RCIA formation day delves into need for authentic evangelization
FORT WORTH — RCIA instruction can be complicated and messy, said Bill Keimig, assistant director of Catechetical Institute at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
“Why does evangelization fail?” Keimig asked. “The main reason is that people do not discover what that real relationship with Jesus looks like from the people who are helping them move forward. Jesus needs to be taught, not as someone who made a visit to earth a long time ago, but as a savior alive in this Church and with us always.”
It requires a visible, positive example on the catechist’s part and should never be perfunctory, he added.
Keimig was one of several speakers who participated in the Diocese of Fort Worth’s Jan. 27 Formation Day for RCIA and RCIA Adapted for Children, held at St. Patrick Cathedral. The Period of Evangelization supplied the day’s theme. About 150 DREs and catechists from throughout the diocese attended the day-long affair, which included various events and break out groups.
“The purpose of this day is simply to revisit the relationship of the RCIA process relative to evangelization itself,” Keimig said.
As such, the precatechumenate stage of initiation, that period when a person first expresses interest in entering the Catholic faith, is critical, Keimig said.
“A statistical survey in Canada indicated that of the people who came into the Church in any given year, about 50 percent within the first year were no longer practicing the Catholic faith,” Keimig said. “That’s a threat, but also a golden opportunity to convert souls because we still struggle with a certain amount of pagan reality that the Church discerns is more and more the reality of our current culture.”
Keimig spoke of closeness, clarity, and crisis as necessary elements for catechists to inspire those considering conversion.
“If you’re giving your testimony, you should live it,” Keimig said. “It should bear out how close you are to Christ’s Church, how that clarity came to you, and what crisis you overcame to get where you are. Candidates need to see that struggle and how it works. It must also always be centered on Jesus, as doctrine taught without Jesus and His simple call is lost in the details.”
Scott Sollom, Franciscan University assistant professor of theology, agreed.
“Conversion happens to be sloppy,” Sollom said. “Two steps forward, three steps back. The importance of witness, testimony, is that it’s the main means by which people come to understand how Christ works in peoples’ lives. It demonstrates the kind of joy, peace, faith, and hope God gives to people in the Christian life — the picture tells 1,000 words idea.”
The period of evangelization during the precatechumenate stage sets the tone for the journey ahead, Sollom said.
“The goal for catechesis and evangelization is active participation in the sacramental life because that’s the means by which God has chosen to dispense His grace and love,” Sollom said.
During the homily of the day’s Mass, Father John Robert Skeldon, associate pastor of St. Patrick, referenced Mark’s account of Jesus questioning His disciple’s faith after stilling a storm. The point, Fr. Skeldon said, is that those involved in the ministry of RCIA need to have faith that Jesus is in the boat, and in control, in order to pass that knowledge along to others.
Jason Whitehead, director of faith formation for the Diocese of Fort Worth, stressed the need for parental participation in RCIA adapted for children.
“You basically have to become a little St. Paul in finding ways to awaken parents to the reality of their role,” Whitehead told attendees. “A child’s progress in the formation they receive depends on the example and influence of their parents.”
Imparting that message can prove a challenge when it comes to disengaged and/or distracted parents, Whitehead said.
“A big reason some act the way they do is because of perceived expectations — like a prevailing notion of the ‘check-the-box’ theory,” Whitehead said. “I had my child baptized, check. I sent them to church, check. So I’ve done my duty as a good Catholic.”
Whitehead fielded questions of how to deal with parents who themselves have not been actively practicing for years and children who are only attending RCIA classes because their parents sent them. Gently, but firmly, explaining the parents’ role and stressing to the parents that “the Church puts an absolute primacy on free will decisions.”
For the majority of attendees, the day marked their first participation in such an event. Fittingly, much of the presentations focused on practical matters of the RCIA and evangelization process.
Kami Creed, coordinator for family formation at Sacred Heart Parish in Muenster, said she appreciated the experience gained from the day.
“I’ve been a parishioner at Sacred Heart all my life but only started as coordinator in August, so today has been very informative for me,” Creed said.
Armando Medellin of St. Rita Parish in Fort Worth agreed.
“We started teaching RCIA in Spanish just over a year ago,” Medellin said. “So this is my first year here and I’m enjoying what I’m learning about the process.”
Scott Immel, RCIA coordinator of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Grapevine, was attending for the third year.
“This is the best year yet in terms of providing the foundational instructions and putting emphasis on how to get the process going in the parishes,” Immel said. “There’s a lot of new people here this year so it’s important they get those nuts and bolts fundamentals.”
Immel said his parish put information in part gleaned through previous formation days into practice by upgrading RCIA training and process methods.
“For years we relied strictly on volunteers to be catechists,” Immel said. “We realized we were doing a disservice to the process by not having really well qualified catechists.”