210 presidents and representatives of Episcopal Commissions for the Laity from across the world are gathered in the Vatican this week for a three-day conference to discuss how to improve and enhance the collaboration among laity, priests, and consecrated persons in the service of the Church.
Titled “Pastors and lay faithful called to go forward together”, the conference is hosted by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life and taking place from 16-18 February in the New Hall of the Synod.
Exploring the nature and foundation of co-responsibility in the Church
Discussions will offer participants an opportunity to explore the nature and foundation of co-responsibility in the Church also in light of the ongoing synodal process on synodality.
In his opening remarks on Thursday, the Prefect of the Dicastery, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, recalled the origin and purpose of the meeting which stems from its Plenary Assembly in November 2019, highlighting the “need to study further the role of responsibility pertaining to every baptised person in the Church”.
Need for a “positive collaboration” between clergy and laypeople
During that Assembly, he explained, “we felt a renewed call from the Lord to ‘go forward together’ in taking responsibility in serving the Christian community” and in proclaiming the Gospel to the men and women of our time, each one according to his /her individual vocation.
Hence the theme chosen for the conference aimed at raising awareness among pastors and laity alike of “the significance of the responsibility that stems from baptism and that unites them all”, so as to encourage that “positive collaboration” between clergy and laypeople, as called for by Pope Francis during the Assembly.
Church as a community walking together
For that shared responsibility to “be actually practised”, Cardinal Farrell stressed the importance of adequate training both for pastors and laity who are still not used to working side by side.
Cardinal Farrell went on to notice that the theme chosen for the conference is very much in tune with the synodal pathway calling for a greater commitment of the whole Church to ‘go forward together’, involving all the People of God, so that everyone is an active ‘subject’ of the ecclesial community.
Consulting in decision making
According to the Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, ‘Lumen Gentium’, the Second Vatican Council Constitution on the Church, gives some very important practical suggestions to pastors on how to involve and relate with lay faithful.
Firstly, it indicates the need to consult the laity, which “does not detract from a bishop’s personal responsibility for the decisions to be taken”, as “decision is a ministerial responsibility”.
Entrusting lay people with ecclesial offices
Lumen Gentium also invites pastors to entrust lay people with ecclesial offices that by their nature do not need to be filled by the clergy and whose tasks can indeed be better performed by lay persons. In this regard, Cardinal Farrell noted that there are many areas in which the laity are often more competent than priests and consecrated persons, such as the fields of economic administration and finance; civil law, and even canon law, of dialogue between science and faith, and social communications
The presence and action of the lay faithful, he added, is “also of great benefit in the Church in more properly ‘ecclesial’ activities such as evangelisation and charitable work”.
Concluding, Cardinal Farrell, therefore, insisted on the need for pastors to have greater confidence “in lay people’s discernment and fidelity to the Gospel of Christ and His Church”.
Participants in the conference
The Conference will see four key speakers: Luis Navarro, rector of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross; Carmen Peña García, of the Faculty of Canon Law of the Comillas Pontifical University of Madrid, both consultors of the Dicastery; Hosffman Ospino, of the School of Theology and Ministry of Boston College and Cardinal Gérald Ciprien Lacroix, archbishop of Québec and member of the Dicastery.
Participants in the conference include 107 lay people, 36 priests and 67 bishops representing 74 episcopal conferences and 29 ecclesial movements. Delegates hail from the five continents, including 20 African countries and 24 European countries.