We have never had a pope that has had so much favourable reportage in our national press as Pope Francis. This week it is the Sunday Times, and he makes the front page. The cynics will say it is only because there is no other ‘bad’ news to report. I wonder, though if it is because there isn’t much to report that is ‘good’ news, that makes the story of a down to earth Argentinian Jesuit who as head of the world’s Roman Catholics, who is readily accessible to his parishioners, as Bishop of Rome, an inspiring one. Even with thousands of people around, His Holiness Pope Francis can give his full attention to one in the crowd.
That the people are turning out in their thousands, can be seen worldwide when accessing ThePopeApp or national television reporting on the Wednesday audience or Sunday Mass. On Sunday the people now extend almost from St Peter’s Square to the banks of the Tiber river.
According to the Sunday Times Report, mass attendance is increasing throughout Europe, as people return to the church.
We know that we had an increase in those coming through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults following Pope Benedict XVI visit to England and Scotland in 2010, so it would not be at all surprising if there is a similar effect arising from the popularity of our new pontiff. This does though bring its own challenges, and it is appropriate that these are considered at this time.
Many RCIA teams will have been planning for the Rite of Acceptance. This involves deciding when and where it will take place, and who will be received into the Order of Catechumens. It is a time for discernment. What is their motive for wanting to become a Christian? Does it matter if they have been drawn to enter the door of the local church by the pull of our popular pope? Not if you refer to the rite itself.
In RCIA 42 there is a checklist for assessing the readiness of the individual to progress to the next stage in their spiritual journey
- They are ready when the inquirer can show:
- 1.Evidence of a first faith – belief in the living God
- 2.Evidence of an initial conversion & intention to change their lives,
- 3.They witness their desire to enter into a relationship with God in Christ, shown by:-
- i. The first stirrings of repentance,
- ii a start to praying to God,
- iii. A sense of the Church,
- iv. Some experience and involvement with the parish community or the priest,
Then the candidate is ready to be instructed about the liturgical rite of acceptance. RCA 42.
Other challenges for RCIA teams, especially for those of us who were present at one of the RCIA conferences led by Fr Paul Turner this summer, is how to manage peoples different expectations. If there is a ‘Francis effect’ that is likely to mean a large number of enquiries will be from ‘returning catholics’. This may include those who have not received the full sacraments of initiation, or they may come with their family which includes unbaptised members. There will probably be a number of other Christians drawn to Full Reception into the Catholic Church. I suggest that the days of having the one RCIA meeting to which everyone is expected to attend, are being replaced by more flexible models, with some one to one with a catechist as well as joining in other parish prayer and scripture groups.
- For the unbaptised, the team is going to have to discern who is ready for the Rite of Acceptance, and when.
- For the baptised catholic, (see RCIA 11 s.4 ) there is further discernment as to the formation required depending on whether they are catechised or uncatechised.
- For the baptised christian, we must discern when they are ready to be received into Full communion with the catholic church, which can occur as soon as they are ready (see RCIA Part 11 s.5).
Given the challenges of accommodating the different groups this will be the year to remind the whole parish community of their roles and responsibility as set out in RCIA 4 and RCIA 9: that the process of initiation is everyone’s job, for the benefit of the local community and universal catholic church.
RCIA 18 tells us that the Rite of Acceptance should occur on two dates or three, in the liturgical year. Why not put those dates into the parish calendar now.
If you are experiencing the ‘Francis effect’, then publicise the good news in your parish, in your diocese.