Is the RCIA and your parish creating new Catholics?


When Rocio showed up at our parish, she knew nothing about the Catholic Church.

All she knew was that her life was filled with darkness and she hungered for something more.

It was January, and our RCIA sessions had begun months before.

So our catechetical team asked Rocio to come to Mass each Sunday and hang out with the community.

We hoped this would keep her interested until she could join the next RCIA in the fall and we could teach her about becoming a Catholic.


Rocio came to Mass every Sunday and sat with several people we had asked to keep her company.

After Mass they would go out for coffee and answer her questions, basic things such as “Why do you put your hand in that water?” or “Where do you find all those readings in the Mass?”

They introduced Rocio to their friends and other parishioners.

Some of them invited her to their homes for dinner.

Others told her about their Bible study group and made plans to bring her when she was available.

Some young adults close to Rocio’s age discovered they shared a love for cooking, and Rocio became a regular at their monthly cuisine nights.

Rocio saw a bulletin announcement about the rosary and asked her new Catholic friends about it.

They connected her with the parish rosary group and accompanied her to one of their gatherings.

The group heard Rocio was coming and gave her a rosary of her own.

They were so patient with her that day, teaching her how to pray this devotion they loved as she imitated their gestures and prayerful demeanor.

When they saw her at Mass, they would always stop to chat with her.


That summer the parish was going to Tijuana for an annual service trip at an orphanage.

Rocio’s new parish friends convinced her to go with them.

She fell in love with the kids there, and her previous shyness gave way to an exuberant personality.

Neat RCIA planning

Meanwhile my RCIA team had been meeting every Wednesday night with that year’s catechumens, candidates, and their sponsors.

We had our lessons neatly scheduled and our Powerpoints all planned.

By the time Easter came we had covered all our topics, but our biggest challenge every year was keeping the newly initiated involved in the parish.

No matter how much we encouraged them to be part of the community after Easter, they still lamented that they “couldn’t be part of RCIA anymore” or disappeared from the parish altogether.

While Rocio was serving at the orphanage, the RCIA team was planning our 26-session curriculum for the next round of RCIA candidates.

We also had to find enough presenters and convince parishioners who could make the 26-week commitment to be sponsors.

Most years we had to double- or triple-up and have catechumens share the same sponsor because we just couldn’t find enough people to say yes.

September came, and we were relieved that finally we could teach Rocio about becoming Catholic.

She attended the first meeting with two of her friends from the parish and asked us if they could be her sponsors.

We were pleasantly surprised and gladly agreed.

They were excellent choices and model parishioners!

Teaching the teachers

Rocio kept surprising us over the next several weeks with how much she already knew about the faith.

She talked about reading the Bible each week and could reflect prayerfully on many of the gospel stories.

One night she shared about how she prayed the rosary and her growing love for Mary.

On the topic of the Eucharist, she immediately connected her young adult cooking group and those gatherings to the meals Jesus shared with his friends and the outcast.

When the lesson on Catholic social teaching came around, she told us of her experience serving at the orphanage, and we were all deeply moved when she talked about seeing Christ in those children.

It was Rocio who taught us that night the true meaning of the preferential option for the poor.

Infectious enthusiasm

Our biggest surprise came at her rite of acceptance.

She had an entire cheering section made up of people from the Bible study and rosary groups, the young adults, those who had gone to the orphanage, and other friends she had made in the parish.

Their enthusiasm was infectious, and our assembly, typically annoyed by our RCIA rituals, seemed genuinely engaged in praying for Rocio as she made her first public commitment to follow Christ.

For the last 30 years, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults has been the way communities in the United States initiate adults and children.

Yet I believe that in many parishes—at least in my parish with Rocio—what we have been doing is not actually RCIA. Continue reading

Additional reading

News category: Analysis and Comment.