Story by Reagan Scott
LINCOLN (SNR) - In September, parishes across the diocese begin to offer classes in the Rite of Christian Initiation, also known as RCIA.
RCIA is the process by which adult non-Catholics are introduced into the beliefs and practices of the Catholic faith, and is the normal means of reception into the Catholic Church.
RCIA is a restoration of an ancient practice in the Church. Today, the task of educating RCIA undertaken by parish priests and lay volunteers who desire to share the Catholic faith with others.
While RCIA is the vehicle through which individuals from other Christian denominations or religious backgrounds join the Church. In most parishes, RCIA can also be an opportunity for “cradle Catholics” to learn more about their faith.
“Jesus said, ‘Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you,’ that’s the reason to be Catholic, but the reason to be in RCIA is to grasp what the Church teaches,” Don Friesen, an RCIA catechist, said. “I think that an important part of RCIA is helping Catholics learn about the Scriptures and being comfortable to pursue where God is speaking in the Scriptures.”
Don Friesen and his wife Karen will celebrate their third anniversary of becoming Catholic Sept. 10. They went through a summer RCIA program at Saint Michael Parish in Lincoln in 2016 and were confirmed there in the fall.
When Joy Martin, the RCIA coordinator at Saint Michael, asked the Friesens to help with RCIA at Saint Michael in the fall of 2016, they agreed. They had a long background in catechetical instruction in the Berean and Presbyterian churches that they had been a part of.
“Don and I had always been in ministry, we didn’t sit in the pews,” Karen Friesen said.
In total, three priests and five lay parishioners share the responsibility of teaching RCIA at St. Michael Parish, including Don Friesen. Karen Friesen works on the hospitality side of RCIA- providing food for the attendees.
“We desire so much for other non-Catholics, to find their way into the fullness of the Catholic Church,” Don said. “That would be the reason why we continue to work with RCIA.”
Karen added, “As well as encouraging lifelong Catholics to refresh their faith... I think it’s very significant for Catholics to go through it alongside non-Catholics.”
Don and Karen Friesen have helped with RCIA at St. Michael Parish the past three years and have also sponsored somebody each year of the program.
Don Friesen said, “When you ask why we’re in RCIA, it’s that desire to encourage, and to stimulate, and to walk with other people into communion with the Church.”
RCIA at St. Michael Parish in Lincoln will begin Sunday Sept. 8. Attendees are encouraged to attend Mass at 8 a.m., with RCIA courses to follow at 9:30.
Father Christopher Stoley, the pastor of Saint Joseph Parish in Harvard will hold RCIA classes in both English and Spanish this year at 7 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. His first class was Sept. 4, but he said that anyone is welcome to join at any time.
Before moving to Harvard in June 2018, Father Stoley taught RCIA in English and Spanish in Crete for three years and averaged 15-20 people in each of his classes.
The majority of the attendees, he said, were mostly Catholics wanting to learn more about their faith, or Spanish-speaking Catholics looking to complete the Sacraments.
Father Stoley said that two of the most striking differences between his English and Spanish classes are the vocabulary and level of catechesis of his students have.
“It’s easier for me to teach theological ideas in English because the vocabulary is so different,” Father Stoley said.
He also said that periods of upheaval in Mexico and Central America have affected the level of catechesis for his Hispanic students who might not have as deep an understanding of the faith as some of his other students, but all of his students have a strong desire to learn and ask good questions about the faith.
Father Stoley’s favorite part of teaching RCIA is watching his students grow throughout the course of the year and watching them make connections that they hadn’t before.
“Seeing that in an adult is just amazing,” he said.
Father Stoley said that there is never a wrong time to start RCIA, and that it’s never too late to want to learn more about the faith.
For Don and Karen Friesen, the desire to make Mass more meaningful by helping RCIA students realize the importance of the Eucharist is a big part of the reason they continue to do what they do.
Don said, “I think there’s a great enthusiasm that we’ve experienced coming into the faith that has been a big motivating factor for us. We’re home, this is home, and we have a desire to motivate and stimulate others in any way possible to come to that realization that we actually do receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ at the Mass.”
A list of RCIA locations for the diocese can be found online at lincolndiocese.org/parish-rcia/locations. Interested individuals should reach out to local parishes for scheduling details.