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Virtual is RCIA’s reality again this year

By 
  • February 10, 2022

There was a fleeting moment near the end of last year when Sandy Marshall thought restarting in-person Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) meetings would be possible in 2022.

Alas, the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 shelved those hopes for now. The RCIA coordinator for Calgary’s St. Albert the Great Catholic Parish now expects she and her peers across the country will largely be limited to virtual gatherings for the third consecutive year.

Marshall, who has led RCIA programs in Calgary and Texas since 1994, forges ahead. She will engage in her passion of helping candidates prepare to receive the sacraments of the Catholic Church and expects to educate adults from parishes that have shut down the program this year.

“I would say three of the 10 parishes I have been in contact with are not doing RCIA at all this year. Some of the adults from those parishes will come and join us,” said Marshall.

When COVID-19 first hit nearly two years ago, Marshall remembered taking a one-week break to huddle and recalibrate before marching forward with RCIA on Zoom. She said her status as a volunteer leader made the transition easy. But at the same time, some paid RCIA coordinators were let go as parishes made tough decisions in confronting collapsing finances.  

Connie Price is the Archdiocese of Toronto’s associate director for catechesis and co-director of the Office of Formation for Discipleship. Price remembers the rampant instability instructors experienced in COVID-19’s first months.

“Parishes were constantly challenged to be flexible and responsive to changes in the permitted number of persons in meeting spaces, the opening or temporary closing of churches and all of the health-related losses, fears and hospitalizations,” wrote Price in an email to The Catholic Register. “Decisions had to be made about delaying the celebration of the sacraments of initiation. Parishes pivoted between in-person gatherings and online group meetings during the preparation process.”

Price expects RCIA coordinators in Toronto’s 225 parishes are well-equipped to tackle the next chapter of the pandemic nimbly. They have shared notes and uncovered the practices and resources required to offer an online program or perhaps a hybrid presentation.

Provincial premiers have announced the intention to lift restrictions over the next couple of months if COVID-19 cases and hospitalization numbers stabilize. But Marshall expects a return to in-person events to be measured rather than instantaneous.

“If I were to say we are returning to in-person on April 1, we would have people who are going to be fearful, cautious and will want to maintain the current circumstances,” she said. “I think the transition will be gradual, but we’ll have to gauge everyone about how they are feeling.”

While a champion for the personal connections, Marshall recognizes the silver linings of the past two years.

“The upside with going virtual is that it made it easier for people to participate as parents did not have to arrange child care. We have a good group that is in tune with one another,” she said.

“But all they know is what it is like to be Catholic during COVID. We want to come back to Mass to be together. And we want parts of the Mass, like the Eucharist, to return to the way it was before.”

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