WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
The Collinson family of Rocky Mountain House came to sign the Book of the Elect Feb 16-17.
When Alina Thul started attending Mass at St. Margaret's Parish in Rimbey with her future husband, it was like going to a foreign country.
"The way I was raised, I didn't know anything about religion. My parents weren't religious one bit, so it was very different and took some getting used to," said Thul.
As an adult catechumen seeking to be formally admitted into the Church and receive the sacraments of initiation, she started taking the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), the formal process of catechetical instruction.
Thul caught on to Catholicism, and said the RCIA process has been well worth the effort. She continues attending the two-hour session every Tuesday evening, learning more and more about the ins and outs of the Church, its history and theology.
Her sponsor is her mother-in-law who has been helpful throughout the process. "She has been behind me 100 per cent of the way, and so has my family," said Thul.
The Rite of Election and Enrollment of Names was celebrated at St. Joseph's Basilica on Saturday evening, Feb. 16 for the Edmonton metro parishes, and Sunday afternoon, Feb. 17 for rural parishes in the Edmonton Archdiocese.
The solemn but joyful celebration coincides with the beginning of Lent. It involves various parish communities, their pastors, catechists, godparents, sponsors and delegates in a Liturgy of the Word.
The elect go through a series of scrutinies during Lent. Archbishop Richard Smith said the scrutinies recognize that we need the Lord's help to be set free from temptation and to cling solely to Jesus.
The archbishop told of a common temptation that besets many people - the temptation to believe that God does not notice us, that he is somehow aloof from our everyday lives. The Scriptures reveal this temptation as false.
"If we accept who Jesus is, then we are brought to this wonderful acknowledgement and truth of who we are, the beloved children of God to whom God never fails, said Smith.
God has not forgotten us, and sends us the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts, and lead us to Jesus.
"If that temptation ever besets you, that God doesn't even notice you, God does not hear your prayers, acknowledge the temptation for what it is – a lie," said Smith. "Instead, accept the truth, the truth you have been experiencing, the truth that God loves you and hears your every prayer, touches you, and cherishes you."
He reminded the catechumens that the celebration is a time when the Church formally ratifies their readiness for Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist. They become the elect, and in turn express their will to receive the sacraments at Easter.
Richard Patterson, now attending St. Augustine Parish in Ponoka, was not raised in a Church environment.
"My dad was intensely antagonistic towards churches and everything about religion. My mom was very much wishing she could participate (in Church) and raise the kids that way, but that was literally impossible," said Patterson.
His wife was Catholic though, and when their children were born, they started attending a Lutheran church. The family has been active in a church for about the past 30 years, but they grew increasingly dissatisfied with Protestant worship.
"I've always gone to Protestant churches, and just felt that it was very limited and shallow in its theology and liturgy," said Patterson, who was baptized Anglican. "Everyone kept trying to do something newer and more charismatic and so on, but that gets old eventually."
He met a few Catholics through his involvement in the pro-life movement. One day he turned to The Catholic Channel, broadcast from New York.
He spent about three years obtaining information about the Catholic Church that way, particularly through radio host Lino Rulli and the storytelling of American Cardinal Edward Michael Egan.
"I definitely felt drawn towards the apostolic feature of the Catholic Church, and the liturgy and the choral music," said Patterson.
More than anything he felt the strong desire to participate in the sacraments.
"The meaning of the sacraments is quite profound. A lot of Protestant churches are obsessed so much with being not-Catholic. They are still living in 1538, and they are so afraid that the sacrament would be anything more than 'do this in remembrance of me,'" said Patterson.
"There is no presence, but here (in the Catholic Church), you've got the real thing, so why accept the parody?"
Once he caught a glimpse of what the Catholic Church was about, other churches seemed like imitations.
A trucker who is away from home on weekdays, Patterson had given up hope on being able to participate in RCIA. Deacon Rollie Comeau, his immediate neighbour, said he would be able to accommodate him if he was interested in taking RCIA on weekends.
Nathan McEntee, from Sacred Heart Parish in Wetaskiwin, met his fiancée, a practising Catholic, two and a half years ago. Until age 13, he went to a Baptist church, but stopped attending regularly. Through his fiancée's influence, he started going to the Catholic Church.
"I know that I don't have to be baptized Catholic to get married, but it's something that I wanted. I want us to have the same faith when we get married. I didn't know much about the Catholic Church, so I joined RCIA to learn a little bit more," said McEntee.
He learned more about the structure of the Church, and how the teachings were derived.
"I really appreciate it knowing that I can go to any Catholic Church in the world essentially and get the same service, whereas growing up in a Protestant church, they had completely different views and services from week to week," said McEntee.
He sees significant differences between Protestant churches and the Catholic Church.
The biggest difference is the sacraments, he said. Another major difference is the hierarchal structure of the Church with the pope and cardinals. RCIA helped him confirm what he already knew about the Catholic Church.