ROME (CNS): Laypeople are called not simply to help their priests run their parishes, but to share fully in the responsibility of building up the Church, Pope Benedict XVI told delegates to the annual convention of the Diocese of Rome.
“This will require a change of mentality, especially regarding laypeople – to move from considering them to be the clergy’s collaborators to recognising them as truly sharing responsibility for the existence and action of the Church,” the Pope said on May 26 during an evening talk at the Basilica of St John Lateran.
The Pope’s speech about the identity of the Church and the role of its members launched a three-day meeting by diocesan delegates to assess pastoral services and come up with ideas for strengthening the participation of Catholics in the life of their parishes and the diocese.
The first step, the Pope said, should be to improve education efforts so that people would understand what the Second Vatican Council meant when it described the Church as “the people of God” and the “body of Christ”.
“The people of God” was an Old Testament phrase referring to the fact that God established a special relationship with a particular people, the people of Israel, so that he could enter human history and reach all people with his love and salvation, the Pope said.
The goal of a universal outreach was fulfilled through Jesus’ death and resurrection, he said.
Pope Benedict said that, despite the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, too many people continued “to identify the Church as the hierarchy” or, having rejected that vision in an exaggerated way, they saw the Church simply as a collection of people.
“The Church, which has its origins in the triune God, is a mystery of communion. As a communion, the Church is not only a spiritual reality, but lives in history – in flesh and blood, so to speak,” the Pope said.
“The people of God means all of us – from the pope to the baby most recently baptised,” he said.
While faith requires a personal relationship with God, he said, that relationship was lived out in a community in which each person has rights and obligations to the whole.
Being a Christian meant sharing the Gospel with others, particularly through acts of charity, he said.
The Pope prayed that the charity carried out predominantly by laypeople in Rome’s parishes would continue to increase “so that those who live in suffering would feel the Church near to them and experience the love of the Father, who is rich in mercy”.