Last March 4, Pope Francis received in audience the participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, at the end of their assembly dedicated to the “indispensable role of the lay faithful in the public life of Latin American countries.”
Afterwards, the Pope sent a Letter to the President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, H. E. Cardinal Marc Ouellet, P.S.S.. The Vatican released the March 19 letter today. Here is a ZENIT translation:
To His Eminence Cardinal
Marc Armand Ouellet, P.S.S.
President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America
At the end of the meeting of the Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, I had the opportunity to meet with all the participants of the assembly, where ideas and impressions were exchanged on the public participation of the laity in the life of our nations.
I would like to take up what was shared in that instance and continue through this means the reflection lived in those days so that the spirit of discernment and reflection “will not fall on deaf ears,” that it help us and continue to stimulate us to serve better the Holy People faithful of God.
It is precisely from this image that I would like to begin our reflection on the public activity of the laity in our Latin American context. To evoke the Holy People faithful of God is to evoke the horizon to which we are invited to look and from whence to reflect. The Holy People faithful of God is that which we as Pastors are continually invited to look at, protect, accompany, support and serve. A father is not understood on his own without his children. He might be a very good worker, professional, husband, friend but what makes him a father has a face: it is his children. The same happens with us, we are Pastors. A Pastor is not conceived without a flock, which he is called to serve. The Pastor is Pastor of a people, and the people are served from within. Often one goes forward indicating the path, at other times behind so that no one is left behind, and not infrequently one is in the middle to hear well the people’s palpitation.
To look at the Holy People faithful of God and to feel an integral part of them positions us in life and, therefore, in the subjects we address in a different way. This helps us not to fall into reflections that can be very good in themselves but that end up by functionalizing the life of our people or theorizing so much that speculation ends by killing action. To look continually at the People of God saves us from certain slogans that are beautiful phrases but which do not succeed in supporting the life of our communities. For instance, I remember now the famous expression: “it’s the time of the laity,” but it seems that the clock has stopped.
To look at the People of God is to remember that we all entered the Church as lay people. The first Sacrament, the one that seals our identity forever and of which we should always be proud is Baptism. By it and with the anointing of the Holy Spirit, (the faithful) are consecrated as spiritual house and holy priesthood (LG) 10). Our first and fundamental consecration sinks its roots in our Baptism. No priest or Bishop has baptized anyone. Lay people have baptized us and it is the indelible sign that no one will ever be able to eliminate. It does us good to remember that the Church is not an elite of priests, of the consecrated, of the Bishops, but we all form part of the Holy People faithful of God. To forget this brings in its train various risks and deformations both in our own personal as well as in communal living of the ministry that the Church has entrusted to us. We are, as Vatican Council II well points out, the People of God, whose identity is the dignity and the freedom of the children of God, in whose hearts dwells the Holy Spirit as in a temple (LG) 9). The Holy People faithful of God is anointed with the grace of the Holy Spirit; therefore, when it comes to reflecting, thinking, evaluating, discerning we must be very attentive to this unction.
At the same time, I must add another element that I consider fruit of a bad living of the ecclesiology posed by Vatican II. We cannot reflect on the subject of the laity ignoring one of the strongest deformations that Latin America must address — and to which I ask for your special attention – clericalism. This attitude not only annuls the personality of Christians, but it has a tendency to diminish and devalue the Baptismal grace that the Holy Spirit put in the heart of our people. Clericalism leads to the functionalization of the laity, treating them as “messengers,” restricts different initiatives and efforts and I even dare to say the necessary boldness to be able to take the Good News of the Gospel to all the ambits of the social and especially political endeavor. Far from stimulating the different contributions, proposals, little by little clericalism extinguishes the prophetic fire that the Church is called to witness in the heart of her peoples. Clericalism forgets that the visibility and sacramentality of the Church belongs to the whole People of God (cf. LG 9-14), and not just to a few chosen and enlightened.
A very interesting phenomenon has happened in our Latin America and I dare to say: I believe it was one of the few areas where the People of God was sovereign of the influence of clericalism: I am referring to the popular pastoral. It has been one of the few areas where the people (including its Pastors) and the Holy Spirit have been able to meet without that clericalism that seeks to control and brake God’s unction on His own. We know that the popular pastoral, as Paul VI well wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, certainly has its limits. It is frequently exposed to many deformations of religion, but it continues, when it is well orientated, especially through a pedagogy of evangelization, <and> it contains many values. It reflects a thirst for God that only the poor and the simple can experience. It makes possible generosity and sacrifice to the point of heroism, when it comes to manifesting the faith. It entails a deep sense of God’s profound attributes: His paternity, providence, and loving and constant presence. It engenders interior attitudes that can rarely be observed in the same degree in those who do not have that religiosity: patience, sense of the cross in daily life, detachment, acceptance of others, devotion. Taking these aspects into account, we gladly call it “popular piety,” that is, religion of the people, rather than religiosity … Well oriented, this popular religiosity can be increasingly, for our popular masses, a true encounter with God in Jesus Christ (EN 48). Pope Paul VI uses an expression that I consider key, the faith of our people, its orientations, searches, desire, longings, when we are able to hear them and orientate us, end by manifesting a genuine presence of the Spirit. Let us trust our People, in their memory and their “intuition,” let us trust that the Holy Spirit acts in and with them, and that this Spirit is not only the “property” of the ecclesial hierarchy.
