By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Of all the days for a person drawn to the Catholic Church to visit the cathedral in her new city.
Gina Engetschwiler just stood in the doorway — and without her knowing it, a Holy Door during this jubilee Year of Mercy — and asked volunteer greeter Carolyn O’Laughlin what was going on, and why was there a long line of people shaking the bishop’s hand.
O’Laughlin explained to her that this was the Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion, the day when people seeking full communion with the Roman Catholic Church take a major step in their conversion toward their full reception at the Easter Vigil.
Engetschwiler, a Baptist, took a seat in the back of the cathedral. Then she began to softly cry.
“I’ve always been drawn to different Catholic churches and different Catholic shrines all over the United States,” she said. “It started in Washington State, and I haven stopped since.”
Engetschwiler said she has lived in several cities, and just recently moved to Kansas City. Everywhere she has gone, she has found a home in Catholic parishes, even if she wasn’t Catholic.
She even prays the rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, she said.
“I started praying the rosary in 2012 at St. Ann’s in Gilbert, Ariz.,” Engetschwiler said. “I don’t know why. I’ve just always been drawn to the Catholic Church.”
This year, 405 people from 48 parishes felt so drawn to the Catholic Church that they will be received into full communion at Easter Vigils.
They included 186 catechumens who had never been baptized in any Christian tradition, and 219 candidates who had been baptized in another tradition but are seeking full communion.
And nothing could have possibly kept them from one of the three weekend Rites of Election and Calls to Conversion celebrated to welcome them all.
Not even illness.
Ned and Jacque Hankins, catechumens from St. Elizabeth Parish in Kansas City, wore surgical masks.
“One of my patients got me sick and we didn’t want to cough on everyone,” said Jacque, a nurse practitioner.
But they weren’t about to use that as a reason to skip and not sign the Book of the Elect.
“People have died because they signed that book,” Ned said. “This is nothing compared to that. We didn’t want to miss it.”
The Hankins enrolled their eight-year-old daughter, Michaela, at St. Elizabeth School.
“We fell in love with the whole parish, the people, the prayer, everything,” Ned said.
Excuse Tucker and Brandi Wiatreki if they felt called by a sense of duty and honor to join the church at St. Sabina Parish in Belton.
Tucker is in active duty as a recruiter with the U.S. Army, where he has served his country for nine years. Brandi served 10 years in the U.S. Air Force, including six deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and Qatar.
“We had a lot of challenges come up,” Tucker said. “We tried to handle them on our own, but something was missing. Brandi decided we should go to church.”
“I’ve wanted to be a Catholic for a long time, so I knew where we needed to be,” Brandi said.
“Everything about the Catholic Church is dedicated to God, and it is a family-oriented church,” she said. “I want that dedication. I want to feel closer to God.”
They all came to the right place, said Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr. in his homily before personally greeting each catechumen — who became “the elect” after signing the book — and each candidate.
“You may have realized in the past few months that we’re in election season,” Bishop Johnston said. “Candidates are debating and campaigning to get people to choose them on election day.”
It’s much different in the church, he said. God does the “electing” and he has already chosen them.
“I have good news,” the bishop joked. “We’re not going to ask you to come up here for a debate. There is not just one person elected. There are so many that the cathedral is not big enough to hold everyone,” noting that the Rite of Election would be held three times that weekend to accommodate all seeking to join at the Easter Vigil.
“You’ve been called and you’ve responded to the work of the Lord’s grace in your life,” Bishop Johnston told them.
“You have come to realize, to acknowledge, to accept and to believe the call he has made to you to enter into a deeper life with Christ, to enter into a fuller communion with his Mystical Body, the church,” he said.
The several weeks and months they have spent in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults at their parishes shows their commitment.
“You have not only been formed in heart and mind, you have exhibited a desire to live the life you believe,” Bishop Johnston said.
“Jesus calls us each to be the best versions of ourselves. We can only do that by knowing Jesus, loving Jesus, following Jesus,” he said.
Bishop Johnston reminded them of the Gospel reading for the Rite — Jesus is the life-giving vine. We are the branches.
“If we are in Christ, we are literally part of his divine nature,” Bishop Johnson said. “We know what human nature is. In Christ, we are given a divine nature. The way we remain on the vine is through the sacraments that transmit his life, literally, to us.”
But he said their conversion won’t end all at once when they are accepted fully in the church at the Easter Vigil. It is a constant, lifelong work, not unlike Bishop Johnston’s own hobby of gardening.
“There are certain plants that don’t continue to bear fruit. It is the new shoots that provide the fruit for the next year,” Bishop Johnston said.
“We have to continually prune if we are to continue to bear fruit,” he said.
“Let us use these 40 days (of Lent) to allow the divine grower to prune us back so we can continue to bear fruit,” Bishop Johnston said.