.- More than 1,000 children, teenagers and adults filled the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast yesterday to prepare to enter the Catholic Church this Easter. A number that is increasing each year.
Children and adults and their families and friends joined church officials in the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, a liturgy marking the final period of preparation before the sacraments of initiation at Easter. The liturgy is held each year on the first Sunday of Lent.
As many as 1,233 people are expected to enter the Catholic Church this Easter, the largest number in recent years, officials with the Archdiocese of Washington said yesterday.
"Welcome to full Communion," said Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, after each of the two ceremonies held on Saturday afternoon. "You knew you needed something more than you had. ... Somehow, over all the noise of the world, you heard the Lord say, 'I want you to hear I love you, and I want you to come into My family.'?"
As many as 526 persons will be baptized for the first time during Easter Vigil, which this year falls on the weekend of April 16. About 350 of those who will become Catholics are children and teenagers. There were 1,037 new Catholics at Easter last year; 1,123, in 2004; and 982 in 2003, officials said.
In 2004, more than 155,000 adults in the U.S. were baptized or confirmed as Catholics. More than 67 million Catholics live in the U.S.
During the Rite of Election, godparents for nearly 500 non-Christians, or catechumens, vouch that the catechumens are ready to be baptized. After asking the catechumens if this is what they want, Cardinal McCarrick declares them "the Elect" who have been chosen by God to enter the church.
Preparation began in September, said Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington. In a step called coordination, people who wanted to become Catholics joined prayer meetings and studies about the Catholic faith. Yesterday, Cardinal McCarrick urged friends and relatives of those who will become Catholics to "pray for the priests, that we may be good enough."