‘Symbolon’ program aims to improve adult faith formation

Denver, Colo., Jul 30, 2013 / 02:05 am (CNA).- The Denver-based Augustine Institute has launched its new Symbolon program aimed at improving adult faith formation overall, and in particular the process of welcoming converts into the Church.

“This is a response to…the concern that many bishops and leaders of the catechetical world have about the crisis of faith that we're up against in everyday parish life,” Dr. Edward Sri, chancellor of the Augustine Institute, told CNA July 22.

“The U.S. bishops have identified RCIA with needing help…more than one out of three people who go through the RCIA process stop going to Mass in one to five years.”

“We're supposed to be fishers of men,” he reflected. “We're fishing with big holes in our nets if one out of three people in RCIA stop practicing” the faith.

Symbolon is an on-going relationship of training offered to parish leaders about how to conduct adult formation in a way that facilitates “conversion to Jesus Christ through his Church” rather than treating adult formation as “Catholic class” or “hoops you have to jump through” to become Catholic.

The program includes both parish subscriptions, which consist of a video based curriculum for adult formation, a guide to lectio divina –  a way of praying with the readings at Sunday Mass – and on-going training of leaders and volunteers; and diocesan training partnerships, which provide a full year of training to leaders in programs of adult faith formation.

Lucas Pollice, the training director for Symbolon, told CNA that it was “tremendously wise” of Vatican II to re-institute the adult catechumenate, or RCIA, but that the program is “relatively young” and that difficulties are part of “the nature of implementing something that's so new.”

“But I think the key is in the process of understanding that the catechetical, liturgical and pastoral –  those three aspects of formation” are “all so crucial” to a successful process of Christian initiation.

Symbolon is meant to “integrate all three of those throughout the process,” Pollice said. In his experience as a catechist, he's seen parishes that do one of the three areas of formation really well, yet lag in another area.

“So what we really emphasize is how do you do RCIA with the catechetical, pastoral and liturgical formation integrated throughout the process. It's like a three-legged stool, because if you're missing one of these three pillars of formation, your process is going to fail in one way or another.”

The training offered to parish leaders by Symbolon addresses how to include each of the pillars in every stage of the adult catechumenate.

Symbolon is meant to correct a situation in which the spiritual and liturgical rites of RCIA have been well implemented, Pollice said, but that the program, in large part, has been “severely impoverished … as far as people really receiving a systematic and complete understanding of what the Church teaches.”

Pollice also suggested a breakdown in the pastoral pillar, with RCIA directors failing in “really taking the time to know each person and their individual journey, calling them to conversion and calling them to holiness, even in the tough issues, even in the way they may be called to change that might be painful or tough, but sticking it out with people and really helping them through that conversion.”

“I think that’s really where you see a lot of the one in three people not attending Sunday Mass … is they just didn’t complete that conversion process.”

To help fix this, Symbolon is meant, Sri said, to “help a diocese, and help a leadership team, to form all of their parish leaders so they can be effective witnesses to Christ in the Catholic faith.”

The on-going training given in parochial and diocesan partnerships, Pollice added, is matter of helping the leaders who are being trained to regard “RCIA as an ongoing conversion of forming life-long disciples. Not just getting people to the Easter Vigil, but the importance of really forming life-long disciples of Christ.”

The diocesan training includes sessions several times throughout the year, as well as “webinars” every other week. Symbolon has already partnered with the dioceses of Rapid City, Denver, Colorado Springs, Toledo, and Madison. While sessions for 2013 have already filled, spots remain available for 2014 training partnerships.

The Augustine Institute considers it important to offer parish leaders on-going training and a partnership-relationship with “intentional follow-up” rather than a one-time “drive-by training” that can leave them with no support months after the training session is over.

“We're emphasizing the training, because that's really the most important part,” Sri reflected. “We need better formation for all the people involved in RCIA.”

“It's more important than any textbook or any handout, or any video someone may show: the most important instrument God will use to carry out the new evangelization in a parish is the local leaders, the local catechists, the local clergy.”

Sri continued, “they need to be formed catechetically so they’re passing on the correct form of the faith. They also need to be formed pastorally: they need the pastoral skills to know how to meet people where they’re at, and how to communicate the faith in a compelling, captivating way.”

“But they also need to be formed spiritually, so they can be really effective witnesses to the Gospel.”

He added that “if leaders are formed well on those levels, spiritually, pastorally, catechetically, then you've got all the ingredients for a dynamic new evangelization parish to grow.”

Parochial partnerships with Symbolon are available for those parishes that want to enter into a “whole parish partnership” with the Augustine Institute “over a long period of time to provide training and resources for adult faith formation and RCIA,” Pollice said.

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