At this Sunday’s Mass we had a talk by the St Barnabas Society. It was St Barnabas who introduced Paul to the disciples in Jerusalem, and spoke in his support to those who were wary about his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus.
I was struck by the account of welcome and help (emotional and financial) that is given to clergy and religious, from other Christian denominations, that come to full communion with the Catholic Church. There was a particular relevance to our community, as last year we welcomed a former Anglican priest and his family. So at first hand we could empathise with what we were hearing.
Two questions arose for me:
- How does the welcome and support we give our inquirers and catechumens compare with that offered by the St Barnabas Society; and
- is there a patron saint of catechumens?
From my own experience, we still have to work at engaging with the ‘whole parish concept’, rather than having an RCIA team that does it all. Having ordinary parishioners who can be introduced to inquirers was a point discussed at the RCIA Network Study day at Tooting Bec (13.6.09). Catechists have their place but weekly structured meetings don’t necessarily fulfil the Period of Evangelisation and Pre-Catechumenate, which ‘is a time of no fixed duration or structure, for inquiry and introduction to Gospel values, an opportunity for the beginning of faith.’
Potential Inquirers come from diverse backgrounds, at any age, with or without dependants. It must be quite daunting to people to make that first step and knock on the church door. But if they are also being alienated from their family and friends by their decision, that must make it a very difficult step to pursue. There are ways we as a community can make it easier. This is a just a suggestion. You will have others that work, do share them.
- Offer an invitation to them to bring their family and friends to your parish church. This is not about converting them, but saying this is what we do because we are catholics.
- Have a ‘drop in’ hour, say 3.30pm-4.30pm: ideal if your church is on the school route. 5.30pm to 6.30pm is a good time to catch those returning home after work. Have parishioners who can chat about what it means to be a member of your parish church. (This is also an evangelising moment).
The above also apply to catechumens. Another way of offering support is by the optional rites eg Blessings [RCIA 95-97] can be done at any time. Think how you feel when you receive a blessing: they can be a real boost, whether in a small group or within the whole assembly. Do remember to extend the invitation to the catechumens’ family or friends.
As to my second question I did find a saint for catechumens: Saint Robert Bellarmine whose feastday is on September 17.