ‘I think I want to be Catholic, and he was like, ‘I feel the same way,’” Kim recalled. "Both of us just kind of jumped in headfirst. We knew the Church spoke to us both, and we were just like, ‘This is right. This is what we have been searching for.’”
Nish said that he started to do more research, and the more he dug into it, the more it felt right.
“The more I read, it was almost a feeling of wholeness, familiarity,” he said. “It pretty much completes the picture of everything that I believed through my life and my experiences.”
Richard Ezell, who was raised as a Southern Baptist, said his family’s journey to the Catholic faith also began with a search for answers.
“I was sort of thinking, and I’ve always known it, ‘Why is it that Protestantism is so divided?’ It’s fractured in a lot of ways,” he said. “You have so many different denominations and it’s a lot of confusion.”
He believes he was guided by the Holy Spirit to try to learn more, so one day, he went on YouTube and typed in a question along the lines of “Why convert to Roman Catholicism.” He said it led him to a treasure trove of information and to Scott Hahn, a Catholic author and theologian who was formerly a Presbyterian minister.
“He really kind of busted up every preconceived notion or misconception about Catholicism, like the worship of Mary,” Ezell said. “He made a very powerful case for the Eucharist being the body and blood, which I fully accept, of Jesus and not just a symbol and so on. He had a really good talk.”
Ezell said that led him to other Catholic authors and theologians such as Dr. John Bergsma and Steve Ray.
“I spent hours and hours just watching videos. I read books and all kinds of stuff. It was like, ‘Whoa, this is totally crazy.' It was something that I never thought I would consider, so I didn’t know how to take it at first,” he said.
After leaving the U.S. Army and moving from northern New York to northern Maine, his family started to attend a Baptist church in Amity, then the East Hodgdon Bible Church. Although he said both were welcoming, neither felt quite right.
“Just something was missing,” he said.
He said his family also started attending St. Mary of the Visitation Church in Houlton and, eventually, both he and his wife decided that was where they belonged.
“It’s not a feeling. It’s so much more than that. This is right,” he said. “I think there is a power of the Spirit working within you. You can’t unsee those things and unhear those things.”
Now, he and his wife and their four children will enter the Catholic Church together.
Like Ezell, Derek Fox was also brought up Baptist. He said, however, that he fell away from religion back when he was a teenager.
He said he began to think about his faith again about eight years ago when his wife, who had been raised Catholic, began reading the Bible, praying more, and attending a nondenominational church. It sent him on a journey of discovery.
“I want to dig down into things, and I started looking into ‘Why do we have the books of the Bible that we have? Where do they come from?’” he said.
He said that diving into Church history gave him an awareness that the Catholic Church was the Church established by Christ.
“So, it seemed to be more of a natural progression where I would go to the Catholic Church,” he said.
Fox said he also considered attending an Eastern Orthodox Church, but he said he found that there were often strong cultural ties, so fitting in was difficult, and when he attended a Catholic Mass, he really enjoyed it. He said the reverence of the Mass resonated with him.
“I started falling in love with it, and then, I just decided to continue the process,” he said.
For Dennis Kelly of Patton, the process of joining the Catholic Church began 40 years ago. That is how long he has been attending Mass with his wife.
“I have a beautiful bride who, for the last 40 years, has taken me to church every week, to the Catholic church, and I finally decided after a pilgrimage to Fatima, that I would go ahead and convert,” he said.
Kelly and his wife went on the pilgrimage to Fatima and the Camino de Santiago after seeing it promoted on The Catholic Talk Show, which they watch on YouTube.
While on the trip, which was with a group from Florida, Kelly said he had the opportunity to talk with the priest leading it, Father Rich Pagano.
“He was very personable when I met him over there, and we sat and talked and stuff like that. He did a Mass every day, and I enjoyed listening to him. He is just a very charismatic person,” he said. “He just made me feel good and feel right, and there were a bunch of happy Catholics in the group, and I just decided.”
While Kelly said he’s not sure why it took him so long to make the move, he is glad, at age 76, that he did.
