By Lisa Rose
As I pondered the question “who is my neighbor?” it dawned on me that sometimes our neighbors are those who are curious about our Catholic faith. Questions abound. What do they believe? Why are there so many rituals? Often they’ve heard lots of rumors about Catholics. These neighbors might come from other faith traditions or may have no formal religious background. Sometimes their search has taken them to churches of several different denominations. Sometimes they wish for an opportunity to peek in and learn about our beliefs and practices. Welcoming them and answering some questions could put the rumors and the misconceptions to rest.
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) provides just such an opportunity. RCIA participants have the opportunity to explore Catholic beliefs and practices and discern whether or not they desire to be initiated into the Catholic faith. The process is implemented in phases interspersed with rituals. It begins with informal inquiry, moves to formal catechesis including participation in liturgies, and includes ritual presentations and prayer experiences. Often — but not always — participants choose to join our faith community and celebrate the sacraments of initiation. Sometimes their discernment leads them down another path.
In a video I’ve used, Sandra DiGidio, O.S.M. says “she’s a grand church who welcomes us all.” The whole community can and is encouraged to participate in welcoming our inquisitive neighbors. There is a wide variety of opportunities for parish members to be involved in the RCIA process. Some RCIA team members help with the weekly sessions; others serve as sponsors who companion candidates on the RCIA journey; and still others help facilitate small group discussions centered on the Sunday readings. Some parishioners find their niche helping with special rituals. We are all called to actively participate in the ceremonies that welcome and mark the participants’ progress and especially to pray for these neighbors. Several parishioners frequently remind me that they regularly pray for the RCIA participants. One parishioner often asks if there is anyone who needs particular prayers and appreciates the opportunity to prayerfully focus on those special situations.
Last week, we celebrated the Rite of Acceptance and the Rite of Welcome. For the next several months, the RCIA participants will be joining us for the Liturgy of the Word every week. We’ll have abundant opportunities to welcome and pray for our catechumens and candidates.
I’m always flattered when someone shares that they are considering RCIA because they found our parish community to be welcoming. The invitation for each of us is to consider how we will actively and intentionally welcome our curious neighbors, not only inviting them in when they peek through the windows, but also supporting them as they continue to discern their spiritual journey and perhaps join us as parishioners.