Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Laity called to more formation, greater responsibility

Pope Francis has called on lay people to take on greater responsibility in the Church and in civil society in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, issued recently.

The Pope, however, underlined two great challenges facing laity in this regard: a lack of formation and “excessive clericalism”.

“The lack of formation among the laity is a real serious issue because lay people are not equipped to take their full responsibility in the Church and in the world,” said Donna Orsuto, professor of theology and lay spirituality at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

Parishes have a big responsibility to form the laity, she said, not only for service in the Church but also in civil society.

“The first thing is that we need a change of mindset,” she said. “When people come to church on Sunday, the primary commitment is to help them to be equipped to go out and share the Gospel in social, political and economic sectors and in their families. Even parish life and homilies... need to be constantly inviting lay people to be nourished by parish life but then to go out into the world and to share the Good News.”

She said sometime parishes can become like a ghetto and parishioners tend to remain in their “cozy communities”.

“Of course, we need to build community and to be nourished by the Lord’s presence in the Eucharist and in the presence of our brothers and sisters in community... but we can’t stop there,” she said. “There’s always a missionary impetus, always a call to go out and to share the Good News with those around us. We really need to, I think today, re-capture that missionary spirit.”


Describing the second challenge facing the laity, the Pope noted that: “in particular churches sometimes room has not been made for lay people to speak and to act due to an excessive clericalism, which keeps them away from decision-making”.

“This is a very significant statement because it’s inviting both priests sand laity to think about what are creative ways for lay people to be involved,” said Orsuto, who is also a founder of the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas in Rome, which promotes and offers formation to laity.

Lay people can bring professional skills to parishes, to dioceses and even to the Roman Curia, she noted. She also suggested one way to create more space for laity in the Church “is to recognize the complementarity of women and men, working together for the common good. In environments where they work together, new ideas come forth.”

In the end, however, the responsibility to involve lay people belongs to Church leaders, she said.

“The responsibility in a way falls on Church leaders. Are you, Church leaders, willing to invite lay people to be involved? Of course, lay people must prepare themselves through study, through prayer, through reflection to be able to embrace this responsibility when they are asked,” she said. “But really the responsibility lies with Church leaders.”

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