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The laity witness to Christ in the world

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 16 March 1994 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. Today it is not difficult for Christians to admit that all the Church's members, including the laity, can and must share in her mission of bearing witness to, proclaiming and bringing Christ to the world. This requirement of Christ's Mystical Body has been reiterated by Popes, by the Second Vatican Council and by synods of bishops in harmony with Sacred Scripture and Tradition, the experience of the early Christians, the teaching of theologians and the history of pastoral life. In our century there has been no reluctance to speak of "apostolate," and this term and the idea it expresses are known to the clergy and faithful. However, one frequently has the feeling that there is still some uncertainty about the areas of concrete involvement and about the ways in which this involvement should be carried out. It would be helpful, then, to set forth some clearly established points on this subject, with the realization, though, that a more concrete, direct and developed formation can and should be sought locally from one's own parish priests, diocesan offices and centers for the lay apostolate.

2. The first area for the laity's apostolate within the ecclesial community is the parish. The Council insisted on this point in the Decree Apostolicam Actuositatem, which says: "The parish offers an obvious example of the apostolate on the community level" (n. 10). It is also stated that lay action is needed here so that the pastors' apostolate can achieve its full effect. This action, which must be developed in close union with their priests, is for "the laity with the right apostolic attitude" a form of direct, immediate participation in the Church's life (cf. AA 10).

Lay people can accomplish much in assisting with the liturgy, in teaching catechism, in pastoral and social projects, and on pastoral councils (cf. CL 27). They also contribute indirectly to the apostolate by helping with parish administration. The priest must not feel alone, but should be able to count on their competence and the support of their solidarity, understanding and generous devotion in the various ways of serving God's kingdom.

3. A second area of needs, concerns and possibilities was indicated by the Council when it urged the laity to "cultivate an ever-increasing appreciation of their own diocese'" (AA 10). The local church actually takes concrete shape in the diocese and makes the universal Church present for the clergy and faithful belonging to it. The laity are called to collaborate with a generous and lofty spirit on today's frequent diocesan projects in executive, consultative and at times directive roles, in accordance with the instructions and requests of the bishop and the agencies responsible. They also make a significant contribution by participating in diocesan pastoral councils, whose establishment was recommended by the 1987 Synod of Bishops as "the principal form of collaboration, dialogue and discernment at the diocesan level" (CL 27). We also expect from the laity specific help in spreading the teachings of the diocesan bishop, united with the other bishops and especially with the Pope, on religious and social issues that the ecclesial community faces; in a good formulation and resolution of administrative problems; in managing the catechetical, cultural and charitable activities that the diocese establishes and supports on behalf of their poor brothers and sisters, etc. How many other opportunities there are for fruitful labor for anyone who has goodwill, a desire for commitment and a spirit of sacrifice! May God inspire ever new and vigorous efforts to help bishops and dioceses, where many excellent lay people are showing their awareness that the local Church is everyone's home and family!

4. On a broader, even universal, scale the laity can and must feel that they are members of the Church and be committed to her growth, as the 1987 Synod of Bishops recalled (cf. CL 28). They should think of her as an essentially missionary community, whose members all have the duty and responsibility of preaching the Gospel to every nation, to all who need God, whether they know it or not. In this vast area of individuals and groups, of environments and social levels, there are also many who, although being registered as Christians, are spiritually distant, agnostic and indifferent to Christ. The new evangelization is aimed at these brothers and sisters, and lay people are called to give their valuable, indispensable cooperation to it. The 1987 Synod, after having said: "Without doubt a mending of the Christian fabric of society is urgently needed," added: "At this moment the lay faithful, in virtue of their participation in the prophetic mission of Christ, are fully part of this work of the Church" (CL 34). There are many places for the laity in the forefront of this new evangelization!

To carry out this task a suitable preparation in the doctrine of the faith and in pastoral methodology is indispensable, one which the laity too may receive in institutes of religious studies and special courses, in addition to their personal effort to study divine truth. The same degree of religious or even theological education will not be needed by everyone nor for every form of collaboration. But it cannot be neglected by those who must face the problems of science and human culture in relation to faith (cf. CL 34).

5. The new evangelization is aimed at forming mature ecclesial communities consisting of convinced Christians who are knowledgeable and persevering in faith and charity. They will be able to enliven the multitudes from within, even where Christ, the Redeemer of man, is unknown or forgotten (cf. CL 35), or where the bond linking him to thought and life is weak.

To this end old and new forms of association will be useful, such as confraternities, "companies," and pious unions, enriched when necessary with a new missionary spirit, and the various movements flourishing in the Church today. Traditional initiatives and popular exhibitions on the occasion of religious celebrations, while preserving certain features connected with local or regional customs, also could and should have an ecclesial impact, if prepared and carried out in a way that takes into account the needs of the new evangelization. It will be the task of the clergy and the laity who organize them to adapt them with wisdom, sensitivity and courage to the needs of the missionary Church, in every case fostering an instructive catechesis on the customs as well as sacramental practice, especially Penance and the Eucharist.

6. Eloquent examples of missionary endeavor in the above-mentioned fields or areas, and in so many others, are given to us by many lay people in our day. They have discovered the fullness of their Christian vocation and have accepted the divine mandate of universal evangelization, the gift of the Holy Spirit, who seeks to accomplish in the world an ever new Pentecost. The Church is grateful for these brothers and sisters of ours, both known and unknown, and they have certainly been blessed by God. May their example raise up an ever greater number of lay people committed to bringing Christ's message to every individual and to seeking to enkindle the missionary flame everywhere. For this reason too the Successor of Peter tries to visit every nation, on every continent, in order humbly to help spread the Gospel. In every country the bishops, successors of the apostles, are active as individual pastors and as an ecclesial body in the new evangelization."