I have taken this example of the popular pastoral as hermeneutic key that can help us to understand better the action generated when the Holy People faithful of God prays and acts – an action that does not remain linked to the person’s intimate sphere but, on the contrary, is transformed into culture; an evangelized popular culture contains values of faith and of solidarity that can spark the development of a more just and believing society, and it has a peculiar wisdom that must be able to be recognized with a grateful look (EG 68).
Then, from here, we can ask ourselves, what does it mean that the laity is working in public life?
Today many of our cities have become real places of survival. Places where the disposable culture seems to be installed and leaves little room for apparent hope. We find our brothers there, immersed in those struggles, with their families, trying, not only to survive, but who, in the midst of contradictions and injustices, seek the Lord and want to witness this. What does it mean for us,Pastors, that the laity is working in public life? It means to seek a way to be able to encourage, accompany and stimulate all their attempts and efforts, which already today are carried out, to keep hope and faith alive in a world full of contradictions especially for the poorest, especially with the poorest. It means that, as Pastors, we must be committed in the midst of our people and, with our people, sustain their faith and their hope – opening doors, working with them, dreaming with them, reflecting and especially praying with them. We need to recognize the city – and hence all the areas where the life of our people unfolds – from a contemplative look, a look of faith that discovers the God that dwells in their homes, in their streets, in their squares … He lives among the citizens promoting charity, fraternity, the desire of the good, of truth, of justice. That presence must not be fabricated but discovered, revealed. God does not hide from those that seek Him with a sincere heart. (EG 71). It is never the Pastor who tells the layman what he must do or say; they know it better than we do. It is not the Pastor that must determine what the faithful must say in the different realms. As Pastors, united to our people, it is good for us to ask how we are stimulating and promoting charity and fraternity, the desire of the good, of the truth and of justice. What we can do so that corruption does not nest in our hearts.
We have often fallen into the temptation of thinking that the committed layman is one who works in the tasks of the Church and/or in the things of the parish or of the diocese, and we have reflected little on how to accompany a baptized person in his public and daily life; like him, in his daily task, with the responsibilities he has he commits himself as a Christian in public life. Without realizing it, we have generated a lay elite, believing that only they are committed laymen who work in the things “of the priests,” and we haver forgotten, neglected the believer who often burns his hope in the daily struggle to live the faith. These are the situations that clericalism cannot see, as it is more concerned to dominate areas more than to generate processes. Therefore, we must recognize that the layman, because of his own reality, his own identity, his being immersed in the heart of social, public and political life, his being in the midst of new cultural forms continually gestated, is in need of new forms of organization and of the celebration of the faith. The present-day rhythms are so different (I do not say better or worse) from those lived 30 years ago! This requires imagining areas of prayer and communion with novel, more attractive and significant characteristics – especially – for urban inhabitants. (EG 73). It is obvious, and even impossible, to think that we, as Pastors, should have the monopoly of the solutions for the multiple challenges that contemporary life presents to us. On the contrary, we must be at the side of our people, accompanying them in their searches and stimulating an imagination capable of responding to present-day problems. And we do so by discerning with our people and never for our people or without our people. As Saint Ignatius would say, “ according to the places, times and persons,” that is, not standardizing. General directives cannot be given for the organization of the People of God within their public life. Inculturation is a process that we Pastors are called to stimulate, encouraging the people to live their faith where they are and with whom they are. Inculturation is to learn to discover how a determined portion of the people of today, in the here and now of history, lives, celebrates and proclaims its faith, with its particular idiosyncrasy and in keeping with the problems it must address, as well as all the reasons it has to celebrate. Inculturation is a work of artisans and not a factory of serial production of processes that are dedicated to “to fabricate Christian worlds or areas.”
We are asked to take care of two memories of our people: the memory of Jesus Christ and the memory of our forbearers. We have received the faith; it is a gift that has come to us in many cases from the hands of our mothers, of our grandmothers. They have been the living memory of Jesus Christ in the heart of our homes. It was in the silence of family life where the majority of us learned to pray, to love and to live the faith. It was within family life, which afterwards took the form of parish, school, communities, that faith came to our life, becoming flesh. It was also that simple faith that has often accompanied us in the different ups and downs of the path. To lose the memory is to be uprooted from where we come and, therefore, we will not know either where we are going. This is key, when we uproot a layman from his faith, from that of his origins; when we uproot him from the Holy People faithful of God, we uproot him from his Baptismal identity and thus deprive him of the grace of the Holy Spirit. The same happens to us, when as pastors we uproot ourselves from our people, we lose ourselves.
Our role, our joy, the joy of the Pastor lies precisely in helping and stimulating, as many did before us, whether mothers, grandmothers or parents — the real protagonists of history. Not by a concession of ours of good will, but by proper right and statute. The laity is part of the Holy People faithful of God and, therefore, the protagonists of the Church and of the world, to which we are called to serve and not to make use of.
In my recent trip to the land of Mexico I had the opportunity to be alone with our Mother, letting myself be looked upon by her. In that time of prayer I was also able to present to her my heart as a son. You and your communities were also there at that moment. In that moment of prayer, I asked Mary not to fail to sustain, as she did in the first community, the faith of our people. May the Holy Virgin intercede for you, look after you and accompany you always.
Vatican, March 19, 2016
[Original text: Spanish]
[Translation by ZENIT]