Pilar RíoThe laity, men and women "of the world at the heart of the Church" : The laity, men and women "of the world at the heart of the Church".

Interview with the professor of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross on the role of the laity in a synodal Church.

Antonino Piccione-March 20, 2023-Reading time: 5 minutes
Pilar rio

Photo: Pilar Río ©Pontificia Universidad de la Santa Cruz

Chilean, extraordinary professor at the Faculty of Theology of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, where she teaches Ecclesiology and Sacraments. Also a graduate in Journalism, she worked at "El Mercurio" in Santiago before moving to Rome.

We put some questions to Pilar Río, in order to shed some light on what the Pope Francis points out as the attitude "of the laity to live primarily their mission in the secular realities in which they are immersed every day, but this does not exclude that they also have skills, charisms and competencies to contribute to the life of the Church: in liturgical animation, catechesis and formation, structures of government, administration of goods, planning and execution of pastoral programs, etc.".

"What are the main dimensions of synodality and what temptations should we beware of?

-The synodality is a constitutive dimension of the Church, a style of life and work that manifests its being a mystery of communion for the mission, so that what the Lord is asking of us at this moment in history could be summarized, in a certain sense, in these attitudes: meet - listen - discern - walk together as a united people in carrying out the mission that Christ has entrusted to his Church.

The word "synod" comes from the Greek and means "to walk together".

– Supernatural synodality indicates, therefore, a path of reflection, listening, narration and dreaming for the future, which aims at renewing the way of being and acting of the Church as a missionary communion. Sharing a vision, a perspective that attracts us, and identifying the stages and modalities (processes) that activate a lasting and effective change.

It is an experience inspired by the Holy Spirit, which therefore retains a wide margin of openness and unpredictability, characteristic of the Spirit, who blows and goes where he wills. This is why we use the expression "celebrating the Synod", because in reality it means recognizing the action of the Spirit who always accompanies our Church.

As for the temptation from which we must guard against, let me recall the recent words of Pope Francis for whom "the path that God is showing the Church is precisely that of living communion and walking together in a more intense and concrete way.

It is inviting it to overcome independent ways of acting or parallel paths that never meet: the clergy separated from the laity, consecrated persons separated from the clergy and the faithful, the intellectual faith of certain elites separated from popular faith, the Roman Curia separated from the particular Churches, bishops separated from priests, young people separated from the elderly, spouses and families little involved in the life of communities, charismatic movements separated from parishes, and so on. This is the most serious temptation at this time".

Who is the lay faithful and what role can be attributed to the laity in a synodal Church?

-The layperson is a faithful Christian, that is, a person baptized and therefore incorporated into Christ and the Church. By virtue of his status in the world, theological and not simply sociological, this Christian is called by God into the world to inform it with the spirit of the Gospel.

Hence its role in a synodal Church is that of an active ecclesial subject, fully participating in and co-responsible for the whole mission of the Church and, in a special but not exclusive way, for the sanctification of the world.

Its entire mission is oriented, also in a synodal key and therefore together with the other members of the Church, to evangelization, sanctification and charity lived in the midst of the world.

With regard to services such as catechesis, liturgical animation, formation, collaboration in certain tasks of pastors, administration of goods, care of pastoral structures, etc., it must be remembered that the lay person, as a member of the faithful, has not only the right but also, on some occasions, the duty to assume them, obviously according to his or her lay condition.

In both the intra-ecclesial and temporal spheres, there are many complex challenges that the laity cannot fail to face.Can you recall any that you consider particularly important?

As regards the first, the intra-ecclesial sphere, the most demanding challenges concern the issues of mutual collaboration, formation (of both laity and pastors), overcoming dichotomies, mutual fears and mistrust, listening, a more incisive presence of women, enhancing the professional skills of the laity, the risk of clericalization....

In the temporal sphere, however, I would refer first of all to the challenge of recognizing the fully ecclesial value of the special and irreplaceable mission of the laity in the world, but also of recognizing the charism of lay life.

The challenges are also those of not becoming worldly, hence the importance of sacramental life and prayer, of living with one's feet on the ground but with one's eyes turned towards heaven, of not taking refuge in protected environments but going out to the peripheries.

In short, to be men and women "of the Church in the heart of the world" and men and women "of the world in the heart of the Church".

Basically, the sanctification of temporal realities constitutes the challenge of challenges. A challenge that we are called to play in many fields: the goods of life and the family, culture, the economy, the arts and professions, political institutions, social structures, and international relations.

The more incisive presence of women in the life and mission of the Church, as baptized persons, is a right. Do you consider it fully recognized in the perspective of Evangelii gaudium, the programmatic document of the current pontificate?

-I would say that Francis has innovated to the point of introducing a paradigm shift, for which we can only be grateful and thankful. "The lay faithful [as faithful] - these are the words of the Holy Father - are not 'guests' in the Church, they are in her house, so they are called to take care of their own house. The laity, and especially women, must be more valued in their competencies and in their human and spiritual gifts for the life of parishes and dioceses. They can carry the proclamation of the Gospel in their "everyday" language, engaging in various forms of preaching. They can collaborate with priests in the formation of children and young people, help engaged couples in their preparation for marriage and accompany them in their conjugal and family life. They should always be consulted in the preparation of new pastoral initiatives at all levels, local, national and universal. They should have a voice in the pastoral councils of the particular Churches. They should be present in the offices of the dioceses. They can help in the spiritual accompaniment of other lay people and also contribute to the formation of seminarians and religious. We are not guests but, as baptized women, ecclesial subjects, participants and co-responsible for the whole mission".

Although these words of the Pope emphasize the intra-ecclesial aspect of mission, I would also like to highlight the important ecclesial task that women are called to carry out in the world, contributing with their feminine genius to the care of the human.

The Cardinal Farrellurged to overcome "the logic of 'delegation' or 'substitution'. What steps remain to be taken to overcome this reductive logic? 

-This logic makes us see how far we are still far from a recognition of conciliar ecclesiology, more specifically of the second chapter of the dogmatic constitution on the Church Lumen gentium on the People of God, where the Christian, by reason of baptism, appears as a subject of the mission, as a missionary disciple, as Pope Francis often says.

In fact, the mission is not shared through the hierarchy, but directly from Christ to the Church, to each baptized person, so that Christians are not auxiliaries, delegates or substitutes, but true protagonists of the ecclesial mission.

Starting from this awareness can be a good beginning to initiate a change of mentality and culture within the Church, which concerns not only the pastors, but also the laity themselves. To deepen and assimilate the doctrine on the People of God that the Council has bequeathed to us is a fundamental step.

The authorAntonino Piccione

La Brújula Newsletter Leave us your email and receive every week the latest news curated with a catholic point of view.
Banner advertising
Banner advertising