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May 14, 2016

Roles of laity and pastors addressed: papal letter on baptism -
Upcoming diocesan synod on "The Joy of Love" -
Declining number of young people marrying in church --
Scandal of human trafficking

In this edition:
1. The mandate of baptism.
2. What about clericalism?
3. The laity and public life.
4. A notable quote from pope's letter.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) When matters are complex.
b) Scandal of human trafficking.
6. Local synod on "The Joy of Love."

1. Implications of Baptism for Church Members

The key role the sacrament of baptism plays in establishing every Christian's identity is examined in a new message from Pope Francis. Baptism gives rise to the life of the laity in church and society, and the sacrament shapes pastoral ministries in vital ways.

Hard on the heels of "The Joy of Love," his April apostolic exhortation on marriage and family life in our times, the pope has issued another consequential document with implications for church ministries. His letter on baptism is being discussed widely.

Baptism "is the indelible sign that no one can ever erase," Pope Francis wrote in this letter, which was addressed to Cardinal Marc Ouellet in his capacity as president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. The cardinal also heads the Vatican Congregation for Bishops.

"Our first and fundamental consecration is rooted in our baptism," the pope explained. This means, he said, that "no one has been baptized a priest or a bishop. They baptized us as lay people."

The pope's letter indicated that he does not want a discussion that took place within the commission to "fall into a void." The commission discussion he had in mind took place in March and focused on the laity's public role "in the life of our peoples."

His letter recalled "the famous phrase, 'The hour of the laity has come.'" However, "it seems the clock has stopped," he said.

Lay people, Pope Francis insisted, "are part of the faithful, holy people of God and thus are the protagonists of the church and of the world; we are called to serve them, not to be served by them."

The pope's letter encouraged pastors to safeguard "two memories" among the church's people: "the memory of Jesus Christ and the memory of our forebears." To lose this memory, he proposed, is to lose awareness of our roots. Then people will not know where they came from or where they are going.

What should be considered fundamental is that "when we uproot a layperson from his faith" or from the people of God, "we uproot him from his baptismal identity," said the pope.

The same thing happens to pastors, the pope made clear. He said that "when we uproot ourselves as pastors from our people, we become lost." A pastor's role and joy "lies precisely in helping and in encouraging."

2. Why Clericalism Is Problematic

"It does us good to remember that the church is not an elite of priests, of consecrated men, of bishops, but that everyone forms the faithful, holy people of God," Pope Francis stated in his letter to Cardinal Ouellet.

The letter cautioned strongly against forgetting "that we all enter the church as lay people. The first sacrament, which seals our identity forever and of which we should always be proud, is baptism."

It follows from this that clericalism represents a distortion in that it "tends to diminish and undervalue the baptismal grace that the Holy Spirit has placed in the heart of our people," the pope wrote. This is one of the "greatest distortions that Latin America has to confront."

What clericalism forgets, he said, is "that the visibility and sacramentality of the church belong to all the people of God" and not just "to the few chosen and enlightened."

Clericalism "limits the diverse initiatives and efforts and, dare I say, the necessary boldness to enable the good news of the Gospel to be brought to all areas of the social and above all political sphere," said Pope Francis.

"Far from giving impetus to various contributions and proposals," he said, clericalism "gradually extinguishes the prophetic flame to which the entire church is called to bear witness in the heart of her peoples."

Lay people are called to work not only within the church but within society at large, according to the pope's letter. He then asked what this means. What is meant in saying that "lay people are working in public life?"

3. Pastoral Ministry and Laity in Public Life

In his letter on baptism and the life of the laity, Pope Francis asks what is implied for pastors when it is said that "lay people are working in public life."

He responded that this "means finding a way to be able to encourage, accompany and inspire all attempts and efforts that are being made today in order to keep hope and faith alive in a world full of contradictions, especially for the poor."

For pastors this means "committing ourselves among our people and with our people, supporting their faith and hope." It means "opening doors, working with them, dreaming with them, reflecting and above all praying with them."

In considering the laity's role in public life, it is not for the pastor "to tell lay people what they must do and say; they know this better than we do," the pope stated. It is not for the pastor, he said, "to establish what the faithful must say in various settings."

He suggested that pastors have the role, "united with our people," of asking themselves how they are "encouraging and promoting charity and fraternity, the desire for good, for truth and for justice."

The pope's letter to Cardinal Ouellet observed that pastoral leaders often "have given in to the temptation of thinking that committed lay people are those dedicated to the works of the church and/or the matters of the parish or the diocese." As a result, pastors "have reflected little on how to accompany baptized people in their public and daily life."

Unwittingly, he suggested, "we have generated a lay elite, believing that committed lay people are only those who work in the matters 'of priests.'" Thus, he added, "we have forgotten, overlooked, the believers who very often burn out their hope in the daily struggle to live the faith."

And those, he said, "are the situations that clericalism fails to notice, because it is more concerned with dominating spaces than with generating initiatives." What is essential is to "recognize that lay people - through their reality, through their identity," are actually "immersed in the heart of social, public and political life."