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese

Chers frères et sœurs,

J’adresse un salut cordial à tous les pèlerins de langue française. J’encourage les jeunes présents à cette audience, spécialement ceux des collège de Charonne et de Neuilly, à profiter de ce temps de Carême pour se tourner résolument vers le Christ, source de toute vie réussie, et à devenir ses témoins, à la suite des Apôtres Pierre et Paul.

Pour que ce temps de pénitence soit pour vous un temps de conversion, je vous accorde de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique!

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a warm welcome to the priests and brothers of the Missionaries of Africa taking part in a renewal programme. A special word of thanks also goes to the Lan Yang Dancers. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Canada, Indonesia and the United States, I cordially invoke God’s abundant blessings.

Ai fedeli giapponesi

Dilettissimi pellegrini giapponesi e Membri di “ Tsuji Chorus Family ”,

Il mondo attuale ha estremo bisogno della preghiera e di armonia. Ora, carissimi, spero che le preghiere che andate elevando al Signore durante il pellegrinaggio che vi ha portato a Roma e l’armonia dei vostri canti contribuiscano a stabilire la pace nel mondo, tramite le mani della “Regina Pacis”. Con questo auspicio vi benedico di cuore.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Ai fedeli di espressione tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung heiße ich die deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher herzlich willkommen. Mein besonderer Grub gilt der Pilgergruppe aus Neunkirchen, die von Herrn Kardinal Stickler begleitet wird, der Katholischen Pilgervereinigung der Aussiedler in NordrheinWestfalen, den Chören des 1. Internationalen Wettbewerbes ”Orlando di Lasso“ sowie den Teilehmern an der Studienreise der Evangelischen Kirche Hessen-Nassau. Euch allen, liebe Schwestern und Brüder, Euren Lieben in der Heimat und all jenen, die uns in diesem Moment geistlich verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Mi cordial y afectuosa bienvenida a esta audiencia a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española. En particular, a las religiosas de San José de Gerona, a los peregrinos provenientes de México y a los grupos de estudiantes de Madrid, Córdoba y Sevilla.

A todas las personas, familias y grupos procedentes de los distintos Países de América Latina y de España imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Queridos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Caríssimos amigos, recordais certamente aquele olhar com que Jesus fixou o jovem rico que procurava a verdadeira vida. Nesta vossa peregrinação ao coração da Igreja Universal, aprendei de Jesus e dos seus Apóstolos Pedro e Paulo aquele mesmo olhar, terno e penetrante, que desvenda e anuncia a quantos vos rodeiam horizontes de esperança eterna. Esta é hoje a minha prece pelas vossas pessoas e vidas, de modo particular pelos peregrinos brasileiros vindos do Rio de Janeiro e São Paulo, ao abençoar-vos em nome do Senhor.

Ai fedeli polacchi

Z Polski witamy Księdza Biskupa z nowej diecezji w Rzeszowie - ks. bpa Kazimierza Górnego; z Krakowa - pielgrzymkę konserwatorów; z Bielska-Białej - parafię Odkupiciela Człowieka; z Warszawy - parafię św. Wawrzyńca; z Gródka w diecezji zamojsko-lubaczowskiej - parafię św. Anny; z Gdańska - młodzież niepełnosprawną z Dziennego Ośrodka Adaptacyjnego; z Wrocławia - kolejarzy; grupy turystyczne: z Katowic, Opola, Konina; z Chodzieży - młodzież szkolna ze szkoły im. Powstańców Wielkopolskich, poza tym wszystkich innych obecnych na tej audiencji pielgrzymów, zarówno z kraju, jak z emigracji.

Ai fedeli di lingua italiana

Nel salutare i pellegrini di lingua italiana, desidero oggi rivolgere un pensiero particolare alle suore di San Giovanni Battista e Santa Caterina da Siena, chiamate comunemente suore “Medée”, che ricordano il quarto centenario di fondazione. Ad esse va l’augurio che in questo anno di celebrazioni possano, con l’aiuto di Dio, proseguire generosamente nell’impegno assunto fin dalle origini, di orientare le persone ad una vita interiore intensa attraverso la spiritualità degli Esercizi di S. Ignazio di Loyola.

Rivolgo poi un saluto al parroco ed ai fedeli della comunità di San Flaviano in Montefiascone e benedico volentieri l’immagine della Vergine, che nel prossimo mese di maggio sarà portata nelle famiglie per la “Peregrinatio Mariae”.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Mi è inoltre gradito rivolgere un saluto cordiale ai giovani, agli ammalati, ed a quanti generosamente li accompagnano, come pure alle coppie di sposi novelli, presenti a questa Udienza.

Carissimi, in questo tempo di Quaresima, vi invito tutti a guardare a Cristo, Redentore dell’uomo, e trarre forza da Lui per un fedele impegno di vita cristiana.

Voi, giovani, siate sempre più pronti nel testimoniare con le parole e l’azione il messaggio di Cristo.

Voi, ammalati, chiamati ad annunciare, come dono di vita, la dura realtà della Croce, sappiate realizzare una profonda comunione con Dio attraverso l’assidua preghiera e l’offerta preziosa della vostra sofferenza.

E voi, cari sposi novelli, vivete la trasparenza dell’amore e della reciproca donazione come scelta esaltante di collaborazione al disegno creativo di Dio.

Con tali auspici, vi imparto volentieri la mia Benedizione.

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