Go beyond parallel lines that never meet

The recently concluded international conference on Pastors and lay faithful called to walk together was aimed at exploring the nature and foundation of lay co-responsibility in the Church.

Mar 03, 2023

The laity are men and women “of the Church in the heart of the world” and men and women “of the world in the heart of the Church”.

By Charles Bertille
The recently concluded international conference on Pastors and lay faithful called to walk together was aimed at exploring the nature and foundation of lay co-responsibility in the Church. The participants listened to inputs and reflections on improving and enhancing the collaboration among laity, priests and consecrated persons, as baptised, in the service of the Church. Hosted by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, the February 16 to 18 conference brought together 210 presidents and representatives of Episcopal Commissions for the Laity from across the five continents.

The holy faithful People of God
Pope Francis, in his address to the assembly called out clearly to everyone in the Church to make efforts to change: “Go beyond acting along parallel lines that never meet: the clergy separated from the laity, consecrated persons separated from the clergy and from the faithful, the intellectual faith of certain élites separated from popular faith, the Roman Curia separated from the particular Churches, bishops separated from priests, the young separated from the elderly, married couples and families involved little in the life of communities, charismatic movements separated from parishes, and so on.” The differences may seem deep and those who wish to take advantage will attempt to justify or push it further apart. But the Pope recalled from the Vatican II Council teachings that “the Church is the holy faithful People of God, as affirmed in Lumen Gentium (8, 12); and this is neither populism nor elitism.” This sense of the People of God is not something learned theoretically but understood by immersion and daily living – and if it is not lived out, then it cannot be transmitted to others either. “In this one People of God, which is the Church, the fundamental element is belonging to Christ”- this is our shared baptismal identity.

Co-responsibility in the Church
Prefect of the Dicastery, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, spoke of the theme chosen for the conference as very much in tune with the synodal pathway calling for a greater commitment of the whole Church to “go forward together”, involving all the People of God, so that everyone is an active ‘subject’ of the ecclesial community. “All are called to bring their original contribution to the life and mission of the Church, and all are called to think for themselves and make use of their respective charisms.” He allayed the fears that to consult the laity, “does not detract from a bishop’s personal responsibility for the decisions to be taken”, as “decision is a ministerial responsibility” and it affects the larger community.

He referred to Lumen Gentium, which also invites pastors to entrust lay people with ecclesial offices. Of course for shared responsibility to “be actually practised”, the cardinal noted the need for adequate training or formation for both pastors and laity. A wide cross-section of participants also echoed the call to re-think the seminary and ongoing formation of priests, as much as there is a great need for the Church to invest in lay formation.

Identity of Laity
Pope Francis recalled that valuing lay people in the Church is not something fashionable, like a “theological novelty”, or a “functional” solution to the shortage of priests, or “pay back” for the past when laity were side-lined. Rather, he said, it is based on a correct vision of the Church: the “Church as the People of God, of which the laity are full members together with ordained ministers.” This goes back to Scriptures and the early tradition of the Church. “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/sisters, overcoming a sociological vision which distinguishes social classes and ranks and is ultimately based on the “power” assigned to each category.

In this unitary vision of the Church, where we are first and foremost baptised Christians, the laity live in the world and at the same part, form part of the faithful People of God. The Pope quoted from the Puebla Document (South America) to give a heartening definition of the laity: the laity are men and women “of the Church in the heart of the world” and men and women “of the world in the heart of the Church”. This dual identity of laity resonates also with their role as Christians and citizens (cf. FABC), as Church living and acting in the world, though not of the world.

                                                            A people u  nited in the mission

It is in this shared mission that we find our unity. The Pope pointed to the example of Jesus from the Gospels, where He surrounded Himself from the very beginning with a group of disciples, men and women, and lived out His public ministry with them. And when He sent the Twelve to proclaim the Kingdom of God, He sent them “two by two”. We see the same style in St Paul, who always evangelised with collaborators, including laypeople and married couples, never alone.

The Pope emphasised that synodality, or walking together, finds its source and ultimate purpose in the mission, “It is born out of the mission and guided towards the mission.” In this vision, the lay faithful are not “guests” in the Church, nor mere collaborators to the clergy; they are at home, and therefore they are called to take care of their own home. The Pope spoke at length on the laity, especially women, who must be more valued in their skills and their human and spiritual gifts for the life of parishes and dioceses.

One of the worst things, the Pope said, that can happen in a pastor is forgetting the People from whom he has come, the lack of memory — that our respective vocations and states of life find their reciprocity in Christ. To such a pastor, one can address that oft-repeated word from the Bible, “Remember, remember from whence you came, from the flock you were removed from so as to return to serve it, remember your roots (cf. 2 Tim 1).”

This shared identity of baptism was a point that emerged strongly from all the dioceses under the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei (CBCMSB) in the continental Synod consultation process (see report: https://cbcmsb. org/synod-of-bishops-2023/).

Synodality is not just about relationships — but relationships founded in this correct understanding of Church as the holy faithful People of God, called and sent in mission by our baptism in Christ.

As one participant and theologian remarked, the topics discussed were not new. However, the fact that 200 persons from so many countries and continents explored together, was stimulating and gave hope. There was a sense of confidence and commitment on the path that needs to be walked upon together. The discussions had offered participants an opportunity to explore the nature and foundation of co-responsibility in the Church, in light of the ongoing synodal process. One wonders what drives our Pope — an elderly man, with health conditions, seated on a wheelchair — but who never tires of calling to conversion and true reform of the institution. Let us pray for him, as he always requests, and join him in this challenge to build a synodal Church where all have their place.

(Charles Bertille is the executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei.)

Total Comments:0