Last Updated:Saturday - 12/11/2010
November 13, 2000
Laiety called to evangelize
Papal reflection tries to stimulate 'common priesthood of the faithful' in Americas
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
With the fifth centenary of the coming of Christianity to the Americas - a remembrance fraught with both pain and joy - a synod of bishops was held in 1997 as a special assembly for America.
The ensuing apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in America (1999), examines many issues of Church life. The pope asked the synod to speak of America as one continent, referring to North, Central and South America, and the Caribbean to reflect and stimulate a greater unity which the Church wished to foster (n. 5).
No doubt a noble ideal, the first-time reader of this exhortation is easily taken aback at the prospect of lumping together Canadian, American, Central American and South American culture and heritage as if they were relatively homogeneous.
However this series is not focusing on political, economic or cultural views of the Vatican, but rather on lay ministry. In fact, our next two articles will look at an American bishops' statement and then a Canadian bishops' statement on this topic. But first we turn to Ecclesia in America's focus on lay ministry and on women in the Church.
Section 44 on the lay faithful and renewal of the Church recalls the laity to a consciousness of their baptismal dignity and says "the renewal of the Church in America will not be possible without the active presence of the laity (who are) largely responsible for the future of the Church" (n. 44).
Two main areas are identified in which lay people live out their vocation. The first being the secular world, the text refers to Lumen Gentium saying that: "Their specific activity brings the Gospel to the structures of the world; working in holiness wherever they are, they consecrate the world itself to God" (n. 44).
The same section describes "the continent" as marked by competition and aggressiveness, unbridled consumerism and corruption and calls the laity to embody deeply evangelical values to counteract these negative forces.
A second area for lay involvement can be called, the text says, intra-ecclesial, recognizing that "a good number of lay people in America legitimately aspire to contribute their talents and charisms to the building of the ecclesial community as delegates of the word, catechists, visitors to the sick and the imprisoned, group leaders, etc. (n. 44).
The synod fathers had expressed the hope, we are also told, that the Church would recognize some of these works as lay ministries, to which the pope responded that this is a complex issue.
And referring to Christifideles Laici, he reiterated the need for cooperation and proper training for lay men and women in these roles and the necessity of avoiding confusion with the ordained ministries "so that the common priesthood of the faithful remains clearly distinguished from that of the ordained" (n. 44).
In the following section the pope turns his attention to the dignity of women. Referring to his 1988 statement Mulieres Dignitatem, the pope reiterates his esteem for the specific contribution of women to the progress of humanity and he "recognized the legitimacy of their aspirations to take part fully in ecclesial, cultural, social and economic life" (n. 45).
Lamenting the fact that "in many parts of America women still meet forms of discrimination," the Church "denounces discrimination, sexual abuse and male domination as actions contrary to God's plan" (n. 45).
The section ends with this admonition: "There is a need to help women in America to take an active and responsible role in the Church's life and mission and also to acknowledge the need for the wisdom and cooperation of women in leadership roles within American society."
Since this text was only issued last year, the fuller flowering of many of its tenets will need a longer gestation period although it may be prudent for the "midwives" to ensure that all is in readiness.
A significant overall thrust of the document is its call for a "new evangelization" for the third millennium.
"As the Church's supreme pastor," writes the pope, "I urgently desire to encourage all the members of God's people, particularly those living in America - where I first appealed for a commitment new in its ardour, methods and expression - to take up this project" (n. 66, emphasis mine).
As Church documents go, the ink is barely dry on this one, and many of us may not yet be aware of its dramatic call to all of us for an evangelization that is new in ardour, methods and expression.
This is an exciting call to all disciples keen to follow Christ more closely as they grapple with today's complex issues. Just as we baby boomers start wondering what else we might turn to in life, after raising our families, this rather earth-shaking invitation arrives in our mail from Rome.
(Fourth in a series – Adela Torchia is director of the Lay Pastoral Leadership Program at Newman College.)
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