Pope Francis on November 16, 2019, received the participants in the first Plenary Assembly of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family, and Life, which took place in the Vatican from November 13-16 on the theme: “The Lay Faithful: Identity and Mission in the World.”
Here is a translation of the Pope’s address to those present at the audience.
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The Holy Father’s Address
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I welcome you, who are taking part in this first Plenary Assembly of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family, and Life. I thank Cardinal Farrell for his courteous words to me.
In this meeting of ours, I would like to reflect on a few points, without entering into the merit of the specific problems that you are concerned with, but seeking, rather, to point out some background attitudes that will inspire your work for the coming years. For each one of these points, I will use an image that I hope can help you.
As the first role, <I address> your role as Members and Consultors. The image I propose to you is to feel with the heart of the Church. Here lies the future of the laity: to feel with the heart of the Church.
All of you were called to collaborate with the Holy See, to help this new Dicastery in its journey, which began its activity just over two years ago, taking up the inheritance of both the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family. All together, priests, consecrated <persons> and laity are side by side to carry out a service to the universal Church, committing yourselves in promoting and sustaining the laity, families, and life; therefore, it’s indispensable that each one of you makes his/her own the heart of the Church — to make one’s own the heart of the Church. This entails an effort to come out of oneself and to enter a new perspective, perhaps unheard of for some of you. It is, in the first place, about passing from a local to a universal perspective: the Church is not identified with my diocese of provenance, or with the Ecclesial Movement, to which I belong, or with the theological school or the spiritual tradition in which I was formed. Sometimes we are habituated to these small closures. The Church is catholic and is universal, she is much ampler; she has a greater spirit, that is, she is “magnanimous,” as opposed to my individual point of view. “To feel with the heart of the Church” means, therefore, to feel in a catholic, universal way, looking at the whole of the Church and of the world and not only to a part.
Moreover, the effort must be made to go beyond one’s specific personal competencies as theologian, professor, doctor, speaker, pastoral formator and so on, to assume the perspective of Mother-Church. The Church is Mother. Therefore, you also, as Members and Consultors, while using all the baggage of knowledge and experiences that you have accumulated over the years, are called to take a further step and to ask yourselves, in face of a pastoral plan, a challenge or a problem: how does Mother Church “see” this reality? How does she “feel” it? By doing so, you will help the Dicastery, because you will be able to give voice to the Church, having already purified and elevated in yourselves your personal thinking and feeling, to the point of making it become fully ecclesial.
I will try to list some of the characteristics of this ecclesial feeling. The Church, as true Mother, desires first of all agreement among all her children and she does “not have favouritisms and preferences. Therefore, it’s also important for you to always propose positive models of collaboration among the laity, priests and consecrated persons, among pastors and faithful between diocesan and parish organisms, and lay Movements and Associations, between young people and the elderly, avoiding sterile oppositions and antagonisms and encouraging always fraternal collaboration in view of the common good of the one family, which is the Church, Moreover, as every mother, the Church desires that her children grow, becoming autonomous, creative and enterprising, and not remain infantile. In the same way, all the lay faithful, children of the Church, are helped to grow and to become “adults,” overcoming resistances and fears and coming out into the open, in a daring and courageous way, putting their talents at the service of new missions in the society, in the culture, in politics, addressing without fear and without complexes the challenges that the contemporary world poses. Then, as true Mother, the Church is able to guard the history and living tradition of the family, that means for you to be able to hold together the past — all the good that was done by the two Pontifical Councils — of the Laity and Family — with the present, namely, the current challenges, and with the future. The Church lives here today with memory and hope — past and future, memory and hope, <it is> in this tension that the Church lives, ever casting the seed of the Kingdom and without being harassed by immediate successes.
A second point: the topic of your Assembly regards the formation of the lay faithful geared to reinforce their identity and their mission in the world. The image I would like to use here is that of having the look of brothers.
You are not “social” or “ecclesial engineers,” that plan strategies to apply in the whole world to spread among the laity a certain religious ideology. You are called to think and act as “brothers in the faith,” remembering that faith is always born of a personal encounter with the living God and draws nourishment from the Sacraments of the Church. All Christian formation must always lean on this fundamental experience of encounter with God and on the sacramental life.
