Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
April 9, 2001
The long way home
At St. Theresa Parish, RCIA process takes at least a year
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — Adults who want to become Catholics are required to learn about the faith before being accepted into the Church at Easter.
In most parishes the initiation of new Catholics, properly called Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, takes about seven months, sometimes less.
At St. Theresa Parish in Millwoods it takes a whole year, and sometimes more, with two-hour sessions every week, even during the summer. Those who happen to enroll in October, for example, will spend 18 months in the RCIA.
The process has been called everything from lengthy to impractical but the RCIA team at St. Theresa's says it is simply following the rules laid out by the bishops to provide newcomers a thorough Christian formation.
"We believe it takes a full year to expose people to the whole breadth of our faith," says RCIA team member Gary Garrison. "In the early Church, the catechumenate was three years or more. The (Canadian) bishops themselves say it has to be a longer process."
They do. "The time spent in the catechumenate should be long enough - several years if necessary - for the conversion and faith of the catechumens to become strong," reads an excerpt from the Canadian bishops' booklet on the RCIA.
"I think a lengthier formation might be helpful," noted team member Father Stephen Hero. "You can't put a time line on God's grace or anything. God can do marvellous things in just a very short time. But the fact is that a lengthier time gives more space for people to grow in faith and grow in prayer."
Added Hero, associate pastor since August: "One advantage of a program like ours is that if somebody wants to become a Catholic, we are ready to receive them at any time of the year. We don't have to say, 'Wait until fall.' We can take them basically anytime."
Anita Sheenan, a candidate in the St. Theresa RCIA, doesn't mind the year-long process.
"I absolutely love it," she said in an interview. "Personally I believe a year is wonderful. It's a huge commitment in time but it doesn't feel like a long time. I don't find it a job that I have to go to every Thursday evening but a joy."
Sheenan, who was baptized in the United Church as a child, has been attending Mass for years with her husband and two children, all of whom are Catholic.
Inspired by a speech from Archbishop Thomas Collins at St. Catherine School, where she works as a teacher's assistant, she decided to enter the RCIA at St. Theresa more than a year ago.
"Becoming a Catholic (like the rest of my family) became my millennium project," Sheenan said. "Now I feel embraced by the Church." She will be received into the Church at the Easter.
So far St. Theresa Parish is the only parish with a year-round program. The length of the program can be intimidating for some people, especially parents of small children who simply can't commit for a whole year or longer.
As a result, some Millwoods prospective Catholics have quietly gone to other parishes to take the program, noted Garrison. In most parishes the RCIA goes from September through the Easter Vigil.
When people are told how long it takes to become a Catholic at St. Theresa, some decided to go elsewhere, he said.
Since the parish switched to a year-round program four years ago, it has initiated an average of four to six people a year. Other parishes, like St. Joseph's Basilica, initiate more than 20 people each Easter.
Currently only three catechumens and three inquirers are in the St. Theresa RCIA. Inquirers spend about six weeks of formation before becoming catechumens or candidates.
Another downside of the year-round program is that it's much more difficult to find sponsors for candidates and catechumens as well as RCIA team members.
However, as Garrison put it, at St. Theresa "we are committed to continuing the process and our whole team would like to see more parishes in the diocese doing it this way because in our view that's really the vision of the RCIA process that the bishops enunciated in their official document."
The St. Theresa RCIA process, he said, "is a vision of initiation that goes beyond simply education. It's a process of inculturation because we have people who have been brought up with no faith and they need exposure to all of the formative stories of our heritage, the stories that are recorded in the Scriptures."
It is based on the principle of "sharing faith with other people" in the parish and on the principle that "inquirers and catechumens are apprentices and that they learn how to live their faith by observing other people doing it."
Baptized Christians can be admitted into the Catholic Church at St. Theresa by completing a six-week special program called Journey Through Life. But Garrison said many have chosen to go through the lengthy RCIA process simply because it's good.
He gave the example of a man who had already been baptized and confirmed in the Anglican Church. "He chose to stay with us for almost a year-and-half because he realized that the faith formation process that we were offering was a very powerful and enriching process that he wanted to be part of."
Garrison said some parishes are "pushing people through" the process and he doesn't see the reason why.
If people are able to plan their weddings 12 months in advance, "why can't they devote a fair bit of time to a life-changing process such as this?" he asks. "This is supposed to be a life-changing experience, it's supposed to completely revolutionize your approach to life."
The RCIA introduces Catholic teaching on the sacraments and other aspects of the faith.
"Ours is based very much on the Lectionary with the readings that are used at the Sunday Mass," explained Hero. "So they get to experience the whole cycle of the mysteries of Christ during the year and reflect on them. And since they spend so much time with the larger parish community they soon start to feel a part of it."
The St. Theresa catechumens are dismissed every Sunday from Mass and then they go elsewhere in the church to reflect further on the Scriptures of the day.
Those initiated at Easter continue in the RCIA until Pentecost for further formation and prayer and catechesis.
"We use the Scriptures, specifically the Gospel of the Sunday as a starting point (in the formation of catechumens)," Garrison said.
"We try to make sure during the course of the year that our sacraments are talked about. We focus on the Creed and try to identify parts of the Creed that directly flow out of aspects of the Scripture readings.
"We take them where they are and we expose them to this Catholic Christian culture and challenge them to change their lives, to live following Christ's example."
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.