The conference organized by the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, held in the new Synod Hall from February 16th to 18th, 2023, was remarkable and inspiring in many ways. Though I had the opportunity to participate in many similar church events in the past as Rector General, I must admit that this event was something special.
The main theme of the meeting—“Pastors and Laity Called to Walk Together”—was communicated not only through lectures but also through a lived experience. There were more than two hundred participants, including cardinals, bishops, priests, religious sisters, leaders of associations, and lay members. We were all able to sit together, side by side, and listen, reflect, discuss, pray, and even eat together. There were bishops from so many episcopal conferences, and most of them came with their collaborators, priests, and lay members. Here was the Church of the People of God, “Pilgrims of Hope,” walking together with the same dignity and responsibility. There was no question of who was greater or smaller among us. We were all missionary disciples of Jesus. The event was organized to raise awareness among pastors and laity alike of the significance of the common responsibility that stems from Baptism and that unites us all.
Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, put this ecclesial vision into words in his opening address:
All members of the People of God, pastors and lay faithful alike, share full responsibility for the life, mission, care, management, and growth of the People of God. There is a need to go beyond the approach of “delegation” or that of “substitution” where the laity are “delegated” by the pastors for some sporadic service, or the laity “substitute” for clerics in some functions, yet they are working in isolation. All of this seems to be somewhat reductive. During the Plenary Assembly, we felt a renewed call from the Lord to “go forward together” in taking responsibility in serving the Christian community. Each of us does so according to our individual vocation. We do not adopt an attitude of superiority, but rather we pool our energies as we share the mission of proclaiming the Gospel to the men and women of our time.
Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council Constitution on the Church, states: “Let the spiritual shepherds recognize and promote the dignity as well as the responsibility of the laity in the Church” (37). This means that sixty years ago, the Second Vatican Council had already visualized such a church of communion and participation. The question remains as to whether there will be the actual realization of such an ecclesial vision in the local churches around the world.
As a Pallottine, I know that my founder, St. Vincent Pallotti, had already visualized such a church more than a hundred years before the Second Vatican Council. St. Vincent stated: “Every Catholic, whether priest, religious, or lay faithful, should rejoice because all of his talents, knowledge, learning, studies, power, profession…material goods, prayers used or done for the spreading of the faith and rekindling of charity in the world can acquire the merit of the apostolate.” Thus, we are all called to the apostolate of Jesus Christ. Besides, by participating in the salvific work of Jesus, we perfect ourselves as an image of the Holy Trinity and become like Jesus himself, the supreme model of perfection.
I left with a renewed conviction of the prophetic vision of the Union of Catholic Apostolate of the Roman St. Vincent Pallotti. Building up a church of communion, participation, and mission—as is so often repeated today as we talk about the synodal process—was the ultimate scope of this lively meeting. Yet I was also left with a puzzling question as well: how come this noble vision of St. Vincent has not inflamed our hearts to bring about its realization in service of the mission of God’s people around the world? What may be missing?
Maybe we need to share this dream of Pope Francis, expressed during the audience granted to the participants on the final day of the meeting:
How I wish that all of us might cherish in mind and heart this lovely vision of the Church! A church that is intent on mission, where all join forces and walk together to proclaim the Gospel. A church in which what binds us together is our being baptized Christians, our belonging to Jesus. A church marked by fraternity between laity and pastors, as all work side by side each day in every sphere of pastoral life, for they are all baptized.
In other words, he speaks of a church built on spiritual communion, effective participation in the apostolate, and zealous missionary endeavors in favor of God’s people, especially directed towards those who are on the peripheries of faith and existence.
In realizing such a dream, the Catholic Apostolate Center of the Immaculate Conception Province of the Society, under the leadership of Fr. Frank Donio, SAC and his team, renders a commendable service to the universal Church and the Pallottine family.
Learn more about the conference here:
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