Many joining the Church this year have learned of the faith virtually
Despite difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic, parishes are welcoming groups of catechumens and candidates into the Catholic Church this Easter who have had to learn about the faith largely through virtual meetings.
One such parish is St. Ignatius Parish in San Francisco, which is welcoming a group of catechumens and candidates into the Church who had never convened in person until last month.
Dr. Mary Romo, a professor at the University of San Francisco and a catechist for the parish, told CNA that after convening their RCIA group online in September, she and a deacon have taught all the classes via Zoom.
“Hopefully we got the material across, but people missed the sense of community,” Romo said.
“The first time they actually saw each other [in person] was at the Rite of Election, the first Sunday of Lent.”
San Francisco has had some of the most stringent COVID-19 restrictions in place, including on places of worship, throughout the pandemic— a fact often decried by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone.
For much of the pandemic, indoor religious services were not allowed in San Francisco; under current restrictions, indoor religious services are allowed at 50% maximum occupancy.
Romo said their parish church has remained closed throughout most of the pandemic, but the RCIA group is looking forward to being together in person for the Easter Vigil.
St. Ignatius, like most parishes, is still livestreaming their Masses. Don Crean, director of sacramental preparation for the parish, said they have been trying to encourage viewers to be aware of the RCIA group.
One of the ways they have done that throughout the pandemic, Crean said, is to invite people from the RCIA group, two or three at a time, to come forward at the livestreamed Masses for a blessing so the viewers get a sense of who the catechumens and candidates are.
Generally their group of catechumens and candidates includes people from all walks of life, Romo said, but this year one demographic which generally accounts for a handful of converts is notably absent from the group— students from the nearby university.
She said in typical years, students from the University of San Francisco tend to “bring a life” to the RCIA sessions with their enthusiasm and inquisitive nature. But with the university still largely closed for in-person learning, the opportunities to attract students to RCIA at the parish dried up.
Romo said she honestly does not know how well the months of catechesis will “stick,” since she found it difficult to connect with the group via Zoom.
She and her co-catechist even recently conducted a retreat over Zoom, which included a guided meditation on Holy Week. She said it remains hard to “take the pulse” of the class when the interaction is mediated through a screen.
“Are they in profound silence, or are they just texting? We don’t know,” she laughed.
But she said the joy that the group showed when they met for the first time in person in February was a promising sign, and that seeing “the Church in action” as it continues to reopen will doubtless be helpful for the new Catholics.