Laity’s role in forming the New Evangelization

August 16, 2016

HOUSTON — “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20)
And so it was the resurrected Jesus commissioned the Eleven. But his imperative — make disciples — wasn’t meant only for the Apostles. It was meant for everyone.

The responsibility of the baptized
The work of bringing others to Christ is inherit in everyone who receives the Holy Spirit — not just priests and other pastoral workers, and not just Catholics, but every follower of Christ. 

“In virtue of their Baptism, all the members of the people of God have become missionary disciples,” Pope Francis wrote in his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. No baptized Christian is excluded from the missionary responsibility of spreading the love and joy of Jesus to others. 

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI challenged bishops to accept the laity as being “co-responsible” for the mission of the Church. “Co-responsibility demands a change in mindset especially concerning the role of lay people in the Church,” he told the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization. “They should not be regarded as ‘collaborators’ of the clergy, but, rather, as people who are really ‘co-responsible’ for the Church’s being and acting.”

Putting actions to words
Last year, the Lay Ecclesial Ministry Summit in St. Louis marked the 10th anniversary of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishop’s resource guide for lay ecclesial ministry, Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord. In keynote remarks, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo spoke mostly about his perspective as Ordinary — one of the fastest growing dioceses in the nation. 

“Lay ministers... do everything from catechesis, to evangelization, to youth ministry, to an increasingly important ministry called young adult ministry in our local Church because of what is happening in Houston; now we are discovering more in family life counseling, bereavement ministry, and of course, ministry to the sick and the elderly,” he said in a published text of the event.

From music directors, to parish administrators, from finance managers to therapists, more professionals are being trained as lay ministers, the Cardinal DiNardo said. Their roles and responsibilities grow more important each year — as does their own faith formation — as more and more people with little or no formation migrate to Houston. 

“The benefit of a truly well-formed lay ecclesial minister is undeniable and it has been a gift to our churches,” the Cardinal said. “This is not even counting the massive presence of different linguistic and cultural groups in our dioceses that both demand and bring forth pastoral ministers for their formation.”

Alive and thriving
In the Archdiocese, there are many lay apostolates, movements, retreats, events and other initiatives that are engaging Catholics and non-Catholics in a “spirituality of communion,” which is also the theme of the Archdiocese’s plan for pastoral growth. 

They reflect the many cultures of Houston’s parishes. Some of the programs include:
• ACTS: A retreat-based apostolate in several countries for promoting Gospel values and fostering parish community. 
• Cursillo: A global, pan-parish spiritual renewal movement with retreats, prayer vigils and small groups which encourage service and self-giving. It’s very popular in Spanish cultures but there are also English and Vietnamese events. 
• Movimiento Familiar Cristiano Catolico: A network of parish/neighborhood small groups of families. Each group consists of five to seven families which meet in each others’ homes, or at the parish to offer each other spiritual support. 
• Couples for Christ: An international lay ecclesial movement whose council reports directly to the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines. The movement originated in the Philippines.

“Lay ecclesial ministry is something like a laboratory where we can look at co-responsibility as it functions at one given formal level of the Church, and see how those structures are poised to go out further and galvanize each disciple for evangelization,” Cardinal DiNardo said at the St. Louis event. “The fruits are already present and working, and yes, the threats are there, too. So, we need to take a good look.”

This article is the first of a two-part series, which will continue in the Sept. 13 issue.


Co-responsibility: More than 50 years in the making
The notion of co-responsibility isn’t new. 

It was the central theme of the 1987 Synod of Bishops. In writing about the Synod afterward, St. John Paul II noted in his 1988 apostolic exhortation Christifideles Laici that the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) “makes an earnest plea in the Lord’s name that all lay people give a glad, generous and prompt response to the impulse of the Holy Spirit and to the voice of Christ … . 

“The Lord Himself renews His invitation to all the lay faithful to come closer to Him every day, and with the recognition that what is His is also their own (Phil 2:5) they ought to associate themselves with Him in His saving mission.”

And in the 2005 resource guide for lay ecclesial ministry, Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord, the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops wrote: “All of the baptized are called to work toward the transformation of the world. Most do this by working in the secular realm; some do this by working in the Church and focusing on the building of ecclesial communion, which has among its purposes the transformation of the world.” †