ORLANDO | This year the Diocese of Orlando welcomed almost 200 more catechumens as elect of the Catholic Church at the Rite of Election than last year, Feb. 26, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe, than it did last year. Among the elect are 44 parishioners of Centro Guadalupano Mission in Wahneta.
Many of those members will be in full communion with the Church thanks to the invitation of Dominican Father Dubernay Rodas Grajales. He encouraged current and new families coming to the mission to form ministries such as rosary, Cursillo, Eucharistic Adoration and more, prior to his reassignment. The invitation came after noticing many of the faithful had not received the Sacraments.
Father Delvis Mederos, currently caring for the missioners, said he has never seen so many people entering the Church at once. As Hispanic immigrants, Father Mederos said it is even more important to reach out to them. He added credit should also be given to love of faith embedded in the Hispanic culture and the inspiring work of parents who wished to pass on the cultural tradition of faith.
“It is a work of welcoming. They have a great desire to know God,” he said. “I was moved by the attention the children pay to praying the rosary.”
The effort to catechize the catechumens began when Father Rodas Grajales approached Jorge Sevilla who coordinated the Rite of Initiation of Catholic Adults, asking if he and his wife, Margarita, would take on catechesis for children preparing for the Sacraments.
The couple was considering a sabbatical, but felt God saying, without them young people would not receive their Sacraments. They said “yes”, and realized, “Father Dubernay was the instrument, but it was Christ who was calling. It was the same calling as noted by the popes, that we are called to evangelize.”
The difficulty was in finding volunteers to assist as most of the young people were more fluent in or only spoke English. They offered it into the hands of Jesus and soon two women came forward to give them a hand — Betty Chavez, who teaches those ages 13 to 18 and who Sevilla referred to as “a pillar of the Mexican community,” and Maria (Gilda) Romero teaches those from 18 to 46. Margarita teaches everyone from ages 7 to 12.
At first, the priest ordered 20 books, thinking only a few would accept the invitation. He told Sevilla he was afraid he ordered too many. Then everyone began to enroll. A total of 44 people, from ages 7 to 46, will receive full Sacramental reception into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil, while another 18 candidates will enter later this year.
Alba Rojas is a mother of three sons, all receiving the Sacraments. When it was announced that catechetical classes were open to all, she was excited.
“I was so happy that my children were finally on the road toward Our Lord,” she said. “I want them to learn all they can to live a good life and to be aware of all that God provides all around them. I am also grateful to the Virgin of Guadalupe and the Lord. I am glad they will at last be able to live a Sacramental life.”
There are several members of entire families who are also receiving catechesis to fully enter the Church. “We are prepared to mentor them through the journey,” Sevilla said, adding he has learned to be patient and understand he is only a facilitator, an instrument of God’s work. “He has put us all there, the catechumens, elect, sponsors, and facilitators – their parents and godparents.”
“We see God in their faces, in their motivation and desire to know the faith – their constant attendance each week and during the retreat. We see God in their desire to receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Holy Communion and Confirmation.”
In particular, one 11-year-old boy came to mind who told him, “I want to share the Gospel.”
“It moved me, and I got goosebumps,” Sevilla recalled. Then he asked the boy, “Do you want to be a priest?” The boy replied, “I want to teach the Word of God.”
Sevilla said he can also see within teenagers a “desire to know more about Christ and to learn, not so much theology, but to receive something more personal—to know Him as Jesus, our friend and companion.”
“Our greatest hope and objective are that they all deepen their relationship with Christ, more than passing the tests or memorizing the prayers, which they can always read,” Sevilla said. “We want them to have that relationship, so they return after the Sacraments and continue the mission of sharing the Good News. And perhaps in the future they will become catechists, altar servers, ushers, and more.”
While he acknowledged it’s been a struggle, he and the volunteers see God in all of it.
“Here I have seen God’s hand at work,” Sevilla said. “It is not me. It is not Margarita. It is Him.”
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff, March 3, 2023