Saturday, November 16, 2019

Greetings for the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life

This morning, the Holy Father, Pope Francis received in audience those who are participating in the first Plenary Assembly of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, which is taking place at the Vatican from 13 to 16 November focused on the theme: The lay faithful, identity and mission in the world.

Greetings of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
addressed to members of the
Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life

Dear brothers and sisters,

I welcome all of you, who are participating in the first Plenary Assembly of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life.  I thank Cardinal Farrell for the courteous words he has offered.

In this meeting of ours, I wish to reflect on a few points, without going into the specific problems you are dealing with, but trying rather to indicate some basic attitudes that might inspire your work for the coming years. I will use an image for each of these points that I hope will help you.

As a first point, your role as Members and Consultors. The image I propose to you is to feel with the heart of the Church. Here is the future of the laity: to feel with the heart of the Church.

All of you have been called to collaborate with the Holy See to help this new Dicastery, which began its activity a little over two years ago, on its way, collecting the legacy of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and of the Pontifical Council for the Family, both of them. All together, priests, consecrated persons and laity, you are side by side to carry out a service for the universal Church, committing yourselves to promoting and supporting the laity, families and life; and therefore it is essential that each of you make the heart of the Church your own. Make the heart of the Church your own. This involves an effort to get out of yourself and enter a new perspective, which is perhaps unusual for some of you.

It is primarily a matter of moving from a local perspective to a universal one: the Church does not identify with my diocese of origin, or with the ecclesial movement to which I belong, or with the theological school or spiritual tradition in which I was formed. These small closures, we are sometimes used to this. The Church is Catholic, it is universal and it is much broader, it is of a greater soul, that is to say, it is magnanimous, compared to my individual point of view. Feeling with the heart of the Church therefore means feeling catholic, universal, looking at the whole of the Church and the world and not just a part of it.

Moreover, there is the effort to go beyond one's own personal competences, as a theologian, professor, doctor, lecturer, pastoral formator and so on, to take on the perspective of the mother-Church. The Church is a mother. So, you too, as Members and Consultors, while using all the knowledge and experience you have accumulated over the years, are called to take one more step and ask yourself, before a pastoral project, a challenge, a problem: how does the mother church see this reality? How do you feel it? In doing so you will be of assistance to the Dicastery, because you will know how to give voice to the Church, having already purified and elevated within you your personal thinking and feeling until it becomes fully ecclesial.

I will try to list some characteristics of this ecclesial feeling. The Church, as a true mother, wants above all, harmony between all her children and does not show favouritism and preferences. Therefore, also for you, it is important to always propose positive models of collaboration between lay people, priests and consecrated persons, between pastors and the faithful, between diocesan and parish bodies, and lay movements and associations, between young and old, avoiding sterile and antagonistic oppositions but always encouraging a fraternal collaboration in view of the common good of the one family that is the Church. The Church, like every mother, also wants her children to grow up becoming autonomous, creative and enterprising, and not that they remain childish. In the same way, all the lay faithful, children of the Church, should be helped to grow and become adults, overcoming resistance and fear and coming out into the open, in a bold and courageous way, putting their talents at the service of new missions in society, in culture, in politics, facing the challenges that the contemporary world poses without fear and without complexities. The Church, then, as a true mother, knows how to preserve the family's history and living tradition; this means for you to know how to hold the past together - all the good that has been done by the two Pontifical Councils: for Laity and for Family - with the present, that is, the current challenges, and with the future. The Church lives today with memory and hope - past and future: memory and hope, the Church lives in this tension - always throwing the seeds of the Kingdom and without being beset by immediate successes.

A second point. The theme of your Assembly concerns the formation of the lay faithful aimed at strengthening their identity and their mission in the world. The image I would like to use here is to have a eye like brothers.

You are not social or ecclesial engineers, who plan strategies to be applied throughout the world in order to spread a certain religious ideology among the laity. You are called to think and act as brothers in the faith, remembering that faith always comes from a personal encounter with the living God and draws nourishment from the sacraments of the Church. Any Christian formation must always rest on this fundamental experience of the encounter with God and on the sacramental life.

You also know, as brothers in the faith, that formation cannot concentrate exclusively on doing: it is more necessary than ever in our days to teach children, young people, married couples to have a life of prayer, a daily and familiar conversation with God. In this regard, we should not be afraid to entrust the accompaniment of other lay people in the spiritual life to the laity themselves. I'll come back to this point.

