By Karen Clifford
ELKHART — It has been a pilgrimage of discovery for St. Vincent de Paul Religious Education Director Harry Palmer, Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) Director Barbara Gropp, and the 18 children and 5 adults who will receive the sacraments of initiation in this year’s Easter Vigil on April 19 at the parish. Twenty-two will receive the sacrament of Baptism, with one candidate joining the rest of the group for the sacrament of Confirmation.
Both Palmer and Gropp have been pleasantly surprised at the commitment of the group during the process. The children in religious education are catechumens/elect ages 8-14 and have impressed Palmer with their prayers and serious thought process in choosing their sponsors, and saint names.
“The saint reports some of these younger children submitted are just amazing and rival the reports of our junior high Confirmation students,” says Palmer.
With the help and guidance of their catechist, the religious education group has taken seriously the work of preparing themselves for entering the Church, Palmer notes.
“This excites me because these children have an advanced inner faith and knowledge of the faith that should be with them for the rest of their lives,” he exclaims.
Twelve-year-old catechumen/elect Roberto Chiquito’s initial exposure to Catholicism was from other family members. But during his time in religious education he discovered the beauty of the sacraments of the Church, with a special interest in Reconciliation. Aware of his shortcoming, he learned the blessings of Christ’s forgiveness. “Sometimes people say they cannot forgive, but God forgives. I want to be like God in that way,” he says.
According to Gropp, this year’s RCIA participants are the youngest she has led with the average age of 22. She describes them as “one of the most inquisitive groups I have had the privilege to teach. Some of this year’s group have been particularly interested in learning more about various topics and have read extra books I have given them to fill that desire. Purposeful, profound, as well as practical inquiry, from such a young group gives so much hope for the future of our Church,” she explains.
The importance of Lenten promises were encouraged through meaningful, achievable and realistic suggestions such as praying a decade or a whole rosary, reading and contemplating Scripture passages and reading spiritual literature. But says Gropp, “a few decided to really take the sacrifice up some notches and gave up meat or decided to try to translate canon law into layman’s terms!”
Gropp emphasizes that each person comes to the RCIA process from a unique life journey. “One of the beautiful things about RCIA, is we are dealing with adults, some still in their teens, who are coming from so many different back grounds, not just faiths and sometimes no faiths, but also lifestyles and very heavy crosses. This year, again, has had the most amazing group of mainly young people who have walked different, but very rough roads,” Gropp recalls.
Many in RCIA have shared personal life experiences, says Gropp. “The crosses they have bared, and, for some, continue to carry, are heart breaking, lonely and very heavy, and yet, they are with us, experiencing the Lord’s mercy and excited to come to His table and share in the hope for salvation. It is a glorious process of further conversion to witness throughout the year.”
Adult catechumen/elect Lauren Burket says her pilgrimage to Catholicism has yielded many insights. She began her journey by attending Mass and “fell in love with it.” Watching the movie “The Passion of the Christ” gave her a clear understanding of Christ’s love for all mankind. Additionally, the RCIA process has given Burket insight into her personal relationship with Christ and His constant presence in her life.
Juliane Tomes, another catechumen/elect from RCIA, is looking forward with great anticipation to the Easter Vigil and being baptized. “It is excitement, joy and such a blessed feeling all in one,” she says.
But the Easter Vigil is not the end of a pilgrim’s spiritual journey. Gropp explains that involvement in stewardship is important as the neophytes (those newly received in the Church) go forward in the parish.
St. Vincent de Paul pastor, Father Glenn Kohrman, adds that they also should come with, “a deep understanding of the Catholic’s obligation to pray for the world by coming to Mass and offering their prayers in union with the priest.” And lastly, having an understanding of their role in the New Evangelization is also key, says Father Kohrman.
According to the United States Conference of Bishops website, the New Evangelization “calls each of us to deepen our faith, believe in the Gospel message and go forth to proclaim the Gospel. The focus of the New Evangelization calls all Catholics to be evangelized and then go forth to evangelize.”