By Marco Ceccarelli
There was certainly no shortage of talent and rich and informative discussion at the recent Christian Initiation Australia Network National conference.
Held in Perth for the first time in 20 years and organised by the RCIA National Conference Organising Committee, the four-day conference (6 to 9 October) brought together an array of state, national and international speakers who offered new and updated insights into aspects of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
The topics covered reflected the theme of the conference – ‘Journey to the Source’ and ranged from teaching liturgy during the RCIA journey, understanding theological principals in simple language and examining the moral issues facing the RCIA to the meaning of prayer, parish collaboration, team and parish formation, catechesis, ecumenism and liturgical music.
In the opening address for the conference, Archdiocese of Perth Vicar General, Fr Peter Whitely, spoke of his own involvement in the RCIA during his time as a parish priest.
He recounted his experiences of initiating adults into the Catholic faith approximately 30 years ago and his transition from the use of a Catholic Inquiry Centre book which offered 20 lessons on the Catholic religion to the adoption of the RCIA.
It did not take long, Fr Whitely recalled, to notice the greater benefits of the RCIA, particularly its predisposition to unite people and allow them to grow in faith by forging new relationships and friendship.
“To my amazement great things began to happen in the parish,” Fr Whitely said.
“Firstly, the team members began to bond with each other. Their faith and their understanding began to grow. They began to develop deep friendships with the catechumens and candidates and with their godparents and sponsors.
“And then, when we started to introduce the rites into the parish Masses, the parishioners started to reach out to the catechumens and candidates. More people became involved, more parish groups, music ministry, liturgy committee, social committee…all building relationships with one another. Extended family members of the various groups came to know the catechumens and their families. The consequence was that an atmosphere of welcome and support developed and spread through the parish,” Fr Whitely added.
Fr Whitely went on to emphasise the importance of taking a patient, unhurried and attentive approach to the RCIA.
“In bringing people into relationship with God, we have to allow the Lord to do his work – not rush people though the process according to our time agenda or even their time agenda to become Catholic. It is the Lord who gives faith. It is important to walk fully through the process giving the Lord time to do his work in each individual,” Fr Whitely said.
Among the speakers at the conference was director and founder of TeamRCIA.com, Nick Wagner, who travelled from San Jose in California to give two of the conference keynote speeches, as well as run two workshops.
With more than 25 years’ experience as leader and trainer in liturgical and catechetical ministries, Mr Wagner delivered thought provoking presentations on journeying to the source, that is, journeying to the discovery of Christ, in the Year of Mercy and how to best use the tools of the RCIA to accompany people on their faith journey.
Local talent was also on show as Bunbury born Fr Tony Chiera, who is the current Vicar General of Bunbury Diocese, delivered a captivating keynote presentation on Friday, 7 October.
Using excerpts from the Bible and the RCIA and quotations from Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI, Church fathers and Catholic scholars, Fr Chiera spoke on the various stages of the journey towards Catholic formation, often highlighting the crucial role played by the Christian community which, quoting Benedict XVI, “grows by attraction.”
Other speakers and workshop facilitators included RCIA Coordinator of Lumen Christi Pastoral Region of Wollongong, Max Norden; Director of Perth’s LJ Goody Bioethics Centre, Fr Joe Parkinson STL; Perth’s Centre for Liturgy’s Helen Medina; Chair of Brisbane Archdiocesan Catechumenate Committee, Sue Thomas; RCIA Coordinator in Wagga Wagga, Mary McPhee, former RCIA Coordinator in Melbourne and Auckland parishes, Mandy Robinson; theologian with the Broken Bay Institute, Dr Anthony Gooley; Salesian priest from Melbourne, Elio Capra SDB; coordinating member at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Ballarat, Dr Susan Crowe and RCIA Coordinator in Broken Bay and Wllongong, Darren McDowell.