Guzman Carriquiry, Undersecretary of Council for the Laity

“Is for Us to Give Creative Shape to Church Social Teachings”

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ROME, DEC. 14, 2000 (
Guzman Carriquiry believes, indeed, that the hour of the laity has arrived.

Carriquiry is a lawyer who 29 years ago came to Rome from Uruguay with his wife and son, John Paul, to work in the Vatican. Over the years, he has become a faithful collaborator of the Pope, who appointed him undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

Carriquiry was responsible for organizing the World Congress of Catholic Laity, which met in Rome last month to study the laity and their role in evangelization.

During the laity´s Jubilee Mass, John Paul II himself said: “The hour of the laity has struck.” In the following interview, Carriquiry points out the challenges that Catholics will have to address in the new millennium.

–Q: It has been said that “the first millennium was monastic, the second primarily clerical, and the third will tend to be lay.” Do you agree?

–Carriquiry: Thought-provoking, but totally exaggerated. The answer from our congress leaves no room for dreams or utopias, which are human fantasies; rather, it was forged from the present experience of those who, as children responsible for a tradition, are imbued with the past and open to the future.

To speak of the laity is to risk a generic abstraction. We are no more and no less than 95% of the people of God, innumerable and very different baptized persons who live under the guidance of their pastors, with very varied degrees of membership and adherence, participation and co-responsibility in the life of the Church.

For just a few years, we have numbered 1 billion baptized Catholics, 17% of the world population. An impressive figure, which begins to be relative if one thinks that at the same time, Muslims have reached, precisely, 1 billion, and that Eastern religions, which until recently seemed to be something exotic, are spreading and expressing themselves in the present culture, and that the number of those who still do not know Christ or form part of the Church has doubled since the time of the [Second Vatican] Council.

Moreover, of that 17%, only a generous 10% fulfills the Sunday precept, an insufficient but illustrative index.

–Q: A curious paradox: Catholicism is the religion with the greatest number of believers in the world but, at the same time, has become a minority.

–Carriquiry: For many, baptism has remained buried under a layer of forgetfulness and indifference. It is true that only God knows and judges our faith, and that his Spirit operates beyond the visible confines of the Church. In any event, reality indicates that lay Catholics are part of — as the Scripture already recalled — a “little flock” (Luke 12:32). We are far from the vainglory of being included among the “few but good.” … Our future cannot be that of an “assimilated” minority and, hence, insignificant, but bearers of the salt and light of the world in clay vessels.

–Q: Christians now live in a culture that is no longer “atheist” or “laical,” as in previous decades, because religion is no longer confronted directly; rather, it has a marginal idea of God, as if he was irrelevant.

–Carriquiry: We suffer the alluring influence of a worldly culture that is increasingly removed from the Catholic tradition, which tends to compress and reformulate Christian confession and experience according to its own logic and interests.

We must be alert and vigilant in face of three ways of the downplaying Christianity in the future, which is already happening. One is to reduce it to an irrational religious preference — one among the many different and interchangeable spiritual offerings that abound in the shop windows of the consumer and entertainment society, expressed either in light sentimentalism or rigid, reactionary forms of pietism, of fundamentalism.

Another is the selective-moralist downplaying, as if Christianity were only a symbol of compassion for one´s fellowmen [or] edifying social volunteer work. …

Finally, there is the clerical reduction, concerned above all with power, in which agendas and ecclesiastical styles are molded by media pressure. We are living in the time of nihilist deviation — without foundations, or meaning, or ideals, or well-founded hopes.

–Q: Given this scenario, the faith of the world will undoubtedly depend to a large extent on the witness of the laity. How must these evangelizers of the third millennium give witness?

–Carriquiry: It will not be easy but it will be crucial to live intensely in the world, without being of the world — in a world governed by the universalism of power, by an empire that does not seem to have a capital or readily obvious leaders, but which profoundly determines the life of individuals and peoples … creating areas of well-being and hunger, peace and war, life and death.

How much truth we experience in the saying that we are a pilgrim people in the midst of tribulations and persecutions of the world and the consolations of God! Let us accept it as a given, that we will not be spared incidents of rejection, exile and martyrdom.

It is true that the consumer and entertainment society functions like a gigantic amusement machine … atrophying its desires, censuring its presumptions, banalizing the conscience and existence of the human, converting it into a functional link within the dynamism of growing technological self-regulation.

