To representatives of Church Reform Organizations:
We'd like to explore ways that we might work together to bring about the reform that we are all striving to create. Even though each of our groups have differing missions focused on specific issues, there are certain basic principles that are universal to all of us:
- The People of God should have a deliberative voice in the governance of our Church;
- Too many Catholics simply go along with the institutional Church unaware that their voice could make a difference;
- These people could be guided and taught that they have the right and the duty to speak up for the good of the Church.
Is there something we could all do to move the People who are the Church out of their pews and into a place where they would begin to speak up?
Invite friends to a small gathering in your community
Francis has been our pope for just over three years now and, while he has brought a fresh spirit of openness to the Church, he is still meeting with resistance in many parts of the world to get bishops to open dialogue with the grassroots. Not waiting for the initiative of the bishops, he is encouraging the People of God to speak up, to "make some noise" and "bother our pastors!"
A first step, in the midst of this episcopal lethargy is for people to take the initiative and discuss how our church can be more visibly a sign of Christ's presence in our world today. If, for example, there was less focus on "the law" and more attention given to social justice and peace in our world, we may be able to play some small role in replacing hatred with love. In small groups, innumerable topics could arise such as: elevating the role of women in the Church; welcoming all - including the divorced and remarried - to the Eucharist; discovering the primacy of conscience; welcoming the LGBT community and/or interfaith marriages; apologizing to the countless priests who have been laicized and dismissed in shame because they wanted to be a priest and have a family; demanding appropriate retribution to clergy guilty of sexual abuse of children. These are just a few of the topics likely to arise. Once those attending a small gathering are clear among themselves on what they want to see changed, then each of our local groups could "bother" pastors and bishops with proposals for making the universal Church, and we who are the Church, signs of Christ's love in the world.
How might we go about this?
(1) Invite the members of your group to organize small gatherings and share what being members of their Church means to them. Do they have suggestions on what changes, if any, in the Roman Catholic Church would bring people closer to God?
(2) Encourage your members to invite a few friends - active Catholics and not - to their home for a discussion on the Church. Talk about their lived experience of the Church. Discuss how the community of faith might be improved to be a stronger presence of Christ in our world. If they no longer attend Church, invite them to discuss what drove them away and what it would take to bring them back.
(3) Encourage your members to get involved in their parish. Build on the positive aspects of the group to build trust and get folks to open up about their concerns and needs. Talk about what the group could do to address these issues.
(4) Encourage those members who are already an active member of their parish to decide on a date and time for a gathering, and ask the pastor to post a notice about it in the bulletin and/or announce it at the Sunday Masses. Since Pope Francis has asked the People of God to speak up, announce this meeting as such an opportunity. Since this is a directive from the pope, their pastor would be hard pressed to decline such a request.
For meaningful reform to happen, the People, who are the Church, must find the courage to speak out. Pope Francis is describing the church as an upside down pyramid with the People at the top filtering down our needs to the focal point at the bottom, i.e., the Pope. But this doesn't work if the people are silent.
Would you personally consider working through your members to set up local meetings for the purpose of getting people to speak out about what changes they believe are needed in the Church? If enough of us speak up in cities throughout the world, we could turn our whispers into a strong, clear, and united common voice for lay participation to become a permanent part of the decision-making in the Church.
At www.ThePeopleSpeakOut.org, you will find suggestions for members unfamiliar with organizing meetings to set up gatherings in their communities. Once some conclusions have been reached for desired changes in the Church, we invite you to report the outcome of your gathering: what were some of the key issues identified by the people? And can this process of lay participation continue on a regular basis? Each time a group meets, report the outcome of the meeting. We will collect all the reports and post them for public viewing and deliver them directly to the Vatican, to Pope Francis, and to his bishops.
We'd like to follow up with a personal email to you within the coming week to ask for your thoughts about this approach and for your suggestions of how to move forward with bringing needed reform to the institutional Church.
Rene Reid, CCRI director