Encountering Christ, transforming lives through the RCIA journey

June 11, 2024

Daniel Cardinal DiNardo presides over a Rite of Election Liturgy at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in late February. The Liturgy is part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. (Photo by James Ramos/Herald)

HOUSTON — Embarking on the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) journey marks a pivotal moment in one’s faith life. Whether a catechumen or a ministry leader guiding others through the process, RCIA offers a profound and personal path to encounter Christ while preparing for the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist. 

Anthony Garcia, a neophyte and Army veteran, began his RCIA journey in college encouraged by a friend when he found himself searching for answers. His upbringing had not been particularly religious, and his military experiences had shaken his belief in God. Despite initial skepticism, he decided to give the process a chance. 

During the evangelization stage, he observed others with a mix of doubt and curiosity. One person’s genuine grin during the session particularly caught his attention. 
“I didn’t understand what he was smiling for,” Garcia said. “But even when I was driving home after the meeting, I still thought about that guy, just genuinely happy to be learning about the Word of God. I couldn’t remember if I had ever been that happy in my life, so I decided to come back. I stuck with it, and I couldn’t be happier.” 

During the RCIA process, Garcia found peace in letting go of his past mistakes and focusing on personal growth. As he studied the history of the Eucharist, he grasped the profound significance of Jesus’ sacrifice, seeing it as an opportunity for redemption rather than a license for impunity. 

“When Jesus took the place of the lamb in the New Testament, it was not a ticket for us to do whatever we want without consequence,” Garcia said. “It was an opportunity for us to relieve ourselves of past transgressions so that we can have a better relationship with God. Once I accepted that my sins do not define me and understood the purpose of Jesus’ sacrifice, I realized there’s never an absence of potential to dedicate yourself to God.” 

Garcia now understands the emptiness that no material possession or relationship can fill, encouraging those who feel a yearning for fulfillment to explore RCIA. 

“If you were given a chance to solve your problems, why not give RCIA a chance — why not give God a chance?” Garcia said. “I know I need to have a continual presence in this Church because relying on myself for answers led me down a long path of false pleasures that only tore me down. Coming back to the Church to seek the guidance of others, also seeking to know God, is the best way I can grow my faith besides actually living the Word the best I can.” 

Pamela Bilnoski embarked on her RCIA journey seeking answers to longstanding questions about the existence of God, her purpose and the identity of Jesus. Growing up attending Clear Lake Bible Church, her mother emphasized prayer and Bible reading, yet Pamela often grappled with uncertainty and found it challenging to comprehend the teachings fully. 

Upon joining RCIA, she became immersed in a supportive community that prioritized teaching and discipleship. Bilnoski found solace in the detailed explanations, especially those in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. 

“Coming to Church, being in His presence, and then actually consuming Him, being a part of the feast and the Mass, is the whole purpose of Church,” Bilnoski said.

Otherwise, we’re just a social club and can meet anywhere. I also learned in RCIA about the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and how Jesus is here to forgive us.” 

A significant learning opportunity during RCIA profoundly influenced Bilnoski’s prayer life: the Rosary. Though she had a prayer life before, she said the Rosary draws her closer to Christ through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  

“Our Lady has pointed me to Christ,” Bilnoski said. “All of His life is in the Rosary, and each decade is a reminder of what I should think about and contemplate in my prayer life.” 
Bilnoski expressed her eagerness to serve the Church by joining ministries like RCIA, where people are nurtured in their faith journey. 

“I want to help serve here because more and more people have questions and are searching for answers,” she said. “Now that I have the knowledge, it’s my duty and opportunity to help teach them about Jesus.” 

Eby Kurian, director of Adult Faith Formation and RCIA at Mary Queen Catholic Church in Friendswood, encourages neophytes like Garcia and Bilnoski, newly received, to become leaders in the RCIA process and help others find their way to the Church. 

Kurian himself underwent a transformative journey that shaped his leadership role. As a young man in college, he encouraged his Hindu best friend to explore Catholicism through a music ministry, leading to his friend’s conversion. Later, while serving as a campus minister in Miami, he and his wife guided a Chinese student through RCIA, eventually becoming his Godparents. 

“The Church exists to evangelize as the body of Christ,” said Kurian. “I’ve always loved introducing the person of Jesus to others in both formal and informal settings and realize what a beautiful process the Church has to bring people in to learn more about the faith. I truly enjoy walking with them and sharing about Jesus, and if it is God’s will, then I am blessed to become a witness as they receive the Sacraments of Initiation or enter into full communion with the Catholic Church.” 

Since the pandemic, Kurian has seen a surge in families, couples and individuals from diverse backgrounds, including immigrants and those of other large denominations, seeking to join RCIA at Mary Queen. He said the welcoming, non-judgmental setting where Catechumens and Candidates feel comfortable asking questions and exploring their faith makes them feel at home. 

Last March, Kurian witnessed the transformative power of the Holy Spirit as close to 1,500 newly elect were welcomed into the Church during the Archdiocesan-wide Rite of Election held at several parishes in the Houston area. This ceremony exemplified the culmination of the RCIA process, a vital component of the Office of Worship for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, which is among the 60-plus ministries supported by the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF).  

Adam Brill, director of the Office of Worship, said the DSF plays a crucial role in supporting not only RCIA but also various other processes and programs across the Archdiocese. 

“The DSF funds enable us to assist parishes lacking full-time liturgists,” Brill said. “This ensures they comprehend the Church’s liturgical vision, enhancing worship experiences and facilitating encounters with Christ for all who seek Him within our parish walls.” 

Brill invites individuals interested in leadership roles within the RCIA process to attend the OCIA Intensive Workshop hosted by the Archdiocese from Friday, June 21 to Saturday, June 22. This workshop will introduce the newly approved Order of Christian Initiation of Adults (OCIA), which will replace the RCIA process.

Attendees will benefit from esteemed speakers, practical workshops and resources that provide insights into the new process, address challenges as opportunities for growth, and help leadership teams develop strategic plans tailored to their parish’s unique needs. 

To learn more about the Office of Worship’s RCIA process, go to www.archgh.org/RCIA. To donate to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston’s DSF annual appeal, go to www.archgh.org/DSF. The DSF supports 64 ministries, whether direct service or education, which require this critical funding to remain in operation. Out of each gift given to DSF, 100% of every dollar goes directly to supporting these ministries.