An important part of the RCIA is the role of the Sponsor; an active member of the local parish Church that walks the journey with his/her candidate.
Who may serve as Sponsor?
To serve the goals of R.C.I.A., sponsors must be active, practicing Catholics, ideally from the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. The ideal sponsor is mature in their faith and active, so as to connect their candidate or catechumen to the parish, via parish activities, ministry, and overall parish life, and be objective in their judgment of a person's readiness or calling. Parishioners of the Co-Cathedral interested in becoming an R.C.I.A. sponsor must:
Sponsors will complete a statement indicating they are both aware of the requirements and in deed, meet them. This form will become part of Church record.
Role of the Sponsor
- Be at least 16 years old;
- Be fully initiated in the Catholic Church (Baptism, Confirmation, 1st Holy Communion)
- Not be parent/guardian of the intended participant;
- If married, current marriage was witnessed by a Catholic priest or deacon; and
- Is not the spouse or fiancé of the intended participant.
The role of the sponsor is to both support and witness the person's conversion and readiness to receive the sacraments of the Catholic Church. This is accomplished by attending the catechetical meetings as often as possible, special rituals and events with the inquirer and offering encouragement, listening, prayers, and example outside of the regular meetings. While both sponsor and inquirer are expected to communicate throughout the process; the initiative is on the part of the sponsor.
Aside from weekly meetings and special events, the R.C.I.A. connects the person to the universal church through the individual parish where the inquirer . The sponsor is the connection to the parish therefore his/her participation in parish life is very important. The sponsor introduces the inquirer to fellow parishioners, invites them to parish events, and meets with the candidate for one-on-one support.
It is common for people to experience periods of uncertainty throughout the process; they are perhaps being challenged in their beliefs and moral attitudes by the new information they are receiving. The sponsor is there to encourage them to learn more, and to pray for the Holy Spirit's guidance.
To this end, the RCIA sessions are designed with the inquirer's needs as the priority; those seeking information, discerning if God is calling them to live as Catholics. Therefore, for sponsors, incessant talking, preaching, "over-sharing," and/or dominating small group discussions is inappropriate. Quiet listening and time-sensitive sharing is the key.
The other aspect of a support role is recognizing and identifying the rich diversity of spiritualities in the Catholic Church. This means encouraging the inquirer to investigate the many ways that Catholics worship, pray, learn, and enrich their faith - including (or especially) those that perhaps are not part of one's own preferences.
Occasionally in an RCIA session, an inquirer shares sensitive details relating to their discernment process. To do so demands the utmost trust and comfort, therefore, RCIA is not an open-style adult ed class. RCIA is for the inquirer. Only team, sponsors, and inquirers are permitted in the R.C.I.A. meetings.
What if a person chooses not to become Catholic?
Not every person who begins the R.C.I.A. process is received into the Church. This is due to a number of possible reasons, including excessive absences, decision to hold off or quit, or unresolved marital issues. Some may be received into the Church at a later time, and others are not.
There is no expectation that any inquirer will choose to accept to be initiated into the Catholic Church; this is a decision that must be made with absolute freedom. Sponsors are to provide the encouragement and support that an individual needs to freely choose what they believe God is asking of them, regardless of where the decision takes them.
We are here to support them in the process of discernment, by providing the truth of our faith, to provide the reality of what it means to be Catholic, to pray for them and with them, and to welcome them to be with us regardless of the outcome.
When do Sponsor responsibilities conclude?
A sponsor to someone who is received into the Church, or completes their initiation is connected to this person throughout their life. Their role continues as one of encouragement and example. The inquirer will need to be re-introduced to fellow parishioners, ministry leaders, and invited to learn about the different opportunities of the parish. Staying in touch throughout the first year is expected; this is a year of many firsts, and one that the neophyte will need to feel welcomed.
A special relationship will have taken place by this time; it is one to celebrate. Celebrating the anniversary of their new life is a great way to stay connected, especially as the years go by.