I had my most meaningful experience of Easter three years ago when I was living in the Parish of Our Lady’s Nativity in Leixlip. My parish priest, Father Michael Hurley, a native of west Cork, placed inter-county rivalry to one side and invited this Kerryman to act as sponsor for a young Nigerian doctor who had asked to be received into the Catholic Church. In fact, four young adults were preparing for baptism on Holy Saturday night that year in our parish.
(Right: Our Lady's Nativity, Parish Church, Leixlip, Co. Kildare, Ireland)
Those who wish to be received into the Church follow the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) programme. In Leixlip we met every Saturday evening for almost a year before the Easter Vigil. It was a great experience as it forced one to reflect deeply on ones own faith while assisting another on their own faith journey. The programme also had a positive impact on the parish community who witnessed the commitment of these young adults each week.
The experience was so positive that I would recommend that it be given much greater pastoral priority in Ireland. We often hear about the need for evangelisation and this can often seem to be a vague and abstract concept but the RCIA programme is a wonderful practical expression of that.
In addition, it is a powerful source of hope and encouragement for the Church. I was working in the United States after the Long Lent of 2002 during which, day after day, a new clerical scandal seemed to appear in the media. Imagine the boost which the Church in America received when, on Holy Saturday night, despite all the negative publicity, over 60,000 adults were baptised as Catholics.
In fact, large numbers of bishops reported in a recent survey that RCIA has the power to “transform parish life”. Perhaps the implementation of an RCIA programme would be a useful project for the many newly created parish pastoral councils. It would also be a wonderful way to make use of the skills and talents of the many lay catechists with whom the Church in Ireland is now blessed.
Promoting RCIA demands that one has confidence in ones own identity but it also creates great confidence and gives people hope. The challenge facing our leaders at national, diocesan and parish level is to devote significant resources- time and personnel - to this work. For me personally and for our parish community I can honestly say it was a tonic. (c) The Irish Catholic.