The Catholic Church openly welcomes and encourages adult converts, whether they are coming from another religious background or from an atheistic or agnostic one. For adults and children over the age of seven, converting to the Catholic Church requires completion of a program called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). This process involves a number of classes, rites and sacraments. The purpose of RCIA is to provide education, support and structure for adults participating in the conversion process. All Catholic churches offer this program, and information on an RCIA program at a particular parish can be obtained by contacting a priest, calling the parish office or searching the church's website.
The first step of RCIA is called "Evangelization." In this context, this term refers to the time when an individual interested in conversion to the Catholic church is given the opportunity to look into the Scriptures, ask questions and learn how to apply the Gospel to his life. This stage of personal reflection and learning can be extensive if necessary, and it helps individuals to decide if they want to continue in their spiritual journey towards full membership in the Catholic church.
The second phase of RCIA is called "Catechumenate." This term refers to a period of teaching delivered by qualified lay people and priests, and the candidate for membership is assisted through this process by a personal sponsor who is already a Catholic. The teaching delivered during the Catechumenate focuses on doctrine, church history and tradition and the Gospel message, with the goal of fully educating and preparing the candidate in his understanding of the Catholic church.
The third phase of RCIA is referred to as "Purification and Enlightenment." This phase begins with the rite of election, when a candidate's name is officially recorded, indicating the fact that he will receive initiation sacraments. This rite is generally given at the beginning of Lent, and this third phase ends with the Easter celebration when unbaptized converts are given the sacrament of baptism and formally received as members of the Catholic church.
The final phase of RCIA is called "Mystagogia." This phase spans the 50 days following Easter, ending with Pentecost. This is a special time for the new convert to learn the significance of the sacraments celebrated during Easter as well as to grow in his understanding and participation in the church community.