SCRANTON – Despite all of the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, this Lent is filled with hope and joy for Andrew Farr. After wanting to become Catholic for years, the Scranton man’s dream is about to become a reality.

“I’m incredibly excited to be welcomed into the Catholic Church. I didn’t grow up religious so this whole process has been eye-opening for me,” Farr said.

Farr is one of 85 people who made their final declaration of intent to join the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Scranton at the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, held on the first weekend of Lent, at the Cathedral of Saint Peter. Due to the pandemic, three different celebrations took place on Feb. 20 and Feb. 21 so people could maintain proper physical distancing.

The Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion is when candidates and catechumens participating in RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) publicly declare their intention to fully enter the church.

This year, the Diocese of Scranton had 30 catechumens, who will receive all the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist), and 55 candidates, who have been baptized but have not finished receiving the sacraments of initiation.

Farr, who is a catechumen, is sharing this journey with his two children, Lilly and Cayden, who are both candidates. Farr says the experience of learning as a family has been a blessing.

“It allowed us to learn the faith together and to be able to have the conversations together, because we were all starting from the same spot and luckily we have my wife who has been through all of this so she has been a great resource in the process as well,” Farr explained. “It feels like we’re a lot closer now. We have these conversations about our faith and what it means to us. We never really got to have those conversations before.”

Gregory Gies of Saint Michael Parish in Canton also participated in the Call to Continuing Conversion.

“I’ve always had faith but I was never part of a religious community and I wanted to gain more of that and better myself for my family,” Gies said.

As a father of two young children who have been baptized Catholic, Gies says he is excited about fully joining the Church this Easter.

“Taking part in the Eucharist and Confirmation and becoming Catholic was my ultimate goal and it’s coming closer and closer,” Gies added.

Sisters Stephanie Sanchez, 18, and Destiny Sanchez, 19, from Saint Rita Parish in Gouldsboro will also be joining the Church at Easter.

“It has been a long process but it is all worth it,” Destiny said. “It was very special for us to do this together. I’ve been wanting to do this my whole life and I’m so glad I’m living it.”

Several years ago, Destiny Sanchez said she witnessed the baptism of a cousin and realized its significance. This year, as her sister joins her this Easter, it will be an equally important occasion.

“I learned so much,” Stephanie added about the process.

The Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, was celebrant and homilist at each celebration. He officially accepted the catechumens, signing each parish’s Book of the Elect after being presented with it.

During his homily, the bishop reminded everyone that God calls each of us to be converted, to trust and discover that He is the true and lasting source of our life and well-being.

“He’s inviting you to walk a path with Him that ultimately will lead you to a life of meaning, purpose and peace. He is saying, through his invitation, that your life – with all of its struggles and joys, with all of its blessings and challenges – has a unique place and role to play within his plan,” Bishop Bambera said. “He’s sharing with you the same words that He shared with His disciples on the very night before He died, ‘It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.’”

The bishop also told both the candidates and catechumens that they do not walk alone.

“Your presence here today, in the midst of so many challenges that have resulted from the (COVID-19) pandemic that has enveloped our lives, is a vital reminder to all of us of the power of faith and the reality of God working mightily even and especially in the midst of a most unlikely time in our history,” Bishop Bambera added.