International conference encourages laity and clergy to journey together

Representatives of the Bishops Commission for Evangelisation, Laity and Ministry attended an international conference in Rome earlier this year.

Commission chair Archbishop Christopher Prowse, executive secretary Clara Geoghegan and National Centre for Evangelisation director Malcolm Hart took part in the February conference titled “Pastors and Lay Faithful Called to Walk Together”.

About 200 presidents and representatives of episcopal commissions for the laity from more than 70 countries were represented at the gathering, which provided many opportunities for networking and discussion.

Ms Geoghegan said the purpose of the conference was to explore and encourage the laity to live out their baptismal vocation as prophet, priest and king.

Rome Pic 2 350px“It is still the case that many clergy and laity see the role of the laity as somehow supplementary or derivative of the role of the ordained,” she explained.

“It is also the case that in many situations the laity is primarily focused on the roles and tasks that exist within the Church and not so much with engagement in civil society. This is a challenge for the Church in Australia.

“The risk in this is that the Church becomes self-referential and irrelevant to the society to which it is called to be salt and leaven. The other risk is that of the clericalisation of the laity – a risk which Pope Francis repeatedly brings to our attention.”

In opening the conference, prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life Cardinal Kevin Farrell said the gathering originated from the Dicastery’s plenary assembly in November 2019, when the need to further explore the responsibility of all the baptised in the Church became clear.

“There is a need to go beyond the approach of ‘delegation’ or that of ‘substitution’ where the laity are ‘delegated’ by the pastors for some sporadic service, or the laity ‘substitute’ for clerics in some functions, yet they are working in isolation,” he said.

“In all spheres within the Church there would be great achievements if everyone brought their point of view, their spiritual gifts, their professional skills and their availability of time, knowledge and life experiences.”

Ms Geoghegan said the presentations throughout the event were engaging, as were the visible examples of lay people working in various ministries.

During their time in Rome, the Commission representatives met with members of the Dicastery of Laity, Family and Life, including the newly-appointed secretary of the Dicastery, Gleison de Paola Souza, a layman from Brazil; and under-secretary for Family and Life Gabriella Gambino.

“From my perspective, it was really important to understand the workings of the Dicastery and to meet the people who are responsible for those areas that I work in at the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference,” Ms Geoghegan said.

“It provides the Commission with the opportunity to seek advice from key personnel in the Dicastery. It was also encouraging that they were aware of the work being done in Australia.

“We were also able to ask about the Dicastery’s future planning so that we might be able to work towards similar initiatives and also to have adequate notice to participate in events to be held at the Vatican.”

In closing the conference, Pope Francis spoke about the importance of laity, clergy and religious sharing together in mission.

“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 said. “He asks the Church to leave behind ways of acting separately, on parallel tracks that never meet.

“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.”

Presentations from the conference are available in the original language here. Translations will be posted as they become available.

Read the English translation of the full text of Pope Francis’ closing address here.


Images: Malcolm Hart

Words: NCE Team

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