RCIA program reminds co-ordinator of the power of faith

By  Luc Rinaldi, Catholic Register Special
  • April 13, 2011
A group of catechumens who have gone through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults prepare to enter the Catholic Church. (CNS photo) AJAX, Ont. - By being a witness to the calls of those he serves daily, Mike Hyland is reminded of his own call to service as a co-ordinator of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

“I really got transformed by the experience,” he said. “(I saw) how rich our faith is and how wonderful the Church is.”

The RCIA program is the process of introducing and welcoming new Catholics into the faith. Hyland has been co-ordinating this four-part process at St. Francis de Sales parish in Ajax, Ont., for almost seven years, where he has guided more than 70 people into the Catholic faith.

“Their call is my call too,” he said.

For new Catholics at St. Francis, that call begins with an interview with Hyland. This interview, which gives Hyland a sense of the candidate’s spiritual background, is the beginning of Inquiry, the first stage of RCIA. During this stage, those discerning meet weekly, typically for eight or nine weeks, to study and discuss the Bible and discover where God has been throughout their lives.

In the second stage, Catechumenate, sponsors guide the candidates through an in-depth look at Catholic traditions like the Mass, sacraments, Lent and Advent. They participate in catechesis, liturgy, community events and apostolic or charitable works. This stage has no set time.

“It’s a journey, not a course,” says Hyland. “A journey of the head, and especially the heart.”

Purification and Enlightenment, the third part of this journey, begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts the duration of Lent. During this time, the candidates focus inward to scrutinize what parts of their lives are “blind spots” to God. On Easter Sunday, the candidates are baptized and officially become Catholic, and enter into the final stage of RCIA, Mystagogy.

In Mystagogy, the new Catholics meet with a focus on what it means to be a Catholic and what their call is within the Church. This stage continues for a year after the candidates’ baptism, but Hyland says it never truly ends.

“I’m still in Mystagogy, we’re all still in Mystagogy — to find out what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.”

For Hyland, a retired teacher in the Catholic system, this is especially true, as he only found what he describes as his “baptismal call” after retiring. In the summer after his retirement, Hyland’s pastor invited him to take part in an RCIA course held in Ottawa.

Hyland returned to his parish and began co-ordinating RCIA. Over the next seven years, he’d help establish an RCIA program at two parishes and become a part of Toronto’s archdiocesan RCIA committee for three years until 2009. Through his work, Hyland says he’s witnessed some “remarkable stories.”

“Their stories are so motivating,” says Hyland. “It calls me in a really true way to be who I’m meant to be.”

One of the most memorable was that of a woman working in a Catholic institution. After being diagnosed with an inoperable form of cancer, she travelled back to her home country. Before she left, a priest organized a prayer group to pray for her health.

Later, when she visited another doctor, she was told there was no trace of the cancer in her body. Convinced this was “a healing from God” brought about through the prayers of the priest, she returned home and entered RCIA, inspired to share that healing as a Catholic.

It’s these stories that remind Hyland of the power of the Catholic faith and the importance of RCIA, a process that he hopes the archdiocese of Toronto comes to embrace more fully.

“I’ve slowly realized those gifts and talents that God has given me. It’s God’s work, not mine.”

(Rinaldi is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

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