Sept. 25, 2003
By Blessed Sacrament staff/ SUN contributing writers
RCIA welcomes new Catholics into church
“Turning towards the Light,” “Faith Renewal” and “Sharing the Light of God” are just a few of the catchy names parishes have called their RCIA programs, properly titled The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Though referred to by different names, RCIA has one mission: opening doors to those who want to become part of the Catholic Church. RCIA prepares participants to receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Holy Eucharist, usually during the Easter Vigil celebration. It is typically a one-year program implemented in individual parishes.
The program is not solely for people who have not been baptized into the Catholic faith, said Father James Cesta, pastor at St. Joseph’s Church in Oswego. “People who have missed a sacrament and people who are of another denomination but want to become Catholic are welcome,” explained Father Cesta. “It is also good as a ‘refresher course’ for Catholics who have been out of touch with their faith.” Those who have not been baptized in other Christian churches are catechumens, while those who have are referred to as candidates and are not re-baptized. Through RCIA, the church has rediscovered ancient ways to bring Christians back to their faith. “In the first centuries of the church, people who wanted to become Catholic lived with a small Christian community to learn their faith,” Father Cesta said.
Over time, this type of faith formation began to dissolve –– replaced with an individualized model of faith formation. Adults who wanted to become a part of the Church went through six weeks of “convert instructions.” They would meet in isolation with a priest and receive the sacraments with little support from the parish. Things changed radically in 1972; the revised RCIA re-examined the way Christians were brought into the church. The revolutionary program stresses a need for a living experience of the Church and makes the welcoming of new Christians a community event. According to bishops of the United States, the RCIA is “renewing the life of Church in the country.”
Father Cesta agrees the process is an amazing faith journey. “RCIA is a wonderful way to journey in faith learning and experience with other people,” said Father Cesta. “It reminds us that Christians are made, not born.” Fall is the time of year when many parishes begin holding inquiry meetings for people interested in learning more about the Catholic faith. But this is only the first step of the faith journey. RCIA is a process of conversion that is divided into four continuous phases that correspond to a candidate’s progress in Christian formation. Catechumens and candidates meet weekly at Mass to hear the Word of God and are dismissed after the homily. Along with their sponsors, they attend sessions that introduce Catholic teachings on the sacraments and other aspects of faith.
Study and reflection on the Scriptures together with people going through the same experience are a valuable part of faith formation, said Father Cesta. “During the discussion sessions, people have the opportunity to bond and share their stories with other people,” Father Cesta said. “It is much more exciting to go on a journey with friends than alone.” Staci Bianchi went through RCIA last year at St. Joseph’s Church. When she married her husband Matt, a Catholic, Bianchi was a Methodist. Wanting to unite her family in one faith, she decided to become a Catholic.
Together, Bianchi and her newborn daughter were baptized into the church last Easter Vigil. Bianchi said that belonging to the church is very special to her. “I was excited during RCIA to see everything that I had to look forward to and participate in once I was part of the church,” said Bianchi. “Now that I am, it is a great feeling. I have been welcomed into another very special family.” RCIA is based on the principle of sharing faith with the parish. The RCIA document states “the initiation of adults is the concern and business of all the baptized” (RCIA, #41). The parish community at St. Joseph’s Church is supportive of the RCIA catechumens and candidates, said Bianchi. But those in RCIA are not the only ones receiving spiritual nourishment. People in the pews are called to deepen their own faith as they journey with RCIA catechumens and candidates. “So many Catholics are born Catholics. It is easy to take your faith for granted,” Father Cesta said. “But when you see this group of people –– people from 21 to 68 years old with so much enthusiasm for the Church, it makes you think, ‘maybe I should value my faith more.’”
RCIA recognizes faith formation as an on-going process. Once brought into the church, candidates become a valuable and vibrant part of parish life. Like a tapestry, each person adds something new and beautiful to the church community. “After RCIA, a lot of people say ‘I do not just want to go to Church, I want to get involved,’” said Father Cesta. “There is a hunger to continue exploring their faith.”