But, does the reality of things, the adventure of life, remain meaningless? Is our happiness a dream, a passing fantasy, which is ultimately unrealizable? Is life “a useless passion”? Are we condemned to our limitations, the power of death, nothingness? That would be the most absurd and iniquitous injustice.

The 2 million youths of Tor Vergata [at World Youth Day 2000] call for, desire and wait for much more. These are irrepressible desires that emerge today in the most different expressions of peoples´ culture and religiosity. We have no other treasure than this: to live life as a vocation, witnesses of the God who became man as a merciful and saving companion for all men.

–Q: You are already writing the program for the laity of the third millennium.

–Carriquiry: It is critical for the lay faithful at the time of the dawn of the third millennium to be incorporated in the Christian communities to which they have been entrusted by the Providence of God, in which the experience and awareness will grow of this “tremendous mystery” of unity that has its source and summit in the Eucharist, in which the lively consciousness of the presence of the Lord is nourished in all dimensions of life.<br>
More than ever, fidelity to Christ and his tradition is necessary, sustained and comforted by an ecclesial circumstance that is really conscious of this necessary fidelity.

Moreover, in societies noted for grave inequalities and forms of exclusion, which are increasingly fragmented into a multiplicity of interests, cultures, and particular conflicts — in which human relations are characterized either by strangeness or indifference, or enmity or exploitation — it is fundamental to witness to visible communities of very different people who live real relations, defined more by “being” than by “having” and “power,” reconciled, surprisingly fraternal.

This is the miracle and gift for the conversion and transformation of the world. Christian families, authentic grass-roots ecclesial communities, renewed parish communities, different communal forms of ecclesial associations and movements, and communities of consecrated persons are called to sustain Christian life, to “re-knit the Christian fabric” as a reflection and sign of the mystery of communion, to constitute dwellings of genuine humanity, so that in this way the Christian fabric of human society can be remade.

–Q: However, in this world congress of Catholic laity it was emphasized that the laity will be the protagonists of evangelization, because only they can reach th
e realms of people´s daily lives, at work, in the family.

–Carriquiry: By praying for, and accepting grace, we are, and must be, increasingly protagonists of this surprising novelty of life within the world, in all human realms — to the point that, despite our limits and miseries, those who meet us will see a radiance of truth and a promise of happiness that is for all, and that we are ready to share with them.

–Q: Also in politics and in the construction of a just society?

–Carriquiry: At a time of the collapse of utopias, which promised paradises and were revealed as real hells, and the uncovering of the lies of ideologies, we certainly do not have prefabricated or “enlightened” models for social construction.

We know that the idols of power, money and lust are at the root of all slavery and violence. We cannot place our confidence in mere “rules of procedure” of a power that is increasingly concentrated and oligarchic … nor in the mere exaltation of the alleged “invisible hand” of the market, for the resolution of human problems.

In collaboration with so many men of good will — using our own freedom and responsibility, without stopping to wait for clerical instructions — it is for us to give real, creative and constructive shape to the solid and fruitful criteria of the social teachings of the Church. We will be in the front line to safeguard the life, dignity and liberty of the person, when he is threatened with being treated like a “particle of nature” or “an anonymous element of the human city.”

There is so much to do for the defense and fulfillment of the natural rights of individuals and peoples. Love of Christ should inspire solidarity free of exclusions, which does not tolerate indifference in face of situations of injustice, violence and poverty, which growing human sectors suffer.

–Q: Given what you say, it would seem that the real challenge for Christians is not in politics or economics but, rather, in education.

–Carriquiry: The historical turn of these times of change … poses challenges that are increasingly dramatic in facing an enormous educational task: the defense and promotion of a culture of life; the safeguarding of the truth and good of the family; and the extension of places and undertakings of genuine human coexistence; the dominion and wisdom to imprint on the technological revolution under way a genuinely human direction; the new foundation and development of democracy; the reorientation and intense productive growth of a human, social economy for a new contract of solidarity and justice at the heart of nations and among nations; … and negotiation in quest of a more equitable and effective international community.

–Q: Given the huge challenge, the temptation to discouragement is knocking on the door.

–Carriquiry: There are no easy recipes, only man´s liberty and intelligence, builder of works that are always fragile and subject to reform and improvement. … Christ, who is the “cornerstone,” cannot be discarded from any truly human construction. We have been told: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” Only because of this will we be able to be custodians and protagonists of hope in the third millennium.

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