By Becky Aubut, Anchor Staff
FALL RIVER, Mass. — The Diocese of Fall River Office of Faith Formation will be holding a Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults Formation Day on February 7 at Holy Cross Parish Hall in South Easton, and is inviting deacons, priests, RCIA coordinators and teams, catechists, directors of Religious Education, and baptismal prep teams to learn more about the process through workshops led by Father Richard Degagne, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in North Easton.
“This will be a day where people can come and at least get the basics and understanding of what [RCIA] is all about, and how important it is,” explained Deacon Bruce Bonneau, assistant director for Adult Evangelization and Spirituality of the Faith Formation Office.
The creation of the RCIA Formation Day stems from the new influx of deacons, who were recently ordained and who are in need of “formation on RCIA, [since] when they go to serve in the parishes, it’s pretty likely they’re going to be put in charge of RCIA, so as a service to them, we wanted to give them this formation,” said Claire McManus, Faith Formation director. “But it’s also for other parishes because [RCIA] is not always done by deacons but by laypeople.”
The workshops are broken down into three parts: to help understand the overview of the RCIA process and offer a brief history of the restoration of the catechumenate since Vatican II and the promulgation of the process by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with an explanation and description of the RCIA process; the various stages, their significance and relationship to each individual as it pertains to his or her readiness, and how each “readiness” is not limited to a strict schedule but rather the Spiritual development of the candidate; and the celebration of the rites, and how each celebration marks a significant moment in the final journey of each person.
Those significant moments are not “add-ons,” said Deacon Bonneau. “They are to be celebrated with the faith community” and to have the parish witness and appreciate their own faith journey, thus making the candidate’s journey “a part of the formation of the parish as well.”
“What we would really encourage is to have a parish send a team of people,” said McManus. This way the parish “can always have a team in place.”
McManus cited St. John the Evangelist Parish in Attleboro, which has an RCIA team that meets on a regular basis, regardless if candidates are going through the process; “That’s the ideal that we use, that if you could achieve this as a ministry, it is really wonderful.”
Sometimes someone may express a desire to become Catholic in the spring, but the parish’s RCIA class doesn’t start until the fall, said McManus, “and now you have a person waiting six months and you’d hope they [the parish] have something to begin the process.”
That first stage is important and should not be put on a shelf until the parish can fit that person in its schedule, said McManus: “Something moved that person to come forward and announce themselves. At that stage, it’s a pre-evangelization stage — this person is curious. We give plenty of time of inquiry to get to know what’s going on. A lot of time family members may be sitting through Mass, but have never become Catholic. They don’t take part in the Sacraments but they see what’s going on, and then they’re ready to formally start the process.”
Having a well-informed RCIA team available at each parish is crucial to get the RCIA process going, and is part of spreading Pope Francis’ message of being a welcoming Catholic Church.
In the Fall River Diocese, said McManus, some parishes seem open and receptive and when teams are sent to formation workshops, the ministry will find roots and flourish at the team’s parish; “Then there are other parishes, maybe because of a change in personnel or leadership, people will go and get the formation, come back very well-informed, but it doesn’t take root.”
That’s what happened in 2012, when the office held “Beginnings,” a three-day presentation that provided an intensive hands-on approach to RCIA. More than 50 people attended Beginnings, and were given an overview of the origin of the RCIA and then showed what the Beginnings initiative can look like in a parish and how it engages the entire parish community. During the three days, team leaders walked participants through different RCIA rites.
“We went through a big effort to get people there; we had a couple of priests come, but we haven’t done a follow-up. We had people come who were already very involved in RCIA, so it was continuing formation for them,” said McManus, adding that at the time, many of the current deacons who attended Beginnings were only deacon-candidates at the time. “With the change in leadership in the Vatican, and with Pope Francis saying to invite people in, we looked at this whole process and [said] let’s do this again. We knew that the deacons needed the training; they asked for it.”
Individuals should understand “that this is a process” and that each person will experience a “journey of transformation,” said Deacon Bonneau.
However, added Deacon Bonneau, one of the areas that parishes often pare back are the rights and rituals and that those should be “part of the discernment; the inquiry, the catechetics, the purification — all of those are to be integrated into the process because that’s where the community, the parish, touches with the candidates and catechumens. It allows it to be a formation process for the entire parish.”
And that formation process starts with the leader of each parish: “I think that pastors should look at this and [if they] don’t feel comfortable with RCIA, then they should attend,” said McManus. “It’s going to be facilitated by a pastor in the diocese who knows how to adapt it — that’s really important. It’s been brought to my attention that sometimes a parish doesn’t want to go through the big rituals but wants to do some of the rites because it may have one person. Father Degagne knows how to adapt.
“When you’re sitting in the pew and watching somebody go through the rites, it is one of the more powerful evangelization tools that we have because it makes people ask, ‘How is it this person is choosing to become Catholic now at this time, in this century, in these circumstances, and this person is an adult and not a child being brought into the program?’”
Additional resources include www.TeamRCIA.com and Notre Dame has a good course, “Getting the Rites, right,” another tool that RCIA teams can use, said McManus.
Some parishes feel that even after putting a team together, they may get only one person a year looking to become a Catholic, “and that if they got four or five people a year, they could see the value — but that’s putting the horse before the cart,” said McManus. “You can’t wait until you get a person, you should have started this ministry in the parish.”
The cost for the RCIA Formation Day is $20 per person and is being held at the Holy Cross Parish Hall, 225 Purchase Street in South Easton. For those interested in attending, please register by February 2 through the Office of Faith Formation: 508-678-2828.