More than 1,000 people gathered at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle on March 1 to support friends, family and loved ones who have made the life-changing decision to become Catholic during a 90-minute prayer service known as the Rite of Election.
The Church formally recognizes individuals who have been preparing for the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist during the Rite of Election. Godparents and parish representatives testified that 385 people in the Diocese of St. Petersburg are prepared to enter the Church and will be fully initiated through the reception of the three sacraments at the Easter Vigil, April 11, 2020.
“Your ‘Yes’ to this initiation into the faith is not strictly of your own origin. It finds its origin in God’s invitation to you to come to know him more deeply and his son Jesus Christ,” said Bishop Gregory Parkes.
Among the 385 soon-to-be-Catholics at the Cathedral that day were Mike Clarke and Michelle Turman. Their journeys to the Catholic faith are extremely different, spanning decades and even continents, but for both it was God’s loving invitation and the tug on their hearts to respond, that is bringing them home to the faith.
“My buddy Joey, he was a big part of it. He would always ask me if I wanted to go to church with him and I’d always say, ‘yes’,” remembered Mike, who attended Mass on holidays as a child and participated in a non-denominational church as a teenager. “I just felt like I was like at home, like everyone’s a part of my family.”
Mike is becoming Catholic at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Land O Lakes just two years after his friend invited him to Mass. At 21-years old, Mike is a rarity among his peers, who so often leave the faith behind as they enter adulthood. He can only explain his experience as “a miracle.”
“It’s just the Holy Spirit. I can’t explain it. The way He works is just absolutely beautiful,” said Mike.
Michelle has had a longer journey, though God’s patient and loving invitation was an ever-present reality. As someone who studied art history extensively, she was attracted to the beauty of the faith. During a visit to Rome, while viewing the sculpture The Ecstasy of St. Teresa by Bernini, Michelle felt with certainty that she would find her way home to the Catholic Church.
“For me, in 1995, in that church, I knew that God’s love for me would be patient in my pursuit of His grace,” recalled Turman.
It would be another twenty-five years before Michelle came to Sacred Heart Parish in Tampa, the same parish where her grandparents were married, to join the initiation process of the Catholic Church known as the RCIA. In the intervening years, Michelle married, had children, and even helped to establish a non-denominational church during her time as board president of a South Tampa YMCA. Through it all, Michelle trusted in God’s timing and His plan for her life.
“I feel that God truly knows my heart as a servant leader, how I live my life and has walked beside me reaffirming my journey to this point with patience, grace and acceptance,” said Michelle.
God’s plan for Michelle, for Mike, and for all the those entering the Church, is only just beginning. Bishop Parkes told those gathered at the Rite of Election that responding to God’s invitation is a lifelong journey, one that would not always be easy but that would provide opportunities to courageously live the Gospel daily.
“Your desire to enter into the Catholic faith, to become a member of God’s family, is certainly a courageous decision. To be a Christian very often means that we will be persecuted, that the things that we believe and what we hold dear in our faith will run contrary to what the world says we should do. But that’s okay. It takes courage to live and to witness to our Catholic faith.”
To view all the photos from the Rite of Election, click here.
To listen to an interview with Michael Clarke, click here.
To view a live stream of the Rite of Election, click here.