Since it is "illogical," it also is "impossible to think that we as pastors should have the monopoly on solutions for the multitude of challenges that contemporary life presents us," Pope Francis wrote. Instead, he said, "we must be on the side of our people, accompanying them in their search and encouraging the imagination capable of responding to the current set of problems."

4. Notable Quote From Letter on Baptism

What might a childless father be? Pope Francis reflected on this in his letter to Cardinal Ouellet about the implications of baptism for the community of faith and all its members. Here is what the pope said:

"A father cannot conceive of himself without his children. He may be an excellent worker, a professional, a husband or friend, but what make him a father figure are his children. The same goes for us, we who are pastors.

"A shepherd cannot conceive of himself without his flock, whom he is called to serve. The pastor is pastor of a people, and he serves this people from within. Many times he goes ahead to lead the way, at other times he retraces his steps lest anyone be left behind, and, not infrequently, he stands in the middle to know the pulse of the people."

5. Current Quotes to Ponder

On Approaching Complex Matters: "We live in a world where we so often judge things and indeed people in black and white. We would like simple yes or no answers on subjects which are much more complex than we wish to admit. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis wants all of us to reflect on God's mercy. Pope Francis does not set out to change the teaching of Jesus Christ or to say that in life's choices anything goes; yet he constantly reaches out to those who find that teaching hard to realize in their own lives. Where can we find a starting point in understanding Pope Francis' position? I find a starting point in the first interview which Pope Francis gave shortly after his election when he was asked by the interviewer: 'Who exactly is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?' The pope's instant answer was: 'I am a sinner.' Then he paused and said: 'Let me reflect on that.' 'No,' he said, 'that is correct, I am a sinner.' . . . A pope who considers himself in the first place a sinner will never be arrogant and harsh in his judgment of other sinners. Even more important, a sinner who has experienced God's mercy in the face of his own sinfulness will appreciate how that mercy -- and not condemnation -- is the path which can help others to reach the fullness of God's teaching. Pope Francis, in another text, has said that the Christian life is not 'a never falling down,' but 'an always getting up again, thanks to [the hand of God] which catches us.'" (From an April 30 homily by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland.)

Human Trafficking and Slavery: "That there are over 20 million people callously held in modern slavery in our world today is a mark of deep shame on the face of our human family that no words alone can remove. The challenge that the eyes of faith see before us today is to work to our utmost to rescue, protect, assist and serve the poorest of the Father's children who have been sold into slavery, even as Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers 'in the beginning' (Gn 37:32)." (From an April 7 address by Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, to a special event in New York at the United Nations connected with a conference on human trafficking.)

6. Bishop Calls Synod on "The Joy of Love"

"The declining number of Catholics who marry in the church is an enormous pastoral problem," Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, Calif., said in a pastoral message to the diocese. His message announced a diocesan synod to be held next October on "The Joy of Love," the April 2016 apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis on marriage and family life.

It is essential, Bishop McElroy wrote, that parishes "reflect a deep culture of invitation and hospitality toward all couples who have not yet celebrated Catholic marriage." This, he said, requires addressing "the chief obstacle to building such a culture effectively," which is "that most Catholic young adults are not involved in the life of the church."

There is a "diminishing participation of young adults between 20 and 40" in the life of the church, and this "constitutes the most significant pastoral challenge to the church in the United States," Bishop McElroy commented. He believes that "until we address it effectively, we will not be able to build effectively a strong culture of Catholic marriage in our nation or our diocese."

Due to this question's importance, the bishop noted that in January he "appointed a diocesan-wide task force consisting overwhelmingly of young adults to study the participation of young adults in the church and to recommend radical changes to our approach in inviting young adults to fuller participation in Catholic life."

He said, "The challenge to build a culture of invitation and hospitality for couples who are not yet married requires us to examine practices which, while they have a certain legitimacy, alienate young couples and leave them feeling that they are unwanted in the life of the church." For example, "various rules about which churches will accept specific couples for marriage can leave Catholic couples feeling shut out."

During next October's synod, he said, "existing rules and practices which are alienating must be examined, and creative new pathways to inviting couples to the full commitment of Catholic married life must be explored."

The upcoming synod will concentrate "exclusively on the topics of marriage and family life that Pope Francis has raised in 'The Joy of Love,'" the bishop explained. The synod, he said, "will focus on five major challenges contained in" the apostolic exhortation: "witnessing to the beauty and realism of the Catholic vision of marriage; the need to form a culture of invitation to unmarried couples; the nurturing of children; ministry to those who have been divorced; and bringing spiritual depth to family life in its various forms."

Bishop McElroy described the apostolic exhortation as "breathtaking in its portrait of the beauty of married love." At the same time, however, the document "unceasingly points to the reality that the beauty of married love is not confined to an ideal world or exceptional relationships, but is realistic and attainable for most men and women."

This beauty and "this attainability are essential for understanding the role and contribution of married love in the world today," the bishop wrote.