Martin Foster and I are in Helsinki, attending the Eurocat Bureau meeting – 22 people representing 22 countries, all engaged in Christian Initiation of Adults.   The task of the Bureau meeting is to review the last Eurocat Conference (Vienna 2009: ‘Integration’) and to consult together on the themes emerging  for the next Conference (Ghent/Belgium 2011: ‘Liturgy & Catechesis in RCIA’).

The Bureau is being hosted this time by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland

Vivamo WelcomeWe are staying in a retreat centre in Lohja Vivavum on one of the country’s 190,000 lakes (into which some of us have plunged during  the Finnish ‘saunas’ in the evenings – putting a whole new slant on the initiation experience!)    We have had a very warm welcome – in writing from the Bishop of the Lutheran Archdiocese of Turku, Kari Makinen, and in person, from Maria and Sennika, and a number of their Lutheran colleagues who  planned & prayed liturgy for and with us, sang songs, and BBQ’s sides of salmon around a campfire – first sign of Finnish summer is when the BBQ’s begin – in 4 degrees celsius, but at least the snow has melted!

Joining us on the first evening was Bishop Teemu Sippo, RC Bishop of Helsinki.  Bishop Teemu told us that the Bishops’ Conference of the Nordic Countries had recently published a joint pastoral letter on the Adult Catechumenate (and Reception into Full Communion of the Catholic Church). The letter begins:

‘Where is the entrance?  If someone needs to ask this question, the architect has probably made a mistake.   Entrances need to be recognisable and inviting, unless one wants to keep away uninvited guests……it is not enough that we guide them to priests or others working in pastoral tasks.  Parishioners are needed… offering a kind and friendly reception, willing to share their own faith’

Further, the letter speaks of the opportunities that the restoration of the adult catechumenate offers, not only for evangelisation of those who are searching, but for those already in the church,  causing them to reflect on their own Baptism, their own faith, their own sense of belonging, rediscovering the rich nourishment in the liturgy, and the very nature of the Church as ‘missionary’.  United as a body, the Nordic Bishops are strongly encouraging all the faithful, priests, parish councils, pastoral councils, and religious orders to discuss and ponder… and one step at a time, for parishes to engage  with the different phases and rights Catechumenate (RCIA), convinced that in so doing

‘the consciousness of the mission of the parish and of the whole Church would grow, and the connection between faith and life would become clearer.  The parishes would gain an attractive and radiant power… beginning the Catechumenate aids the renewal of the whole parish!’

These hopes will echo with the memories and experience of  all of us involved in RCIA, for however many months or years.  What was particularly impressive was the Bishops writing together, united in their commitment to RCIA, leading from the front!

The rest of the weekend was engaged in bureau members sharing their experiences of the catechumenate (in Europe RCIA is referred to as ‘The Catechumenate’).  It was interesting to note the variations in emphases/styles between the different countries, the ‘old hands’ and the new (including Orthodox engaged in catechumenate in Finland) The consistency emerging, as ever, in shared passion for initiation.

Challenges? For practice of RCIA and for Eurocat
  • Our diversity – in culture, experience, in approaches, interpretation of the Rite, theological views
  • Increasing size of Eurocat – more member countries: how to develop structures that support/develop/sustain warm friendship as well as share experience and learn from one another – finding the best process/way of facilitating the meetings to be as inclusive as possible
  • How to develop/engage with the ecumenical dimension of Eurocat – ecumenical sensitivities
  • Initiation as a process of  ‘being’ and ‘becoming’ – the symbiosis of community/liturgy/initiation
  • Context of  ‘church in crisis’ – community initiates, and yet there is a sense/reality that communities are ‘disintegrating’ rather than growing?
  • Seeking and sharing best practice
  • Use of Lectionary

It has been a good weekend in Helsinki, connecting with the broader European picture .  Perhaps one or two European friends will join us in Manchester for our Conference ‘Bridging the Gap’? (30th June – 2nd July: Book on-line at www.rcia.org.uk )   The Nordic Bishops’ encouragement for (us) to be missionary and help those seeking to join us on ‘the Way’ offers inspiration us as we move towards our Conference together, exploring what it is to be missionary, sponsoring communities.  Places at Manchester are limited, so please do  Book now to avoid disappointment!