Ann Pinckney-diocesan director of faith formation
The RCIA process is actually one of the more exciting things that I get to be involved in because it is helping people who are searching for a spiritual home who think they found it to real- ly realize that. The Church envisions that they would be part of a process of a more formal education that’s called Catechumenate.
Certainly you wouldn’t want to join something that you don’t know much about, you want to know more about what you’re getting into. So it’s a pro- cess for the person themselves to figure out that these beliefs that Catholics believe are beliefs that I have and that I’m going to have through my life.
There comes a time when people formally say “yes, I want to be part of this Catholic Church”. We ritualize that through the Rite of Election. The Rite of Election is for those people who have not been baptized. They’re saying they want to become baptized, and baptized into the Catholic Church.
So those folks actually say in a formal way that “I want to become Catholic”. And the Catholic Church via the bishop says “we accept you as someone who wants to enter fully into the Catholic Church”.
The Easter Vigil, it’s Baptism, so you enter into the life of the Church not just through Baptism but also Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. You become a fully initiated member of the Catholic Church. And the Easter Vigil is the perfect time for that because it is the high point. The very most important celebration that we have throughout the year is Easter. Jesus saved us.
It’s not really about the Catechist teaching someone about the tenants of the faith or the doctrines of the faith , it’s not about a priest baptizing someone, it’s about the whole Church community journeying with these people. The peo- ple in the pew being kind, welcoming, saying hello, giving and explanation. The whole community is supposed to be involved. Even in just praying for these folks. It’s exciting for them, we should be excited. We are a people who believe in the resurrection of Jesus so in that way we should be inviting, living out the life of Christ, being Christ to other people. And these people want to join us, they’ve found a life and a spiritual- ity from us that maybe we didn’t even know that we have.
I’m originally from West Africa and the name of the country is Burkina Faso. My father was Muslim and my mother was Catholic. I grew up between the two and I used to go to church and I used to go pray with my father too. So at a certain point in my life I was like “ ok I have to decide which one I want to choose and be constant with it.” The thing is I spent most of my time with my mother and her family. I used to go to church every Christmas and some- times every Easter. So I have a lot of memories from that. People some- times, they try, they think that being a Catholic is easy, you just go to Mass every Sunday and that’s it. Or during Lent you do some good actions but I would say being a Catholic is more deep because you create a relation- ship between you and Jesus. You got to make sure you do the right thing, with respect to what you learn and what the Church is teaching us. So it’s not always easy because there is sin everywhere and you have to be able to go against your temptation or the temptation of everyday life. What is beautiful about the Catholic faith is where ever you go it will be the same, but the languages, or you will find some difference. Just one thing they put in or took off but overall it’s the same. In Burkina Faso we celebrate by singing a lot at the end of the Mass or in-between, and you really feel joy going to church on that day, and it’s really beautiful .
I tried so many other different religions beforehand, and they just weren’t fulfilling. It just felt like I was always longing and there were always doubts within the different spiritual paths I would try. There would never be the fulfillment I really wanted. It just kind of felt, the analogy is, that I felt like I was always under the water trying to reaching for something to grab me above the surface or to help me be above the surface, and I couldn’t find that. My fiancé lives in Savannah and I was with him downtown and I said “oh that’s a really pretty Cathedral can we go in there?”And you know I was a nonbeliever at the time and he said “Yeah let’s go check it out, I’ve never been in there, let’s go check it out” and I went in there and it was just you know “Pow”. It was just the first thing I felt was like a very strong presence. It wasn’t overwhelming and like it was bad or anything, but it felt like it was just strong presence of, you know, it was almost like a welcoming presence. It was very almost reassuring to me. And I had never really felt that before I just thought it was very strange and I just started appreciating everything I saw in there. I just thought maybe this might be something to look into, maybe so. I mean I didn’t really have any exposure to Catholicism. All I knew about Catholicism were like rosaries and icons. So I didn’t know anything about it, but I thought, you know I have Pinterest, I can look stuff up, I can learn a little bit. And I’ve always been interested in religion, learning about stuff. Even if I didn’t join it I would still like to learn about it, and I just started looking into it, and I thought maybe this might be the right thing. But I’ve also suffered from low self-esteem and you know self-doubt so I thought maybe I’m not, I don’t know if I could make a good Catholic. I just kind of prayed to God one night and said you know if this is correct, if this is the right thing for me I’m too scared to do it on my own, and I used the analogy that, I asked him if this is the right thing to do, just come up behind me and shove me through the door. That’s what happened. I was just surprised how welcoming it is. You know from the outside trying to look in it seems very conservative, almost like a really closed community or at least that’s what the media makes it out to be, but it’s just, it’s extremely welcoming. It’s very welcoming, a very welcoming community. Super nice people, very nice people. I had bias against Christianity for a long time. This was just very, I wouldn’t expect this to happen, even a few months back I wouldn’t expect me to have done this, but this is what God wants me to do, and it’s what feels right.
Helen Almeter- director of reli- gious education at Saint Matthew Church in Statesboro
I taught second grade for a year at a Catholic school and then decided to do missionary work. So I set aside a couple of years to do missionary work with FOCUS, Fellowship of Catholic University Students, and it was there that I had the opportunity to learn a lot about my faith because people had lots of questions. Some of the people that come to RCIA are just beginning to inquire, and some who have been searching for long time. We’ve had people coming who’ve never really known much about Christianity to those who have been raised in another Christian denomination and so it looks a little bit different for each person. I tell Father all the time there’s just some incredible people who are jour- neying right now and everyone just kind of gets more and more excited. “Wow, I never really realized there was so much depth, that the Mass was so rooted in Scripture, that we get to receive Christ himself, and that we’re not called just to a personal relation- ship with Christ but an intimate one.” And for many it really is like coming home. When they start that process, it’s to help them on their journey, not to push them through, and that we want to be with them every step of the way. And if it means that they need to wait then we’re here and we want to help them through this, these difficulties, if they’re open to it. To be able to hear their story, it’s humbling and beautiful to see how God is working through every single individual. With their gifts, with their weakness, with their past, with what they’re bringing to the Church now with their talents, and if by the end of the RCIA process they continue to know that this is where God wants them to be, then we get real excited about them coming into the Church.
All photos, videos and transcriptions by Timothy L. Williams.