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‘We need the testimony of lay people’

In the May edition of The Pope Video, Pope Francis speaks about the role of the lay people in the Church. He says “we need their testimony on the truth of the Gospel and their example of expressing their faith by practicing solidarity”. The Pope thanks the lay people “who take risks, who are not afraid and who offer reasons of hope to the poorest, the excluded, to the marginalised”. Francis repeats the stirring words of Pope Pius XII who said during a discourse on 20 February 1946 that “lay people are on the front line of the life of the Church”. In conclusion he asks that we “pray together this month that the lay faithful may fulfil their specific mission, the mission that they received in Baptism, putting their creativity at the service of the challenges of today’s world.”

After the celebration of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, the Catholic Church made an effort to clarify the role of the laity, which has been key since the first  centuries of Christianity. The role of the members who are not part of the clergy is oriented towards helping in the four traditional activities of the Church: charity, communion, evangelisation, and worship. In an address to participants in the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Laity on 17 June 2016, Pope Francis remarked that “Baptism that makes every lay faithful a missionary disciple of the Lord, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the leaven that transforms reality from within”. He explained how the Church needs lay people “who are formed well, animated by a clear and sincere faith”, and whose lives “have been touched by a personal and merciful encounter with the love of Jesus Christ”.

Francis said we need lay people “with a vision of the future, who are not enclosed in the petty things of life”. Making reference to Evangelii Gaudium, his Apostolic Exhortation on ‘The Joy of the Gospel’, he explains that we must be “a Church which permanently goes forth, an evangelising community that can boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast”. The laity also “must look up and look beyond, at the many people who are distant in our world, to the many families who are in difficulty and in need of mercy”, the Pope remarked.

Fr Frédéric Fornos SJ, international director of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, noted that “often, people think that priests are the ones who should move forward the Church’s mission”. He says that lay people however are “at the heart of the world”, and added that they have an important role in transforming society. “It is in families, in classrooms, in offices, in factories, in the fields, in daily life, where we find the opportunity to be salt and light of God’s Kingdom, the flavour of the Gospel”, Fr. Fornos stated.

John Scally, a writer and theologian, reflects on the Pope’s Prayer Intention for May in Living Prayer, a booklet produced by Messenger Publications containing reflections on the Pope’s monthly intentions. He remarks that throughout salvation history “God has broken into the lives of women and men while they were journeying through life, utterly transforming their awareness of themselves, their understanding of life, and their appreciation of God”. They discovered a broader vision of themselves “as the people of God”, and heard the invitation issued by Jesus to all, “Follow Me”, to be with him and to proclaim the Good News.

John explains how God has called each of us in Jesus Christ to help to build the kingdom, and therefore “all of Christian existence has to do with understanding this call and with organising our response to this call”. He highlights how lay people are invited to “follow the example of Christ, to accept our call and our cross and follow Him to eternal glory”. It is an invitation to live the Christian vocation with our brothers and sisters “as a community of Christian disciples” working together in harmony and goodwill “to provide space for the presence and the power of the living Christ in the world”. In conclusion John poses the question “Are we ready to accept this twofold call and be transformed by Christ’s presence?” He asks “are we prepared to go forth as disciples on this communal journey of discovering more about God, more about God’s creative project, more about our ultimate end in life?”

Writing on the Pope’s Intention in the May issue of Sacred Heart Messenger, the publication of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (Apostleship of Prayer) in Ireland, Séamus Claffey who has a background in pastoral ministry, says that Pope Francis highlights the major challenges of our times such as poverty, social exclusion, and the protection of the environment. He remarks that through his Encyclical Letter ‘Laudato si’, and Apostolic Exhortations on ‘The Joy of the Gospel’, and ‘The Joy of Love; Pope Francis gives us “a compelling vision for humanity, encouraging us to take positive action”. He says that Francis “has strongly encouraged Christians to take the Gospel out of the churches and into the streets”.

“One way of acting on the intention for this month would be to have copies of, or short extracts from, the Pope’s writings available in parishes, and in other places where people meet such as community centres, libraries, and railway stations”, Séamus explains, adding that “it would be better if people gathered to reflect” on the Pope’s documents. Discussion of family life today in light of Amoris Latecia, the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation on ‘The Joy of Love’ “would be appropriate in this year of the World Meeting of Families in Dublin”, notes Séamus. Many parishes across Ireland have responded to this invitation by running the Amoris ‘Let’s talk family’ six-step parish conversations, which explores key messages in the Pope’s document in an accessible and practical way and offers participants the opportunity to reflect on and share their experience of family life.