Congress session: RCIA: Where Are Our Catechumens and Candidates After Initiation? (Jerry Galipeau)

The final session!  Most of my readers know that my main ministry in the Church is helping people who are interested in converting to Catholicism go through the process of conversion.  The formal process of joining the Church is called RCIA.  Those who go through the process are called Catechumens and Candidates based on whether the are already baptized or not.

One of the most disheartening things about being involved in RCIA is watching people disappear from the pews in the months following their initiation.  Fully half of new initiates are no longer attending Church a year after being initiated.  This session was all about where these new initiates are going and what we can do to help them stay in the Church after initiation.

I have lots of specific implementation ideas for RCIA as a result of this session, but I’ll save that commentary for the RCIA team’s meetings.  What I want to focus on is two things.

First, we need to be cautious in evaluating the faith of other people.  We tend to measure success based on whether the new initiates are in the pew every week.  While this is a reasonable starting metric, it is not the true underlying goal: conversion of heart.  I know of many Catholics, both cradle and convert, who attend Mass every week but have not experienced a conversion of heart.  The message of Christ is not strong in their heart.  On the other hand, I know many a person who has embraced the message of Christ but for one reason or another doesn’t attend church regularly (often out of ignorance of the value of doing so).  So we must be careful to remember the REAL goal of helping people through conversion and remember that metrics are only indicators, not the goal itself.

Second, I wanted to tell a story he told to illustrate the right way to lead someone through conversion: by example.

He shared a story from when he was in the third grade at Catholic School.  Sr. Della Williams, the teacher, told the class one morning to put on their coats and boots and go outside into the stormy weather.  When they got outside there was a bus waiting there and Sr. instructed them all to get on the bus.  She gave each of them a tag with a number.  When the bus arrived at its destination she told the class that they were at a nursing home and that the number she had given each of them was a room number.  She instructed them to go into their assigned room and talk with the people in the room.  If they were asleep they were to say some prayers.

Of course each of the students was nervous and he recalled thinking the person in the room he was assigned looked dead.  But after a few minutes of adjustment, he had a nice conversation with the woman.  After about a half hour, Sr. Della called everyone back to the bus and they went back to school.  Once everyone had settled down in their chairs Sr. Della opened the Bible and read the following passage:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'” (Matt. 25:31-40)

Then Sr. Della said to the class: “This is what Catholics do” and then went on to the first lesson of the day.

I’m glad I was able to end this series of posts with this story because everything I’ve shared is meaningless if it is not put to action.  We must cloth the naked, feed the hungry and share the Good News of Christ with the world.  I pray that I was able to share just a small slice of the insights into Christ’s kingdom I had while at this conference in these posts.

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