This Easter, Becky Cairati will be back where she began. Lynette Frison will end in a place she didn’t expect. Both will be home.
The two women are among the nearly 790 individuals who participated in six Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion ceremonies across western Oregon March 4-5. The ancient rite marks the final period of preparation for catechumens and candidates before they fully enter the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil. Catechumens, who like Frison are unbaptized, will receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. Candidates, such as Cairati, will receive Eucharist and confirmation.
“I was on a rough path, searching for something more, and God raised me up,” said Cairati as she sat in a pew at St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland moments before music began (the Rite of Election takes place within the Liturgy of the Word outside of Mass).
Cairati, 26, is from Ishpeming, Michigan, where she’s been attending Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes. But she was visiting her sister in Oregon over the weekend, and received approval from her bishop to attend the bilingual rite celebrated by Archbishop Alexander Sample in the mother church of the archdiocese March 5.
In a whirlwind weekend, the archbishop also celebrated the rite in Bandon, Roseburg and Eugene. Archbishop John Vlazny, former head of the archdiocese, celebrated two Rites of Election, including one bilingual. This is the first year there have been two bilingual services, according to Anne Marie Van Dyke of the archdiocesan Office of Divine Worship.
The Sunday evening service at the cathedral was not the first time Cairati would be under the same vaulted roof as Archbishop Sample. About 25 years ago, then-Father Sample baptized the infant Cairati in the Marquette Diocese, of which he was later named bishop.
“It really touches my heart” to have her here, Archbishop Sample told the congregation at the end of the liturgy — evoking a wide smile and flushed cheeks from Cairati.
Though baptized Catholic, Cairati was raised Lutheran and by the fifth grade was drifting from God. “There were some tough patches,” she said. A self-described “free spirit,” she graduated from college without a clear idea of what to do next. She felt lost. “I was searching for structure,” she said. Cairati found that — and God’s love — in the Catholic Church.
People often think of the church’s rules as oppressive, “but they actually set you free,” Cairati said, drawing upon an analogy of a road without lines. It may look free “but with no lines, it would be a disaster.” Rules, with meaning behind them, allow us to live a fuller, happier life, she said.
Sitting across the cathedral was Frison, 63, who unexpectedly fell in love with the church through the love of her life. The man she was with for nearly a quarter-century — the couple never married — was Catholic, and introduced her to a faith that captivated her.
One of her first memories of religion, however, was terrifying. As a 7-year-old, she attended a Pentecostal service with her grandparents. “The pastor came down off the pulpit and started shaking me, telling me I was going to hell,” recalled Frison a few days before the Rite of Election.
Frison went on to study numerous religions, including Shintoism, Daoism and Buddhism.
A few years after her longtime partner died, she “went to St. Anthony (Parish in Tigard) on a whim,” she said. Inside, Frison saw a parishioner she knew from elsewhere waving at her, smiling.
“The people are what drew me to (the church),” said Frison, who like all the catechumens had her name entered in a Book of the Elect, presented by a parish representative and signed by the archbishop. “The people I know who are Catholic are so gracious, so kind. One day, it was, ‘OK, I’m home,’”
Archbishop Sample said in his homily that while he didn’t know every one of the candidates’ and catechumens’ stories, “each one is unique.”
While some moments in those stories are joy- and peace-filled, others are burdened with crosses. The Lord knows each, the archbishop said. “You have always been in the mind and heart of God.”
Archbishop Sample posed a question to the soon-to-be-Catholics: “Why are we making such a big deal about this next step in your journey?” And why must it be celebrated by a bishop or bishop designate?
He explained it’s for the church to “officially recognize your intent to enter the fullness of the Catholic faith” and “to make the very clear connection between the bishop and his people.”
“You all belong to your own parishes, but you are all part of a flock entrusted to my pastoral care as your shepherd, your bishop,” he said.
“You are such a sign of life and hope for the church,” the archbishop added. “You demonstrate that yes, God still calls people to himself. … And, praise God, people still respond to the call of the Lord. You are an inspiration to the rest of us.”