Bishop to initiate adults into Church November 18


By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff
kensouza@anchornews.org

FALL RIVER, Mass. — Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., will confer the Sacrament of Confirmation onto 41 candidates who recently completed the latest diocesan Adult Faith Formation program and another half dozen who were trained in their respective parishes, on Saturday, November 18 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fall River.

According to Deacon Bruce J. Bonneau, director of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults for the Fall River Diocese, interest in the RCIA program has been gaining momentum of late.

“Actually, it has increased gradually over time — usually in the fall we have around 35 candidates and this year it’s almost 50, so it’s gone up,” Bonneau recently told The Anchor. “That’s a pretty healthy number. Of course, we’re drawing from around the diocese.”

Every year, Deacon Bonneau oversees two Adult Confirmations — one in the spring and another in the fall — during which adults are confirmed and welcomed into the Catholic Church. The spring Confirmation is typically held during the Easter season, sometime in May. The fall Confirmation generally takes place in October or November, just prior to the beginning of Advent and the start of another Liturgical calendar year.

“It’s not intentionally designed that way,” Bonneau said. “Most of the scheduling really revolves around what dates we can get, how holidays fall, and the bishop’s schedule. (This year) we settled on November 18. It will always be in late fall, but not so much because in anticipation of the Advent season.”

The Fall River Diocese used to celebrate just one Adult Confirmation in the spring, but Deacon Bonneau said it made more sense to offer two different opportunities during the year.

“I met with some of the priests from the deaneries and other people and I thought even out of my own personal ministerial experiences that if someone were to come to you, let’s say in June, and expressed the desire to be confirmed, you pretty much had to say they had to wait until next May,” he said. “So having two Adult Confirmations allowed us to have a better pastoral response to them and say, well we do have a program and the bishop does do an Adult Confirmation in the fall, so if things come together perhaps you could participate.”

Deacon Bonneau said the reasons for people wanting to join the Church vary from person to person, but typically it revolves around them wanting to serve as someone’s godparent or because they want to marry in the Church and had never been confirmed.

“Then there are those who have just decided the time is right to get confirmed,” he said. “There’s always a mixture of people and reasons.”

While some RCIA candidates have had prior Church experience, others have had little to no training in the faith, he said.

“I would say, unfortunately, we have a situation where more and more of our candidates have had little experience with the Church,” Bonneau said. “They’re pretty disconnected. Many times it’s really not their fault — it’s the parents or the godparents before them who didn’t bring them up in the faith. So we’re starting to experience the reality of the fact that we’re not bringing many of our young people up in the faith.”

Applicants wishing to be confirmed through the RCIA program must attend six weekly two-hour training sessions and then participate in a one-day retreat experience. While the training can be done individually on the parish level, the diocesan program provides an opportunity for candidates to enjoy the experience of learning together in a group dynamic.

“If you only have one person in your parish, it’s very hard,” Bonneau said. “You don’t have that interchange and it leaves the whole pastoral piece obviously to the parish and the pastor to develop. So I think we’ve complemented each other well. I think I’ve done as much as I can to get them back into their parishes, which is the goal, frankly. You’re not initiated to become a godparent, you’re initiated to become part of the Catholic Church and part of the worshipping community.”

Although the instruction is meant to teach candidates the tenets of Catholicism, Deacon Bonneau said it isn’t meant “to make them theologians.”

“It’s just to give them the fundamentals of the faith, or the basic building blocks of what we believe as Catholics. And you really can’t do much more than that in 12 hours.”

Using the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” as a guide, Bonneau said the training includes discussions about Revelation, the Creed, the Sacraments, and offers basic catechesis. It also provides opportunities for prayer and reflection, while addressing the Spiritual component of being Catholic and how to live out one’s faith.

“We also conclude — and we added this a couple of years ago — a retreat on a Saturday morning from 9 a.m. to two o’clock in the afternoon and I usually bring in another speaker to talk about Spirituality, to talk about the Sacrament itself, to talk about grace,” Bonneau said. “For the most part, none of these people have ever had any kind of a retreat experience, so it gives them a dimension of the Church that they’re not familiar with it all. It’s not just about learning things — it’s about experiencing things of the heart and making commitments based on that.”

For Bonneau, the Faith Formation and reception of the Sacrament itself is “just a small piece of a much bigger picture.” He hopes the newly-initiated members of the Church will continue to practice and live out their faith every day.

“The experience of Church, the experience of Mass, the experience of the Sacrament are all in many ways more important than 12 hours of learning some things,” he said. That’s where you’re going to continue to be formed in your faith. And it makes no sense if you’re asking to be initiated into the Church but then you don’t participate in it. There’s a real disconnect there.”

Realizing that once candidates receive Confirmation and return to their respective parishes he has “no control over whether they go to Mass or not,” Bonneau said he relies on the grace of the Sacrament and hopes they will continue on in their faith.

“You don’t know where all of this is going to go, but you know it’s a real opportunity for evangelization,” he said. “We talk about evangelization all the time, but this might be one of the last places that we really do have a chance to evangelize them.”

Having taught the Adult Faith Formation classes since 2004, Deacon Bonneau admitted he loves passing on his faith to others and it’s been a very fruitful experience for him.

“These are the things we want to be doing: administering the Sacraments, encountering people who are reconnecting, and completing their initiation into the Church,” he said. “I mean those are all positive things. And for them, this is really very special. We give them a little history of the cathedral, explain the stained glass windows in the hour before (Mass). So even that is a learning experience. I show them the bishop’s seat — and all of it is new to them. There’s music from the choir; I mean it is a different experience for all of us when you’re at the cathedral with the bishop.

“And, of course, Bishop da Cunha is a great homilist and I think he touches peoples’ hearts and he connects well with the people and for them I think it’s a real source of encouragement that he is so concerned about them and their faith life and where they’re going to take that into the world.”

The new adults will be welcomed into the Church during the 4 p.m. Vigil Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral on Saturday, November 18.

“We used to do a special Mass, but then we decided just to do it at the regular four o’clock Mass, that way you have music and you have the community right there participating,” he said. “And it’s supposed to be done in a community Mass, because you’re being initiated into the Catholic community.”

Those interested in the next RCIA and Adult Confirmation program can either contact Deacon Bruce Bonneau at bbonneau@dfrcs.org, or inform their pastor.


© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts