Going forward with the co-responsible participation of the laity

A summary of the first day's session, with speeches and testimonies from around the world


The Conference for the Presidents and Representatives of Episcopal Commissions for the Laity began this morning in the New Synod Hall. Its goal is to create a place for dialogue and the exchange of experiences on collaboration between laity and clergy in pastoral care. Promoted by the Dicastery, the event, attended by more than 200 delegates from various parts of the world, will end on Saturday with an audience with the Holy Father.

The first day, dedicated to reflecting on co-responsibility in pastoral service, began with a Eucharistic celebration presided over by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops. In his homily, the cardinal invited everyone to meditate on "a new covenant" that is "taking shape in the path of synodality, a restorative and mobilizing covenant. Significant progress is being made in the search for better participation and collaboration between pastors and lay faithful".

The format of the meeting was structured to best support mutual dialogue. For this purpose, the session was opened by the Prefect, Card. Farrell, who recalled the goals of the Conference and the importance of co-responsibility that stems from the baptismal vocation of every Christian. Each session began with an in-depth report on the theme of co-responsibility in the Church and some testimonies in the various pastoral areas (for example: youth ministry, migrant ministry, administration of the particular churches).

In the first presentation, Fr. Luis Navarro, Rector of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, offered participants a reflection on the foundation and nature of the co-responsibility of the lay faithful as well as their vocation and mission in society. "The laity are members of civil society: but they are not passive members of it, but rather builders of it, in the family, in work, in culture, in the boundless world of human relationships, in short, in that of being alter Christus, another Christ because they are living members of the Church: called to be the soul of the world, as the letter to Diognetus expressed it" - he said.

The four testimonies that opened the plenary discussion were offered by:  Jorge and Marta Ibarra from Guatemala, Coordinators of the National Commission for Family and Life of the Bishops' Conference; Paul Metzlaff, official of the Dicastery with a background at the German Bishops' Conference in the area of youth and WYD and as Director of the Commission for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Lay Pastoral Care; Sergio Durando, Director of Migrantes in Turin, Italy; and Ana Maria Celis Brunet from Chile, a Dicastery consultor who shared her experience at the National Council for the Prevention of Abuse and Accompaniment of Victims.

The second part of the day began with a presentation by Carmen Peña Garcia, Professor of Canon Law at the Pontifical Comillas University in Madrid. In reflecting on the areas and ways in which the co-responsibility of the lay faithful is exercised, she recalled that "from the affirmation of lay ministry deriving from Baptism and the principle of synodality, it would be necessary to continue going forward in the co-responsible participation of the laity in the life and mission of the Church, in a detailed key: from the active intervention of the laity in the life of parishes to their normalized participation in the structures of ecclesiastical service, through the development, accordingly to their formation and competence, of ecclesiastical offices in the diocesan curia or in the Roman Curia itself, bringing to ecclesial activity the specific lay aspect and style, cooperating in the progressive 'conversion - pastoral and missionary - of Church structures and helping to avoid 'the temptation of excessive clericalism' (EG 102).

The session for plenary dialogue continued with the touching testimony of H.E. Msgr. Paolo Bizzetti, Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia, who shared the terrible experience that the Turkish and Syrian people are going through due to the earthquake. The painful experience, however," Msgr. Bizzetti stressed, "is also an opportunity, perhaps incomprehensible in the immediate moment, to understand 'that which in life is not fragile, what does not collapse; and what, on the contrary, is transient, what passes away". Mons. Dario Gervasi, Auxiliary Bishop of Rome, spoke about co-responsibility regarding family ministry. Aleksandra Bonarek, a member of the Dicastery, spoke of her experience as a lay judge in the ecclesiastical court in Poland.

The widespread participation of the laity in the life of the local Church in Papua New Guinea was explained by Helen Patricia Oa: "Through our collaboration and openness, beginning with the clergy and religious, we ensure a fuller participation of the Catholic faithful to allow them to recognize themselves as active members of a living Church in Christ." Finally, Leticia Calmeyn, from France, discussed the importance of man-woman collaboration for mission, relocating the notion of co-responsibility not only in a relationship of baptismal and ministerial priesthood, but from the threefold baptismal vocation: priestly, prophetic and royal. An intense moment of dialogue followed these final testimonies of the day.

In conclusion, after reciting Vespers, all the participants agreed to meet tomorrow to dialogue together on the formation of the laity and the role of pastors in living out co-responsibility more efficiently.

16 February 2023