DAILY CATHOLIC    MONDAY     June 7, 1999     vol. 10, no. 109


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          The Holy Father concluded the Synod of the Americas, begun in November 1997 and capped with his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America released at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City in January this year on the Pope's visit to the Americas. It is the Sovereign Pontiff who has expressed a strong desire to see North, Central and South Americas to be considered "one continent" and he expresses the solidarity, communion and conversion of all nations in the Western Hemisphere in this summation of all that was discussed and decided on between Rome and the Bishops of America at the month-long synod late in 1997. We bring you, over several installments, the entire document since it is pertinent not only to the Bishops and clergy, but to the lay communicants of the Americas. To read the entire document at one time or for footnotes, go to Ecclesia in America. To the right is installment fifteen of ECCLESIA IN AMERICA.

Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America

      From Pope John Paul II to the Bishops, Priests and Deacons, Men and Women Religious, and all the Lay Faithful on the encounter with the Living Jesus Christ: The Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America


          44. “The teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the unity of the Church as the People of God gathered into the unity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit stresses that Baptism confers upon all who receive it a dignity which includes the imitation and following of Christ, communion with one another and the missionary mandate”. (156) The lay faithful should thus be conscious of their baptismal dignity. For their part, Pastors should have a profound respect “for the witness and evangelizing work of lay people who, incorporated into the People of God through a spirituality of communion, lead their brothers and sisters to encounter the living Jesus Christ. The renewal of the Church in America will not be possible without the active presence of the laity. Therefore, they are largely responsible for the future of the Church”. (157)

          There are two areas in which lay people live their vocation. The first, and the one best suited to their lay state, is the secular world, which they are called to shape according to God's will. (158) “Their specific activity brings the Gospel to the structures of the world; 'working in holiness wherever they are, they consecrate the world itself to God'”. (159) Thanks to the lay faithful, “the presence and mission of the Church in the world is realized in a special way in the variety of charisms and ministries which belong to the laity. Secularity is the true and distinctive mark of the lay person and of lay spirituality, which means that the laity strive to evangelize the various sectors of family, social, professional, cultural and political life. On a continent marked by competition and aggressiveness, unbridled consumerism and corruption, lay people are called to embody deeply evangelical values such as mercy, forgiveness, honesty, transparency of heart and patience in difficult situations. What is expected from the laity is a great creative effort in activities and works demonstrating a life in harmony with the Gospel”. (160)

          America needs lay Christians able to assume roles of leadership in society. It is urgent to train men and women who, in keeping with their vocation, can influence public life, and direct it to the common good. In political life, understood in its truest and noblest sense as the administration of the common good, they can find the path of their own sanctification. For this, they must be formed in the truths and values of the Church's social teaching, and in the basic notions of a theology of the laity. A deeper knowledge of Christian ethical principles and moral values will enable them to be exponents of these in their own particular setting, proclaiming them even where appeals are made to the so-called “neutrality of the State”. (161)

          There is a second area in which many lay faithful are called to work, and this can be called “intra-ecclesial”. A good number of lay people in America legitimately aspire to contribute their talents and charisms “to the building of the ecclesial community as delegates of the word, catechists, visitors to the sick and the imprisoned, group leaders, etc.” (162) The Synod Fathers expressed the hope that the Church would recognize some of these works as lay ministries, with a basis in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, without compromising the specific ministries proper to the Sacrament of Orders. This is a large and complex issue and some time ago I established a Commission to study it; (163) in this regard the offices of the Holy See have from time to time provided guidelines. (164) There is a need to promote positive cooperation by properly trained lay men and women in different activities within the Church, while avoiding any confusion with the ordained ministries and the activities proper to the Sacrament of Orders, so that the common priesthood of the faithful remains clearly distinguished from that of the ordained.

          In this respect, the Synod Fathers recommended that the works entrusted to lay people be clearly “distinct from those which constitute steps on the way to the ordained ministry” (165) and which are carried out by candidates for the priesthood before ordination. It was also noted that these lay works “should be undertaken only by men and women who have received the necessary training in accordance with clearly defined criteria: a stable presence, a real readiness to serve a determined group of persons, and the duty of accountability to their Pastor”. (166) In any event, while the intra-ecclesial apostolate of lay people needs to be promoted, care must be taken to ensure that it goes hand in hand with the activity proper to the laity, in which their place cannot be taken by priests: the area of temporal realities.

    The dignity of women

          45. Particular attention needs to be given to the vocation of women. On other occasions I have expressed my esteem for the specific contribution of women to the progress of humanity and recognized the legitimacy of their aspiration to take part fully in ecclesial, cultural, social and economic life. (167) Without this contribution, we would miss the enrichment which only the “feminine genius” (168) can bring to the life of the Church and to society. To fail to recognize this would be an historic injustice, especially in America, if we consider the contribution which women have made to the material and cultural development of the continent, just as they have in handing down and preserving the faith. Indeed, “their role was decisive, above all in consecrated life, in education and in health care”. (169)

          Unfortunately, in many parts of America women still meet forms of discrimination. It can be said that the face of the poor in America is also the face of many women. That is why the Synod Fathers spoke of a “feminine side of poverty”. (170) The Church feels the duty to defend the human dignity which belongs to every person, and “denounces discrimination, sexual abuse and male domination as actions contrary to God's plan”. (171) In particular, the Church deplores the appalling practice, sometimes part of a larger plan, of the sterilization of women, especially the poorest and most marginalized, often carried out surreptitiously, without the women themselves realizing it. This is all the more serious when it is done in order to obtain economic aid at the international level.

          The Church throughout America feels committed to show greater concern for women and to defend them “so that society in America can better support family life based on marriage, better protect motherhood and show greater respect for the dignity of all women”. (172) There is a need to help women in America to take an active and responsible role in the Church's life and mission, (173) and also to acknowledge the need for the wisdom and cooperation of women in leadership roles within American society.

NEXT MONDAY: Installment sixteen - Chapter Four: Challenges facing Christian families

June 7, 1999       volume 10, no. 109


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