July 12, 2017
Cardinal Kevin Farrell
Palazzo San Calisto
Vatican City State00120
Re: Request of your office to support the initiative of the Brazilian bishops in a worldwide declaration of the Year of the Laity
Dear Cardinal Farrell,
We are most encouraged by what Pope Francis said in his speech to the Pontifical Council on the Laity on June 17, 2016. The pope’s words resonate deeply in our hearts. 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 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.”
Would it not be appropriate for you and your Dicastery to extend this idea of the Brazilian bishops to the rest of the Church? 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 the bishops conferences, 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 the conferences of bishops, a servant leadership that “inverts the pyramid,” a model which Francis himself has suggested. This would serve as a powerful example for the bishops themselves to follow the guideline laid out by our Holy Father.
Who knows which conferences of bishops 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 Dicastery 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
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
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)
Zach Johnson (Executive Director, Call to Action, U.S.)
Reverend Joe Healey, MM: animator of Small Christian Communities in Eastern Africa.
CC: Cardinal Parolin, Secretary of State