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September 29, 2017
Re: Invitation to join with us in supporting the initiative of the Brazilian bishops in a worldwide declaration of the Year of the Laity
We are most encouraged by what Pope Francis said in his speech to the Pontifical Council on the Laity on June 17, 2016. He reminds us all that the call for lay participation in the evangelizing mission of the Church is not through a "delegation" of the hierarchy, but because their apostolate "is a participation in the salvific mission of the Church itself. Through their baptism and confirmation, all are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself" (Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 33). The pope's words resonate deeply in our hearts.
The bishops of Brazil have taken to heart this suggestion of Pope Francis and set a “Year of the Laity” to run from the Feast of Christ the King in 2017 (November 26) to the Feast of Christ the King in 2018 (November 25), marking the 30th anniversary of the 1988 Synod on the Laity. The National Conference of the Bishops of Brazil is sending materials to its bishops “as a suggestion for implementation of this event, according to the reality and the decision of each particular Church.”
It is the mission of the people of God -- the church that we all are -- to go outside the boundaries which we ourselves have established, to see God's handiwork in those who see the Gospel mission differently. This is especially challenging when the leadership of bishop or pastor is regarded as the measure of the Gospel mission. We do not know the mind of God for others unless we begin with what Pope Francis calls "encounter and accompaniment.” It would be helpful toward this end for pastors and bishops to encourage lay initiatives under the guidance of the Spirit, where the lay leaders themselves “test everything and hold fast to what is good” (1Thessalonians 5:21).
As Pope Francis said in his speech to the Pontifical Council of the Laity in June 2016:
“We need lay people who are formed well, animated by a clear and sincere faith, whose lives have been touched by a personal and merciful encounter with the love of Jesus Christ. We need lay people who take risks, who soil their hands, who are not afraid of making mistakes, who move forward. We need lay people with a vision of the future, who are not enclosed in the petty things of life. And as I said to the young people: we need lay people with a taste of the experience of life, who dare to dream.”
We have sent this invitation to Cardinal Farrell as head of the Dicastery for the laity and received a positive response from Fr. Giovanni Buontempo, who is responsible for Lay Movements and New Communities within the Dicastery. We invite you to join with us and our worldwide supporters by now extending this idea of the Brazilian bishops throughout your diocese? It is a joyful opportunity to carry forward what Pope Francis hopes for the laity. We urge you to follow the lead of the Brazilian bishops and send a letter to all parishes within your diocese, offering the example from Brazil as a suggestion for calling the laity to take the full measure of their role among the baptized. This is an opportunity not only for engaging all the People of God in the work of the Gospel but also for supporting others who have so organized themselves, to celebrate the many different gifts of the one Spirit who unites us all (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).
By taking this approach, you would be putting into practice, between the Vatican and pastors, a servant leadership that “inverts the pyramid,” a model which Francis himself has suggested. This would serve as a powerful example for pastors themselves to follow the guideline laid out by our Holy Father.
Who knows which parishes will adopt a Year of the Laity? But their freedom to act can be a model for bishops everywhere to use freedom in the same way to encourage the people to fulfill the calling of their baptism. This can truly be a watershed within the Church for a bubbling-up of the Spirit through the grassroots, embodied in local gatherings of Gospel-filled people – Small Christian Communities (SCCs), basic ecclesial communities (CEBs), and Intentional Eucharistic Communities (IECs) of all kinds whose love for one another is rooted in their love for Christ.
For our part, we resolve to support these grassroots initiatives by letting the People of God know they are not alone, that their place among the baptized, which is the Church, is not limited or defined by their place in a parish or diocese. In these days, a sign of the times is an emerging social technology that enables the kind of linkages that can bring a sense of oneness to those who otherwise may feel isolated or alone.
As a global network, we look with anticipation and joy to work collaboratively with you in the furtherance of the work of your Diocese in the coming months and years.
Respectfully sent from our Church Reform Strategy Team:
Kochurani Abraham: theologian, speaker, and author, India
Clyde Christofferson: attorney and member of NOVA, an Intentional Eucharistic Community, U.S.
Barbara Dreher: CSJ; Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, U.S
Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, Indian Women’s Theological Forum, India
Paul Hwang: Woori Theological Institute, Seoul, Korea
Paschal Kearney: retired Irish member of the Holy Ghost Fathers/Spiritans, Australia
Ashiknaz Khokhar, CCRI Coordinator, Pakistan
Peter Mbuchi Methu: Interfaith Africa, Kenya
Alloys Nyakundi: liaison with Small Christian Communities, Kenya
Don Pribor, Church Worker Justice Organizer for Call To Action, Mexico City/Brazil
Michael Redfearn: digital literacy consultant, Canada
Rene Reid: author and co-founder of CCRI, U.S.
