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Lay participation in the Church’s mission

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Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR, SThD

Along the Way

 

THE Philippines has the third largest Catholic population in the world following Brazil and Mexico. There are over 70 million Catholics. Yet there are around seven thousand priests and twelve thousand nuns! There are parishes with over 40 thousand Catholics ministered by one priest. It would appear that Christ’s words apply  to the Philippines: “the harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.” How can the Church be vibrant and continue carrying her mission with a few priests and religious?

One obvious solution is to vigorously campaign for vocation to the priesthood and religious life. This is not enough. We cannot expect a dramatic increase of vocation in the years ahead especially since the number of children per family has gone down. No matter how religious the family is, the obligation to support the parents and siblings is a paramount value. Besides, very few young men and women would be willing to commit themselves to a life of celibacy and chastity. Still we keep on trying.

For the Church to continue in fulfilling her mission, she will have to rely on the laity. This has been the emphasis since Vatican II. The fourth chapter of Lumen Gentium, the Constitution on the Church, affirms that lay people have the right and obligation to actively participate in Christ’s and the Church’s prophetic, priestly and pastoral mission. The Vatican II document on the laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem, further develops this. Blessed John Paul II also devoted an encyclical on the laity, Christifideles Laici. PCP II also affirms that lay people are considered as workers of renewal together with the clergy and religious. Thus, when we talk about “laborers in the vineyard of the Lord”, we have to bear in mind that we are not only referring to the clergy and religious but also to the laity. Thus, we are witnessing the emergence of lay pastoral workers and lay missionaries as well the proliferation of lay catechists. Lay organizations, movements and associations are also enabling the involvement of the laity in the Church’s life and mission. Lay people can carry out their mission wherever they are—at home, neighborhood, community, work-place and schools.

There are three areas of lay participation: (a) liturgical ministry (readers, lectors, Eucharistic ministers, para-liturgical leaders, etc. (b) prophetic ministry – catechesis and evangelization, Christian formation, etc. and (c) the kingly/servant ministry (social action)—in promoting life, justice, peace and the integrity of creation.

At the parish level the lay people can be involved as pastoral workers or members of parish formation teams. They can also be part of the various parish commissions (liturgy, formation, social action, family and life, etc.), finance council and the parish pastoral council.

While full-time paid lay pastoral workers may be necessary, it is important to generate volunteerism among the laity. There is a need to promote a spirituality of stewardship and encourage lay people to share their time, talent and treasure in furthering the Church’s mission. Missionary dynamism among lay people must be promoted and they do not have to go to distant lands to do this.

A very important locus for active lay participation is the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) which the Church in the Philippines and other countries is promoting. BECs are small communities within the parish, located in the neighborhood, barangay or purok, villages and lately in condominiums. They are composed of families where the members are close to one another, united in prayer and worship, they gather to reflect and share the Word of God, and act to respond to their needs and those of the poor—both spiritual and material needs. They are often referred to as a new way of being Church—the Church at the grassroots and in the neighborhood. These communities are led by lay leaders but under pastoral care and authority of their pastors – the parish priests and parochial vicars.  The parish is now being seen as a network of small Christian communities or BECs. In these neighborhood communities, ordinary Catholics can be involved in Church threefold mission: the liturgical, evangelizing and social mission.

Blessed John Paul II recognized BECs as locus and agents of ecclesial communion—a cause of great hope for the Church (Redemptoris Missio 51).

The vitality of the Church does not only depend on the quantity and quality of the clergy but above all in the active participation of the lay faithful, especially the BECs.


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