By Steve Neill Of The Catholic Virginian
It is important that new catechumens who are received into the Church at Easter through baptism feel connected with their parish community and feel welcome at various parish activities. If not, there is the risk that some may quietly walk away and their newly developed Catholic faith would be inactive or even abandoned.
Katie McMaster, associate director of the Office of Christian Formation, likely surprised some in her audience when she said statistics show that more than half of newly baptized Catholics are no longer worshipping with their parish community a year later.
“If this happens, they haven’t connected with the community,” she said in a session at the annual Music and Liturgy Conference held June 12-13 at St. Mary’s Church in Richmond. “We need to get them out of Room 4 on Thursday nights and be part of the community.”
She emphasized the need for a catechumen’s sponsor to stay in touch with the person who is seeking baptism and the other sacraments at Easter. “Sponsors should make an attempt to get the catechumens involved and exposed to the life of the community,” she said.
One event she suggested would be inviting him or her to witness the Stations of the Cross, usually held at many parishes on Friday night during Lent. The sponsor walks along with them during the journey.
When the catechumen is baptized, the person who was initially a sponsor now becomes a godparent. A godparent who makes this long commitment must be at least 16 and a fully initiated Catholic. They cannot be in an irregular or invalid marriage.
Mrs. McMaster also stressed the importance of the RCIA sponsor in providing personal attention to his or her catechumen or candidate.
“They have to be good examples, take time with them and invite them to different parish activities,” she said. “A sponsor is kind of like an adjunct professor who stands with the candidate at the Rite of Welcoming.”
The process of recruiting the right person to be a sponsor is an important factor.
Mrs. McMaster suggested that those involved in the RCIA invite people to a prayerful reflection and at that time describe the responsibilities and commitment they are being asked to make.
But how the personal invitation is extended can influence the result.
“I see this wonderful gift in you,” is one approach of the invitation.
“I am offering you this wonderful opportunity,”or “Please prayerfully consider being a sponsor who is the bridge to the Christian community.”
In some cases, would-be sponsors might be interested but hesitant. They feel they don’t have the right knowledge to guide their candidate through the RCIA formation.
“Why would I ask you to do something so important if I didn’t have the tools to give you?” might be the right answer, Mrs. McMaster said. “It is important to make the invitation more of an opportunity than an obligation.”
While catechumen sponsors normally have a sense of zeal and enthusiasm which they impart to their candidates, they must refrain from showing disappointment if the catechumen decides he or she is not ready for baptism when Easter comes.
“If one is not ready, we must respect that,” Mrs. McMaster said. “We should still show our interest as they are discerning.”
Conversion is a continual process, she said.
“It is an extended period of time,” she said. “There is no end.”