WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Western Canada RCIA leaders are encouraged to have year-round formation for inquirers.
The work of forming new Catholics is not just the job of the RCIA team but of the whole parish.
That was one key message delivered to RCIA members from across Western Canada by Nick Wagner and his wife Diana Macalintal, founders of TeamRCIA, a California-based ministry that offers a variety of online and in-person training for Church ministers and volunteers.
"You don't have to feel you are the only ones evangelizing in the parish," Macalintal said. "Involve the parish and use the parish activities to evangelize (inquirers and catechumens)."
The couple spoke on Rediscovering the Power of the RCIA at a June 13-14 RCIA conference at Providence Renewal Centre. The Western Conference for the Catechumenate sponsored the event, which included sessions on evangelization and catechesis, sin and grace and mystagogy, and team building and communication.
In their presentation, the couple encouraged participants to have year-round formation for inquirers.
"If an inquirer shows up in June, don't tell them to come back next year," recommended Wagner. "Integrate them to the normal parish activities until the (RCIA) program starts in September."
The RCIA team should recruit parishioners willing to invite inquirers for dinner in their home and to take them to Sunday Mass, to the parish's pancake breakfast on Sunday, to Bible studies or to visit the sick, the couple suggested.
"Bring the inquirers where the people are," Wagner said. "Stop trying to get them to come to your Wednesday night 7 to 9 p.m. thing."
The couple said the job of an RCIA team is not so much to go out and do everything in the RCIA manual, but "to train the parish on how to do these things."
Macalintal recommended participants to "put the stories of parishioners and the catechumens into your homilies so that people start to know one another and the catechumens."
"Dismiss your catechumens Sunday after Sunday so that people know them by name and can start to care for these people in a personal way," she said.
"That, in itself, is a gradual process. You are not going to change your parish overnight. Be patient with yourself and be patient your parish but be consistent and persistent."
In an interview, the couple said the job of parish-based RCIA team members is "to help (inquirers and catechumens) fall in love with Jesus" just like the Apostles did after Jesus ascended into heaven.
"The Apostles told the story of Jesus to the people, they loved one another, they shared all their belongings together, they fed those in need, they prayed together and they studied the Scriptures together," explained Macalintal.
WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Nick Wagner and wife Diana Macalintal, founders of TeamRCIA, tell RCIA leaders to teach through the example of their lives
"These are the basic ways that the Church teaches people how to love Jesus and to become more like him."
People who come into the Church come with God's grace in their lives, she said. "What we need to do is to honour their experience because God has been present there in some way. We connect their stories to Jesus' story and attend to what they need so that they too can share with others their love for Jesus."
Teaching newcomers involves not only providing head knowledge, but also a change in lifestyle on the part of the team members, said Wagner.
"We are trying to help them to shift out of an educational model to a formation model (where) instead of teaching with PowerPoints or textbooks, they teach by their lifestyle."
That's absolutely important "because people's lives change not because of what they know but because of what they witness another person doing in their life," added Macalintal. "We want to help them move from teaching just by words to form by their actions."
In the presentation, Wagner urged participants to help the neophytes tap into the imagery and symbolism that pops up throughout the Easter season and see how that discloses who God is to them.
RCIA members must also help catechumens understand "they are not becoming Catholics, but dying to themselves and rising into a brand new lifestyle," Wagner explained. "They are not finished at Easter. They start at Easter."
The essential members of an RCIA team are the parish community, the pastor, the team coordinator and an ambassador of welcoming, a person whose job is to welcome new folks as they show up for the evangelization process.
Some parishes have an evangelization team which, among other things, interviews the inquirers individually to help the RCIA team develop a formation plan for them.
The couple told participants not to put into the RCIA process those people who don't belong there – Catholic Confirmation candidates, many Protestants and returning Catholics.
Audrey Erickson, a member of the RCIA team at Holy Trinity Parish in Spruce Grove and Stony Plain, said what will stick with her is the full involvement of the parish in the formation of new Catholics.
"RCIA isn't this little group that meets once a week in this room but the whole parish is invited to become involved in welcoming, accepting and forming the catechumens and candidates for a life of discipleship," Erickson said.
"So it's the role of the whole faith community that I'm going to take with me. That was so powerful to me."
Like Erickson, Judy Darbyson, a member of the team at Edmonton's St. Matthew's Parish, said nothing the couple said sounded unfamiliar but she liked the fact they encouraged participants to look at the parish as their RCIA team.
"This is not new, but listening to it here today makes me think how I can get the parish more involved?"