Christina Reymer: active church reformer, New Zealand
Virginia Saldanha: Indian Women’s Theological Forum, India
Jean-Pierre Schmitz, Coordinator GCN (Global Council Network), France
Ed Schreurs: Open Church Alliance, Netherlands
Nessan Vaughan, active church reformer, Dublin, Ireland
Young Adult CCRI committee:
Reena Alphonso (India)
Rachael Alphonso (India)
Liz Ngami (Kenya)
Reverend Joe Healey, MM: animator of Small Christian Communities in Eastern Africa.
Brain Coyne, Catholica, writes in his email,
I've spent the last few days reading the report we brought to your attention on Wednesday by Professor Des Cahill and Dr Peter Wilkinson. I think this has greater potential to change things in the Church, or lay some groundwork for whatever comes next, than almost anything else I have read over the past 20 years. For a long time I've been arguing if the Church is to be revived, or have a future, it needs to go back to the raw canvas over a lot of our fundamental beliefs and theologies. This study in effect does that even though its immediate objective is addressing the question of why the child sexual abuse tragedy and scandal occurred. If you are not aware of this study all I can suggest is that you need to be. Mind you, such are the forces in the Church I am not optimistic that it will generate change. I'm more of the view these days that this sort of inquiry and discussion will be paving the way for whatever comes next. The people who ought be most reading what Des Cahill and Peter Wilkinson have to say are, more than probably, going to be the least likely to be reading it.
(Published in The Swag, Vol. 25, No.3, Spring 2017, pp. 12-15)
This second article in the series looking at particular councils, examines the initial preparations for the 2020 Australian Plenary Council. Further articles will examine in some detail the seven particular councils – provincial and plenary – which have been held in Australia since 1844, and a final one will attempt to imagine what the 2020 Plenary Council might hope to achieve.
A synodal church in Australia
Though the Second Vatican Council declared in 1965 that it “earnestly desires that the venerable institution of synods and councils flourish with new vigour”, in Australia since then, synods and councils have not flourished.
During the past 52 years only five of Australia’s 28 territorial dioceses have had a diocesan synod: Canberra & Goulburn in 1989 and 2004, Maitland-Newcastle in 1992-93, Brisbane in 2003, Cairns in 2008-11, and Broken Bay in 2011-12. Sydney has not had a diocesan synod since 1951 and Melbourne since 1916. Several other dioceses, including Bathurst, Hobart, Parramatta, Toowoomba and Wollongong, have had non-canonical diocesan ‘gatherings’ or ‘assemblies’, but the Holy See’s 1997 Instruction on Diocesan Synods states that all such assemblies should be formally situated within the canonical discipline of the Church.
There have been seven particular councils – provincial and plenary - held in Australia since the Catholic hierarchy was established in 1842 (see Table 1), but no provincial council since 1907 (1st Melbourne Provincial Council) and no plenary council since 1937 (4th Australasian Plenary Council). Worldwide, only two plenary councils have been held since 1965: in the Philippines (1991) and Poland (1993).
(Published in The Swag, Vol. 25, No. 3, Spring 2017, pp. 9-11)
This is the first of a series of articles looking at particular councils or synods. It is a general examination of their origins, characteristics and capacity. Others will examine the seven particular councils, provincial and plenary, which have been held in Australia since 1844, as well as the preparations for the 2020 Australian Plenary Council, and what that council might have on its agenda.
Towards a synodal church
In its 1965 Decree on the Bishops’ Pastoral Office in the Church (Christus Dominus) the Second Vatican Council declared that it “earnestly desires that the venerable institution of synods and councils flourish with new vigour” (n. 36).
Aware that synods had waned significantly, the Council wanted to reverse that lapse. More recently, Pope Francis, echoing the Council, has said that “the world in which we live ... demands that the Church strengthen cooperation in all areas of her mission, and it is precisely the path of synodality which God expects of the Church in the third millennium. A synodal church is like a standard lifted up among the nations” (Address to Synod of Bishops, 17 October 2016). But transitioning to a synodal church will largely depend on bishops to take up the challenge. This may be hard for some, as “synodality does not mean some of the bishops some of the time, but all the Church all of the time” (Archbishop Coleridge, Knox Address, 2015).