By Filipe Domingues
Pope Francis has safely made his way back to Rome after a historic visit to Cuba and the United States. Many deep and strong messages were given by the Argentine pontiff during this trip – the longest of his pontificate – but one is directly connected to the way The Lay Centre envisions its presence in the world.
In his homily at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul, in Philadelphia, the Holy Father said that the Church must “foster in all the faithful a sense of personal responsibility” for its mission. That means calling laity to a stronger engagement, in a “sense of collaboration and shared responsibility”.
To exemplify that point, Pope Francis told a story about Saint Katharine Drexel and Pope Leo XIII:
“When she spoke to Pope Leo XIII of the needs of the missions, the Pope – he was a very wise Pope! – asked her pointedly: ‘What about you? What are you going to do?’. Those words changed Katharine’s life, because they reminded her that, in the end, every Christian man and woman, by virtue of baptism, has received a mission. Each one of us has to respond, as best we can, to the Lord’s call to build up his Body, the Church.”
As Pope Francis has reminded us on other occasions, “There is a place for everyone in the Church”. Indeed, “What about you?” means inviting and giving every single person in the Church the instruments to transmit the joy of the Gospel and to build up the Church. But, to do so, sometimes we need to adapt and change the structures that already exist in a new and creative way.
“One of the great challenges facing the Church in this generation is to foster in all the faithful a sense of personal responsibility for the Church’s mission, and to enable them to fulfill that responsibility as missionary disciples, as a leaven of the Gospel in our world. This will require creativity in adapting to changed situations, carrying forward the legacy of the past not primarily by maintaining our structures and institutions, which have served us well, but above all by being open to the possibilities which the Spirit opens up to us and communicating the joy of the Gospel, daily and in every season of our life. (…)
We know that the future of the Church in a rapidly changing society will call, and even now calls, for a much more active engagement on the part of the laity. The Church in the United States has always devoted immense effort to the work of catechesis and education.
Our challenge today is to build on those solid foundations and to foster a sense of collaboration and shared responsibility in planning for the future of our parishes and institutions. This does not mean relinquishing the spiritual authority with which we have been entrusted; rather, it means discerning and employing wisely the manifold gifts which the Spirit pours out upon the Church. In a particular way, it means valuing the immense contribution which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make, to the life of our communities.”
This is not the first time Pope Francis emphasizes that spirit of co-responsibility – and Pope Benedict XVI used that expression too – calling for special attention to the work that women, lay and religious have done all over the world. But saying so in the United States, where laity has historically played a huge role in Evangelization, seems to be Francis’s way of pointing out a good example for the whole Church of how we should “carry forward the legacy of the past”.