“The apostolate of the laity is primarily that of witness!” Pope Francis told participants at a meeting organised by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.
“You have come here from various countries to reflect on the shared responsibility of pastors and lay faithful in the Church,” he continued. ” The path that God is indicating to the Church is precisely that of a more intense and concrete experience of communion and journeying together.
“He asks the Church to leave behind ways of acting separately, on parallel tracks that never meet,” the pope stated. “Clergy separated from laity, consecrated persons from clergy and the faithful; the intellectual faith of certain elites separated from the faith of ordinary people; the Roman Curia from the particular Churches, bishops from priests; young people from the elderly, spouses and families disengaged from the life of the communities, charismatic movements separated from parishes, and so forth.
“This is the worst temptation at the present moment,” he warned. “The Church still has a long way to go to live as a body, as a true people united by the same faith in Christ the Saviour, enlivened by the same Spirit of holiness and directed to the same mission of proclaiming the merciful love of God our Father.”
“This last aspect is critical: a people united in mission,” he continued. ‘This is the insight that we must always cherish: the Church is the faithful holy People of God, as Lumen Gentium affirms in nos. 8 and 12. The Church is neither populist nor elitist, but the faithful holy People of God.
“We cannot learn this theoretically, but through lived experience. Only then may we seek to explain, as best we can; but if we do not live it we cannot explain it. A people united in mission, then. Synodality has its origin and ultimate purpose in mission: it is born of mission and directed to mission.
“Sharing in mission brings pastors and laypersons closer together; it builds a unity of purpose, manifests the complementarity of the differing charisms and thus awakens in all the desire to move forward together.
“We see this illustrated in Jesus himself, who from the beginning surrounded himself with a group of disciples, men and women, and, with them, carried out his public ministry. Never alone. When he sent the Twelve to proclaim the kingdom of God, he sent them ‘two by two’.
“We see the same thing in Saint Paul, who always proclaimed the Gospel with co-workers, including laypersons and married couples. Not by himself. This has been the case at times of great renewal and missionary outreach in the Church’s history: pastors and faithful together. Not isolated individuals, but a people that evangelizes, the faithful holy People of God!
The apostolate of the laity
Training of lay people must also be “directed towards mission, not just towards theories, otherwise they will fall into ideology.”
“To avoid this, formation must be mission-oriented, not academic, limited to theoretical ideas, but practical as well. It must arise from hearing the kerygma, be nurtured by the word of God and the sacraments, help people to grow in discernment, as individuals and in community, and engage from the beginning in the apostolate and in various forms of testimony, however simple, which can lead to closeness to others.
“The apostolate of the laity is primarily that of witness! The witness of one’s own experience and history, the witness of prayer, the witness of serving those in need, the witness of closeness to the poor and the forgotten, and the witness of welcome, above all on the part of families.
“That is the right training for mission: going out towards others, learning ‘on the ground’. And at the same time, an effective means of spiritual growth.”
“From the beginning, I have said that ‘”I dream of a missionary Church’ (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 27; 32).
“It is in this perspective that we can properly approach the issue of shared responsibility on the part of laypersons in the Church,” Pope Francis explained. “The need to enhance the role of the laity is not based on some theological novelty, or due to the shortage of priests, much less a desire to make up for their neglect in the past.
“Rather, it is grounded in a correct vision of the Church, which is the People of God, of which the laity, together with the ordained ministers, are fully a part. The ordained ministers, then, are not masters, they are servants: shepherds, not masters.
“éThis means recovering an “integral ecclesiology”, like that of the first centuries, when everything was unified by membership in Christ and by supernatural communion with him and with our brothers and sisters. It means leaving behind a sociological vision that distinguishes classes and social rank, and is ultimately based on the ‘power’ assigned to each category. The emphasis needs to be placed on unity, not on separation or distinction. The layperson is more than a ‘non-cleric’ or a ‘non-religious’; he or she must be considered as a baptised person, a member of the holy People of God, for that is the sacrament which opens all doors.
“In the New Testament, the word ‘layperson’ does not appear; we hear of ‘believers’, ‘disciples’, ‘brethren’ and ‘saints’, terms applied to everyone: lay faithful and ordained ministers alike, the People of God journeying together.
In this one People of God that is the Church, the fundamental element is our belonging to Christ.
“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 time belong to the faithful People of God. The Puebla Document expressed this nicely: laypersons 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’.
“True, the laity are called to live their mission chiefly amid the secular realities in which they are daily immersed. Yet that does not mean that they do not also have the abilities, charisms and competence to contribute to the life of the Church: in liturgical service, in catechesis and education, in the structures of governance, the administration of goods and the planning and implementation of pastoral projects, and so forth.
“For this reason, pastors need to be trained, from their time in the seminary, to work collaboratively with laypersons, so that communion, as a lived experience, will be reflected in their activity as something natural, not extraordinary and occasional.
“This experience of shared responsibility between laypersons and pastors will help to overcome dichotomies, fears and reciprocal mistrust. Now is the time for pastors and laypersons to move forward together, in every sphere of the Church’s life and in every part of the world! The lay faithful are not ‘guests’ in the Church; it is their home and they are called to care for it as such.”
“Together with their pastors, laypersons must bring Christian witness to secular life: to the worlds of work, culture, politics, art and social communications.
“We could put it this way: laity and pastors together in the Church, laypersons and pastors together in the world,” Pope Francis concluded.
Pope Francis, To Participants at the Conference promoted by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life (Vatican.va)
Pope Francis addresses participants at a conference of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. (Vatican Media)