“I don’t know if this is true or not, but everything in my life seems to be going better,” he said. “I don’t know how to explain it really: a positive attitude.”
Daniel Moyer from Kennebunkport said his journey also goes back a number of years and was also influenced by his wife. Baptized in the Methodist Church, he married his wife, who is Catholic, nine years ago, and said the two have been debating Catholicism and Protestantism since that time. He said it led him to read a lot of books about it and to study what Catholic theologians have said compared to Protestant ones.
“I have this inner desire to know the truth and believe in the truth and follow the truth,” he said.
Among the books he found most influential was Brant Pitre’s Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper, which he said provided him with an excellent explanation of the True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
“What finally convinced me to convert to Catholicism was the truth of the Eucharist. I actually came around to fully believing that the Eucharist is what the Catholic Church says it is – the true body and blood of Jesus Christ.”
Moyer said he also became convinced that the Catholic Church was the original Church established by God, and said it was important to him to be part of a Church with teachings that have remained consistent and biblically based. He said he believes it is important to have an authority like the Catholic Church to help interpret what certain passages in the Bible mean.
“Otherwise, it just comes down to what all these individual pastors and churches believe in, and there are 1,000 different interpretations,” he said.
Homeschooled when she was a child, Azaria Spaulding said she was aware from a young age that the Catholic Church was the original Church, but she said her family did not connect with any organized religion.
"We would read the Bible every day, and we would talk about God, but we didn’t have that weekly structure of going to church or identifying as a Catholic or Protestant," she said.
Two experiences would change that: becoming a preschool teacher at All Saints Catholic School in Bangor and, most especially meeting her boyfriend, Bart Murphy, who entered the Catholic Church two years ago. The two are students at the University of Maine in Orono.
“Other than being persuasive, on our second date, he actually took me to Mass. I had never been to Mass before. We went to the Newman Center in Orono, and something about the Mass just spoke to me. Every week since, I’ve gone. It just really stuck with me,” Spaulding said.
Like Spaulding, Murphy said he was raised to believe in God but in a general sense. He said he had an awareness that Christianity was beneficial to society and knew that humanity should pursue good things, but he started to wonder why, which led him to do research online. He said what he discovered about Catholicism spoke to his heart and his mind.
"It’s the absolute truth, and it’s hard to get around the absolute truth," he said. "It made complete, logical sense, and it was something that filled up my life that I didn't have before, and things kind of fell into place from there. I started going to Mass and reading the Bible, and it was a no brainer for me, personally, to receive the sacraments of the Church, and when I explained it to Azaria, it made sense to her as well."
"This really filled in that gap that I was missing," said Spaulding.
Spaulding said she has learned a lot from participating in the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults, including gaining an understanding of the sacraments, Catholic traditions, and the roles of bishops and priests. She said the journey has brought her closer to God.
"I think it has made me think about God a lot more, just because we go to Mass on Sunday and then we talk about the homily afterwards," she said. "Then on Wednesday night, we go to [OCIA], and that’s about an hour and a half, so we take the class and then we talk about it afterwards."
Spaulding said she has also received affirmation from her work at All Saints Catholic School.
“I’ve had a very positive experience there from both from the students and my coworkers,” she said.
Spaulding said she was excited to attend the Rite of Election and is looking forward to her baptism at Easter.
She and the other catechumens and candidates will now spend Lent in final preparation to receive the initiation sacraments by strengthening their commitment to the life of Jesus Christ, something the bishop noted we are all called to do.
“The season of Lent is a communal celebration of conversion and commitment to the life the Lord Jesus shows us in his own life, death, and resurrection,” the bishop said. “During this Lent, it would be good to deepen within ourselves an appreciation for the gift of the Eucharist as we prayerfully deepen our faith in its reality. Jesus is with us. He is always with us in the Eucharist. As we come to Lent, we might remind ourselves of that beautiful truth of our faith and resolve that the Eucharist, particularly on Sunday, is always to be part of my life as a follower of Jesus, whether we are catechumens, candidates, or Catholics renewing ourselves in Lent.”