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Pope Francis calls for greater lay protagonism in the Church

Pope Francis addresses the presidents and representatives of Episcopal Commissions for the Laity participating in the Conference “Pastors and lay faithful called to go forward together” and urges them to promote lay co-responsibility in their Churches in a spirit of synodality.

By Lisa Zengarini

For the Church to carry out its mission of proclaiming the merciful love of God effectively “emphasis must be placed on unity and not on separation” between clergy and laypeople, Pope Francis told participants in a conference hosted by the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life on lay co-responsibility.

“The path that God is showing to the Church is precisely that of living communion and walking together more intensely and more concretely. He invites you to overcome the ways of acting independently”, the Pope said on Saturday as he addressed 200 presidents and representatives of Episcopal Commissions for the Laity who gathered this week in the Vatican to discuss how to improve the collaboration among laity, priests and consecrated persons in the service of the Church.

Titled “Pastors and lay faithful called to go forward together”, the Conference was aimed at exploring the nature and foundation of lay co-responsibility in the Church also in light of the ongoing synodal process on synodality.

The Church as a body with shared responsibilities in the mission

In his address, Pope Francis insisted on the missionary dimension of synodality, in which all baptized in the Church, as one body and one People of God united by one faith in Christ, share their responsibilities like Jesus’s disciples did. “Indeed”, he said “sharing the mission brings pastors and laity closer together, creates a communion of intentions, manifests the complementarity of the different charisms and therefore arouses in everyone the desire to journey together”.

“The Church is the holy faithful People of God of Lumen Gentium, it is neither populism nor elitism. And this cannot be learned theoretically, it is understood by living it.”

A missionary Church

This missionary dimension, continued the Pope, must be at the center of the formation of the laity, “which doesn’t have to be scholastic, limited to theoretical ideas”, because this leads to ideologies, “but also practical”, involving the faithful in various forms of witness, which brings them closer other people.

“The lay apostolate is above all a witness! Testimony of one’s own experience, testimony of prayer, testimony of service to those in need, testimony of closeness to the poor and lonely people, testimony of acceptance, especially on the part of families. And so we are formed for the mission: going towards others. It is a training “in the field”, and at the same time an effective way of spiritual growth. (…) The tragedy for the Church today (is) that Jesus keeps knocking on the door, but from within, so that we let Him go out!”

One People of God

Pope Francis went on to recall that valuing lay people in the Church is not the result of some “theological novelty”, or a “functional” solution for the shortage of priests, or worse a sort of “revenge” for those who have been put aside in the past. “Rather, it is based on a correct vision of the Church: that is of the Church as the People of God, of which the laity are full members together with ordained ministers.”

“It is therefore a question of recovering an “integral ecclesiology” “, as it was in the first centuries, in which everything is unified by belonging to Christ and by supernatural communion with him and with one’s brothers, overcoming a sociological vision which distinguishes social classes and ranks and it is ultimately based on the “power” assigned to each category.”

The laity live in the world and are part of the People of God

“In this one People of God, which is the Church, the fundamental element is belonging to Christ”, not a specific status ,  Pope Francis stressed.   “In this unitary vision of the Church, where we are above all Christians, the laity live in the world and at the same time are part of the People of God“, he said, recalling Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council Constitution on the Church, and the Puebla Document containing the renderings of the Third General Conference of Latin American Bishops in 1979.

Listen to our report

Pope Francis further noted that, although the laity are mainly called to live their mission in the secular realities in which they are immersed, this does not exclude that they also have the “skills, charisms and competences to contribute to the life of the Church”: for example, in liturgical animation, catechesis , formation, in government structures and the administration of Church goods. This is why, he said, it is important for pastors to be trained, right from the seminary, “in a daily and ordinary collaboration with the laity”.

No to clericalism

Bringing his address to an end,  Pope Francis therefore insisted on the crucial importance of promoting the role of lay people , and above all women, in the Church involving them in the various fields of pastoral care and apostolate, and in the decision making processes, and entrusting them with resposibilities . “This co-responsibility lived between lay people and pastors – he said – will make it possible to overcome dichotomies, fears and mutual mistrust”.

“Clericalism must be chased away. A priest or a bishop who falls into this attitude does a lot of harm to the Church.”

 

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