Becoming Catholic: RCIA brings people into community

| April 8, 2014 | 0 Comments
Paula Kaempffer

Paula Kaempffer

The Easter Vigil at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis April 19 will welcome into the local Church 12 catechumens — those who have never been baptized — and 21 candidates, those baptized in another faith tradition.

“It’s a phenomenon,” said Paula Kaempffer, director of learning at the Basilica. “We have a majority of young adults. But we have people up into their 70s.”

In the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, 654 people — catechumens and candidates — participated in the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion March 9 at the Cathedral of St. Paul and the Basilica.

Kaempffer has been involved in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults for almost 30 years, the last seven of those spent at the Basilica. She said the inquirers — people learning about Catholicism through the program — usually fall within one of three categories:

1. Those who have no previous faith experience whatsoever;

2. Those whose spouse is Catholic, have attended Mass for years and have decided to become Catholic; and

3. Those who have some faith background, most of whom say they enroll in RCIA to learn more — about 99 percent of this group becomes Catholic.

From September until May, Kaempffer and other staff, as well as local professors and Catholic leaders, cover various topics during the two-hour weekly sessions. After the Rite of Welcome in November, the sessions focus on Catholicism. Small group discussions at each session help participants grasp the information.

“It’s not a lecture,” Kaempffer said. “It’s about processing it from the head to the heart. Education does not a Catholic make. You have to live it out each day.”

RCIA sponsors help participants through the process. Kaempffer said this is the first year the program has had more sponsors than inquirers. The Basilica does not allow couples or relatives to sponsor one another, and sponsors must live their faith and want to share it with others. Under canon law, sponsors must be 16 or older and have received the sacrament of confirmation.

“So many parishioners volunteer for this ministry. It’s a huge time commitment. They come to everything,” Kaempffer explained.

The sponsors go through a tremendous conversion experience themselves, she added.

“Much of what we do is talk about our faith. So when they come and don’t think they have anything to offer, they experience it, too,” she said.

Because community and hospitality are two underlying themes of RCIA, participants go on an overnight retreat at the end of October. The bonding experience is a significant step for many of the participants, Kaempffer said. After Christmas break, one candidate told her how awful it was being away for a couple weeks and said he’d have to fill the void next year by becoming a sponsor.

“We cannot live the life of a Christian alone,” she said.

Rituals mark the progression from one stage to another in the RCIA process. “The rituals are for the conversion of the community,” Kaempffer said. “So when [parishioners] see these people coming forth who want to join our Church — especially in this atmosphere today — it could renew the parish inside and out. It’s that powerful.”

First: Rite of Welcome. The community formally welcomes inquirers in mid-November.

Second: Rite of Sending/Rite of Election. This takes place the first Sunday of Lent (all over the world) in parishes and then at the Basilica and the Cathedral of St. Paul with the bishops.

Third: During the Sundays of Lent, the elect (catechumens) participate in three scrutinies, which encourage looking deeper to uncover sin to let go of;

Fourth: Easter Vigil. Candidates are confirmed and receive the Eucharist, and the elect are baptized, confirmed and receive the Eucharist.

“It’s kind of like having a front-row seat watching how God changes people and transforms their lives,” Kaempffer said. “I get blessed so much from doing this every year. The Basilica’s vigil is three and a half hours long, but it goes by so fast.”

Easter Vigil doesn’t mark the end. The new Catholics meet for another three weeks, reflecting on Holy Week and the Triduum services, and then review Catholic social teaching and how to live out their faith daily.

“We encourage them to get involved to sustain that spiritual growth and sense of community,” Kaempffer said. “[Many ask], ‘What’s it going to be like when it’s over?’ That’s why we give them the tools. These people are willing, courageous and so excited.”

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Category: Holy Week/Easter