Over 100 RCIA coordinators and teams gathered at the Catholic Leadership Centre in August for the RCIA state conference, entitled “Ask. Seek. Knock. Joyful encounters of RCIA”.
Hosted by the Archbishop's Office for Evangelisation Melbourne, the seminar attracted RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) and liturgy teams from parishes around the Archdiocese of Melbourne, the Dioceses of Ballarat, Sandhurst, Adelaide and the Archdiocese of Brisbane.
Keynote speakers included Bishop Mark Edwards OMI, auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, and Fr Rob Galea of the Sandhurst Diocese. A range of workshops were offered which focused on the practicalities of the RCIA process, i.e.:
- Attracting youth to RCIA (presented by Fr Rob Galea)
- Christian meditation – RCIA and prayer (presented by Mirella Pace)
- Forming your parish RCIA team (presented by Dr Susan Crowe)
- Discerning a godparent/sponsor on the journey (presented by Lorraine McCarthy)
- Forming a nurturing RCIA parish (presented by Dr Susan Crowe)
- Sacred stories: Sharing our lives in the light of the gospels (presented by Bishop Mark Edwards OMI)
- Entering into the mystery: Uncovering mystagogy (presented by Br Patrick Cronin)
- Engaging priests in the culture of RCIA (presented by Fr Greg Bourke)
A change of era & the implications for RCIA
In his opening keynote, Bishop Mark Edwards recognised that the church – and more broadly, society – is undergoing a significant “change of era”, and the subsequent implications this has on the church and all those wanting to join it.
Reflecting on Pope Francis' words to a gathering of Italian bishops back in 2015 (“This isn’t an era of change, but a change of era.”), Bishop Mark said that, “It takes a considerable amount of time for a change of era to take effect. Maybe 200 years. So we’re 50 years into a 200-year change. This will take a while to settle down. But it actually puts us in a really privileged moment because we are going to build the future. We and the people who join the church will build the Catholic church’s response to the future. … It’s a great gift.
It’s important to me that we be successful in this, and part of what’s required is that we don’t hang on to the old too much. Let’s not pine for the era that’s passing because Jesus is walking in front of us and we just gotta [sic] keep walking and keep our eyes on him.”
Bishop Mark also recognised that whilst Western societies were becoming increasingly secular, parishes are encountering people who still express a desire for the spiritual, and that that has implications for how the Catholic faith is presented.
“It used to be that there was a real ‘bundling’ in our spiritual lives. Catholic families would go to the local Catholic church and the Catholic school, they’d play in the Catholic tennis club and so on, and there was this little Catholic bubble that people lived in. … That’s no longer the case. … Don’t be daunted by secularism in our world. … But also don’t go back to what worked in the last century, just because it worked in the last century. The only reason to go back is if it works in this new era.”
The importance of authenticity and seeing with eyes of faith
Bishop Mark acknowledged the importance of creating a place of encounter; an encounter that must begin with an authentic witness and willingness to share stories.
“[People] are thirsting for something. And I think what they [will] get is going to come from who you are. … In our era we’ve got to be authentic and show who we are. Our modern age of authenticity demands that we have experience, and we have to be able to share these moments appropriately.
“I think that the RCIA journey that we invite other people on also invites us to make it personal ... This isn’t just a duty; this isn’t something we do just because we love the church. This is actually a journey that you and I are called on to go ourselves.
The way that we do that is we build our experiences of Jesus. We need to look with the eyes of faith at our life and what we're doing so that we recognise where Jesus is: Where did he invite me to step out of the boat? Where did he forgive me after I sinned? Where did he heal my mother-in-law? Where did he invite me to reclaim my faith in him? Where did he invite me to go back to the place of suffering and to die for him? There's going to be lots of places like that. We need to recognise Jesus in our lives.
"I self-identify as a missionary. That's what I think I have in common with you guys. I think anybody who's involved in the RCIA is a missionary as well. And it seems to me that being a missionary is really one beggar telling another beggar where he found food. So we have to build our experiences so that we have a store of stories to share with other people about ‘where we found our food’."
A poignant moment during the conference was when Bishop Mark reflected on the current climate of hurt, anger and betrayal caused by the child sexual abuse scandal, saying that it is much more difficult than it should be to be a Catholic today.
“I don’t think it’s ever easy being a Catholic – it’s always very vulnerable and scary but it’s much harder than it should be [now], and so on behalf of the church and the bishops, I want to apologise to you for the damage that’s been done to you in your lives your faith … for the damage that it’s done to those that you love and who find it harder to be a Catholic.”
The importance of an authentic, personal witness was echoed in the afternoon keynote by Fr Rob Galea, who reminded participants to ‘go back to the source’ of Christian joy: Jesus. He said, “People connect with your struggles, and that in your struggles and difficulties you still have joy and are able to connect with God.”
For more information and resources on the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, visit the RCIA section
Full videos of the keynote presentations by Bishop Mark Edwards OMI and Fr Rob Galea: