WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Matthew Kellert of Olds is joined by his wife Shaleen in being greeted by Archbishop Richard Smith at the Rite of Election Feb. 26 at St. Joseph's Basilica while Susan Barylo observes.
Matthew Kellert was elated at the opportunity to meet Archbishop Richard Smith and shake his hand. "It was a great moment for me; I was really happy," said the 29-year-old man, his wife Shaleen by his side.
Kellert said he now feels more connected to the Church he has been attending for years.
A member of St. Stephen Parish in Olds, Kellert was one of about 130 adult and child catechumens from across the archdiocese who affirmed their desire to become members of the Catholic Church in two separate ceremonies at St. Joseph's Basilica Feb. 25-26, the first Sunday of Lent. Smith welcomed each catechumen personally.
Nearly 500 people, including sponsors, families and friends attended each of the celebrations. Catechumens like Kellert will formally enter the Church at the Easter Vigil, where they will receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.
Kellert, a grocery manager at Sobeys, grew up believing in God but never joined any religion. He has been attending the Catholic Church with his wife Shaleen, a lifelong Catholic, since the two met 10 years ago.
He enjoyed the Mass but slightly resented the fact he could not receive Communion.
"I usually felt like a guest (at Mass); like I wasn't completely welcomed," he recalled.
Last year Shaleen suggested Kellert join the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. He agreed but he soon realized he did not have enough time to complete the process before his July wedding to Shaleen.
The couple still wanted a Church wedding so they asked the archbishop for special permission to get married in the Church prior to Kellert's Baptism. They got it.
Last year Shaleen landed a teaching job at the Cremona school and the Edmonton couple moved to the Olds area.
There, at St. Stephen Parish, Kellert joined the RCIA and now he is ready to become a baptized Catholic.
Shaleen is happy for her husband. "I'm very happy seeing his conversion from being lost to having found God and, over the last two years, watching him develop a deeper and deeper relationship with God."
Abigail Kelly, a student at St. Francis of Assisi Middle School in Red Deer, decided to join the Rite of Christian Initiation of Children after seeing many classmates go through the process.
"I just decided I wanted to get baptized to be able to follow Christ," she said. "It's important to me to get closer to him and receive the sacraments."
Did Abigail need any persuasion? "No," replies her mom Sharon Kelly. "She had asked me for a number of years. She has always attended Catholic schools so she's seen all of her friends go through the sacraments and she wanted to be a part of that."
Abigail, 14, said she didn't feel connected as her classmates and friends were, so she decided to take the step. "By going through this process I feel more connected."
Meeting the archbishop was a great experience for her. "I thought it was great to meet him. I feel more welcomed into the Church."
Sharon Kelly is proud of her daughter. "I think the Catholic community is better for having her be a part of it."
Abigail was one of five people from St. Mary's Parish, including three adults, to attend the Rite of Election ceremony at the basilica.
During the Rite of Election, the Church formally announces the names of those who will celebrate the sacraments of initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist - at the Easter Vigil. These individuals enter the cathedral as catechumens and leave as "elect."
In his homily Smith noted this is a time for elections both in Canada and the United States.
But he told the catechumens this election – the Rite of Christian Election - is of far more significance because this is an election to life in Jesus Christ.
"This is not an election for just a certain period of time. What is envisioned in this election is eternity," he said.
"This is an election, a choosing by God of you to proceed toward the Easter sacraments. You are being chosen by God to be baptized, to be confirmed and to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist."
Dalia Molina-Riley was one of nine catechumens from St. Albert Parish that took part in the ceremony. She wants to be baptized because everybody else in her home is, including husband Michael Riley and her two small children. As well, she wants to join the Catholic family and raise her children in the faith.
Molina-Riley grew up in a Catholic family from El Salvador that attended church and practised Catholic rituals and tradition. Nevertheless, "when I was growing up, my parents didn't quite have the opportunity to baptize me."
Molina-Riley came to Canada from El Salvador in 1984 and continued to attend church occasionally here. She could have taken action to get baptized "but I was too busy getting married, having children and going to school," she explained.
"I always knew that my faith was deep and I always understood (that RCIA) was a commitment of about a year but I didn't have the time to make that commitment until now that I'm a stay-at-home mother."
Molina-Riley married her husband Michael in 2007. One of her sons was baptized in the summer 2008 and the other in November of last year.
Encouraged by her husband, she joined the RCIA at St. Albert Parish last fall. "I just knew that I wanted to raise my children Catholic and I wanted to become part of the Catholic family," she explained.
Michael Riley is happy his wife is taking the step. "It feels good because both my children are baptized, I'm baptized, everybody is baptized; now she will be baptized.
"It's good to have everybody together. It's a very happy moment for me."