You also know, as “brothers in the faith,” that formation cannot be concentrated exclusively on doing: in our days it’s all the more necessary to teach children, youngsters, young people, and married couples to have a life of prayer, a daily and familiar conversation with God. In this connection, it’s not necessary to be afraid to entrust to the laity themselves the accompaniment of other lay people in the spiritual life, I will return to this point later. Looking “as brothers” to the multitude of lay faithful spread throughout the world you will understand better that your task is not primarily that of creating initiatives that are to inserting the laity in ecclesial structures and programs, but it is that of making the awareness grow in them of being witnesses of Christ in private life and in society, I would almost say “visible signs” of the presence of Christ in every environment. Baptism is at the base. Therefore, the Dicastery of which you are a part should, above all, help Christ’s many disciples to live every day in conformity with the baptismal grace they received. There are so many lay faithful in the world who, living their faith in humility and sincerity, become great lights for those living next to them.
In this connection, to avoid the risk of having a look that is too detached and disincarnated on reality, I invite you to think always of the challenges and difficulties that you yourselves meet when you seek to live as Christians in your families, in your work, in the neighborhood in which you live. From your experience and from your difficulties, to understand better the daily toil of the lay faithful of the whole world, whose difficulties often increase the conditions of poverty and social instability, of religious persecution, and of anti-Christian ideological propaganda.
Seek also to immerse yourselves in those Christians that live different experiences from your own: those that don’t belong to any particular ecclesial reality; those that live in the most remote regions of the earth and that have few opportunities of formation and of human and spiritual growth; those that represent a small minority in their countries and live in multi-religious contexts; those that nourish their faith exclusively through popular religiosity; those that are evangelized by the sole life of prayer lived in the family. To broaden your look to all brothers in the faith, of every social category and of every region of the world, will help you a lot to think creatively and realistically how the Dicastery can be of support to the local Churches, to accompany the baptized to live with joy, conviction and fidelity their belonging to Christ, to become missionary disciples, protagonists in the promotion of life, in the defense of right reason, of justice, of peace, of freedom; in fostering healthy coexistence between peoples and cultures.
To feel with the heart of Mother Church and to have the look of brothers are the two images that I leave with you and that I hope will help you to reflect on the path you have before you. They are two images that make one turn one’s gaze to Mary, She who impersonates perfectly Mother Church and who teaches all the disciples of her Son to live as brothers. That icon of Our Lady in prayer, in expectation of the Holy Spirit, is the Mother that makes us live as brothers.
And, before ending, I would like to return to two points that were implicit here: first of all, the danger of the clericalization of the laity. You are laypersons; you must work with laypeople, not clericalize the laity. It happened so often in my other diocese [Buenos Aires], a parish priest would come and say to me: “I have a wonderful layman, he is able to do everything, everything. Shall we make him a Deacon? “ I see this phenomenon also in the Deacons: they become Permanent Deacons and instead of being guardians of the service in the diocese, they immediately look at the altar and end up being “priests by default”, halfway priests, I counsel Bishops: remove the Deacons from the altar,” they must go to the service. They are guardians of the service, not first-class acolytes or second <class> priests. This <matter> of clericalization is an important point.
Then, the second thing that comes to mind while reading is this: your Dicastery, after a difficult fight — the Prefect knows it — has the grace of having two Under-Secretaries, of having in fact inserted women in the structure. And two are too few! We must go forward and insert women in posts of counsel, also of government, without fear, always keeping present a reality: the place of woman in the Church is not only for functionality. Yes, certainly, she can even be head of a Dicastery. In the appointment of the head of the Dicastery of the Economy of the other day, there were two women on the final list; they could be head of a Dicastery. This is functionality, but the counsel of women is very important. In the meeting of the Presidents of the Episcopal Conference in February on abuse, one of our Under-Secretaries made another music heard, another way of seeing and of thinking. And this was enriching. Posts of governance, of advice, but it must not end only in functionality. And we have yet to work on this. Woman’s role in the ecclesial organization in the Church goes beyond, and we must work on this “beyond,” because woman is the image of Mother Church because the Church is woman; the Church is not “he”, the Church is “she.” The Church is Mother. The Church is capable of carrying forward this reality and woman has another function. She must not have functional work, but her work must go beyond. It is that Marian principle proper of woman; a woman in the Church is the image of the Church spouse and of Our Lady.
I recommend these two things to you: don’t clericalize the laity and open this new horizon to understand well what woman is in the Church.
I ask of Mary help and protection for you. I thank you for the service that you accepted to carry out and I hope that your collaboration with the Holy See, in aid to the Pope’s ministry, is a source of personal growth for you and of great fruitfulness for the universal Church. I bless you from my heart, trusting also in your prayers for me. Don’t forget to do so. Thank you.
© Libreria Editrice Vatican[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]