Companions on the Journey
By Mary Stadnyk | News Editor
Recalling that Jesus opened the eyes of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Msgr. Richard LaVerghetta observed, “Jesus is always willing to take us to a new place, a place we haven’t counted on.”
Speaking at a recent spirituality day for parish Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults ministers, Msgr. LaVerghetta, pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish, Marlton, likened the ministry of Jesus as a companion to the two disciples in the Emmaus Journey to that of RCIA directors and team members whose primary ministry is to companion catechumens and candidates and help them to recognize Jesus as they make their journeys of faith to the Catholic Church.
The spirituality day, co-sponsored by the diocesan Offices of Worship and Catholic Education, offered the 180 parish RCIA directors and team members who gathered in St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, Freehold, an opportunity to become rejuvenated as they minister to the catechumens and candidates in their respective parishes.
RCIA team members are ordinary parishioners who not only believe in their faith, but have a desire to share it with those preparing to receive the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil. While the team members do not have to be “experts” in Scripture, Church doctrine, spirituality or theology, they are strongly encouraged to pursue ways to deepen their faith and ministerial formation.
“As one involved with the RCIA for eight years, I must never take for granted that I know the material,” said Mary Ann Munson, RCIA director in St. Justin Parish, Toms River, as she noted the importance of taking advantage of opportunities to become spiritually enriched in her ministry.
As each year brings newcomers, all of whom “come to us with new perspectives, new questions and new challenges,” Munson emphasized that RCIA ministers “owe it to them to keep our own faith and skills up to date and robust.”
Although the RCIA process is structured by the Lectionary, what is more important is that the team “meets the needs of the catechumens and candidates in where they are in their journeys of faith,” said Munson.
“Each team member brings their own experiences and understanding of the faith to the table and that’s what the RCIA is all about – sharing,” as well as establishing a relationship with Jesus Christ, she said.
Kathy Bogan began her involvement with the RCIA in St. Peter Parish, Point Pleasant Beach, after she completed the diocesan Certificate Program for Coordinators. While attending CPC, she would have group discussions with other parish ministry leaders, including RCIA ministers. Eventually Bogan was invited to join the RCIA team and asked to become the director.
“The RCIA is one of the most important things that happens in a parish,” Bogan added. “RCIA is about evangelization and we have a role in helping to spread the Word – we want to share the Gospel with our catechumens and candidates and how the Gospel has impacted our own lives.”
Joan Wielenta is in her first year as the RCIA director in St. Alphonsus Parish, Hopewell, although she has served as the parish coordinator of religious education since July, 2010. She described the experience of helping to prepare children to receive the sacraments and now helping a young woman to prepare for Baptism at the Easter vigil as a “sacred privilege.”
“I consider it such an honor to journey with an individual who is really responding to a call from God and to help facilitate her process that she might draw closer to God and become a child of God,” Wielenta said, as she spoke of parish catechumen, “Debbie.”
“When you are dealing with someone one-on-one and especially and adult who is responding to a call from God to join the RCIA, it has been a privilege to provide her with whatever she needs to help her progress in her faith.”
The word Linda Andrew once used to describe her experience in working with the RCIA in St. Thomas More Parish, Manalapan, for the past 20 years was “miracle.”
Some of the catechumens and candidates when they first enter the RCIA had limited faith; others had a great faith, and there were many who didn’t know why they had chosen a particular time to enter the RCIA.
But at some point, Andrew said, the catechumens and candidates “had come to know that the time was right.”
One key component that the RCIA directors said that they find most helpful in carrying out their ministries is prayer.
“I let the Spirit work,” Andrew said, especially when challenges and concerns arise.
“But we do our best,” Andrew said of her RCIA team, which also includes nine catechists. “We try not to worry if we didn’t present everything that we had planned because the catechumens and candidates will hear it again. (The RCIA) is a journey that they started with us but it’s just the beginning. Hopefully, they will continue this journey long after they’ve completed their formal education with us.”
“As the catechumens and candidates learn to read and understand the doctrine and about why we are Catholic and different from other Christian faith traditions, they want to become more involved and take more initiative,” Andrew said. “It’s amazing to see the looks on their faces not only because they do understand, but because they become comfortable with their faith. We really do become a small family.”