Welcoming Returning Catholics: Beginning a New Parish Program

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Noguera, Karen
Master of Arts in Pastoral Theology
During the last two years while working with the R.C.I.A. program at St. Francis de Sales Parish, Holland, Michigan, a special need has become evident. A program which was intended to serve people who desired to become members of the Catholic Church through the sacraments of initiation has been used to renew and update the faith of returning Catholics. This situation has proven to be unacceptable because the needs of those who are already Catholics are not being met, since they are different from those of the catechumens and candidates. Generally speaking, the greatest need experienced by returning Catholics is one of reconciliation, because of the amount of time away from the Church community, and because of the hurts or misunderstandings which caused the separation initially. In some cases, there is an element of dissatisfaction or even anger over past incidents, policies, and personalities which were related to their estrangement from the Church. When this is the case, pastoral skills are especially necessary to help the returning Catholic to begin to heal the wounds of the past. Many times there is also an educational concern - a need to refresh the elements of Catholic belief and discuss the shift in perspective and church practices since Vatican II. In order to assist this group in making a satisfactory reconciliation with the Church, both educational and psychological skills are necessary to this ministry.