Looking as brothers at the multitude of lay faithful throughout the world, you will understand better that your task is not primarily to create initiatives that aim to insert the laity into ecclesial structures and programs, but it is to increase their awareness of what it means to be witnesses of Christ in private life and in society; I would say almost visible signs of the presence of Christ in every environment. At the base is Baptism. Therefore the Dicastery of which you are a part should, above all else, help the many disciples of Christ to live in daily life in conformity with the baptismal grace they have received. There are so many lay faithful in the world who, living their faith with humility and sincerity, become great lights for those who live side by side with them.

In this sense, to avoid the risk of having a too detached and disincarnate gaze on reality, I invite you to always think about the challenges and difficulties that you encounter when you try to live as Christians in your families, in your work and in the neighbourhood where you live. Beginning with your experience and your difficulties, you will better understand the daily effort of the lay faithful throughout the world, whose difficulties are often increased by conditions of poverty and social instability, by religious persecution and by anti-Christian ideological propaganda.

Try also to identify yourself with those Christians who live different experiences from yours: those who do not belong to any particular ecclesial reality; those who live in the most remote regions of the earth and who have few opportunities for formation and human and spiritual growth; those who represent a small minority in their country and live in multi-religious contexts; those who nourish their faith exclusively through popular religiosity; those who are evangelized by the single life of prayer lived in the family. Widening our gaze to all the brothers in the faith, of every social category and of every region of the world will help you a great deal to think creatively and realistically about how the Dicastery can be of support to the local Churches to accompany the baptized, helping them to live with joy, conviction and fidelity belonging to Christ, becoming missionary disciples, protagonists in the promotion of life, in the defence of right reason, justice, peace, freedom and in fostering healthy coexistence between peoples and cultures.

Feel with the heart of the mother Church and have a look for your brothers. These are the two images that I leave you and that I hope will help you reflect on the path ahead. These are two images that make us turn our gaze to Mary, the one who perfectly embodies the mother Church and who teaches all the disciples of her Son to live as brothers. That icon of the Madonna in prayer, waiting for the Holy Spirit: it is our Mother who makes us live as brothers.

And, before finishing, I would like to return to two points that were implicit here. First of all, the danger of clericalizing the laity. You are secular, you must work with the laity, not clericalize the laity. So many times it happened in the other diocese (Buenos Aires), that a parish priest came and told me: I have a wonderful lay person, he knows how to do everything, everything. Do we make him a deacon? ...  I also see this phenomenon in deacons: they become permanent deacons and instead of being the custodians of service in the diocese, they immediately look at the altar and end up being lost priests, half priests. I advise bishops: Remove the deacons from the altar, and have them go out in service. They are the custodians of service, not first-class altar boys or second-class priests. Such clericalization is an important point.

Then, the second thing that came to mind when reading this speech is this: your Dicastery, after a difficult struggle - the Prefect knows it - has the grace of having two Undersecretaries, of having included women right in the structure. And two are still too few! We need to move forward to include women in council positions, including government ones, without fear. Always keeping in mind a reality: the place of women in the Church is not only for functionality. Yes, of course, they can also be heads of Dicasteries. In the appointment of the head of the Dicastery for the Economy, the other day, there were two women on the final list; they could be heads of the Dicastery. This is functionality. But women's advice is very important. One of your Undersecretaries, in the meeting of the Presidents of the Bishops' Conferences in February on abuse, made another kind of music heard, another way of seeing and thinking. And this has enriched us. Places of governance, of advice, but that does not end only in functionality. And we haven't worked on this yet. The role of women in ecclesial organization, in the Church ... goes further, and we must work on this as well, because every woman is the image of the mother Church, because the Church is a woman; it is not the Church (masculine), it is the Church (feminine). The Church is a mother. The Church is able to carry on this reality and the woman has another function. She doesn't have to have functional work, but the work goes further. It is that Marian principle proper to women; a woman in the Church is the image of the Church as a bride and as Our Lady.

I recommend these two things to you: do not clericalize the laity and open this new horizon in order to better understand the place of women in the Church.

I ask Mary to help you and to protect you.  I thank you for the service you have accepted to carry out and I hope that your collaboration with the Holy See, in aid of the Pope's ministry, will be a source of personal growth for you and of great fruitfulness for the universal Church. I cordially bless you, trusting even in your prayers for me. Don't forget to pray for me. Thank you.
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