South Bend, Ind., Nov 22, 2019 / 12:39 am (CNA).- A professor at the University of Notre Dame has offered his reflections on lay leadership in the Church, in preparation for a conference on the subject, which will be held at the university next year.
Leadership in the Church should not be understood merely as the hierarchy, insisted John Cavadini, McGrath-Cavadini Director of the Institute for Church Life and a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame.
Rather, he said, all members of the Church, especially the laity, are called to be leaders in the New Evangelization.
This idea of lay leadership will be a major theme at the “Called & Co-Responsible” conference taking place at the University of Notre Dame March 4-6. The conference will analyze the call for lay leadership issued by popes over the last 65 years, ranging from Pope Paul VI in Vatican II to Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium.
“Our conference hopes to make this ‘co-responsible’ form of leadership visible as such, and at the same time to make the theology that empowers it visible as such as well,” said Cavadini.
“Lay people do not have a responsibility for mission that is limited to participating in a governance structure already fully intact, in which they are then slotted into subordinate roles,” he said. “It means that lay leadership is not limited to (though it certainly includes) ‘lay ecclesial ministry,’ which is a subordinate participation in the ministry specific to the ordained.”
He pointed to an address from Pope Benedict XVI, who spoke at the 6th Ordinary Assembly of the International Forum of Catholic Action in 2012. The pope made an important distinction between the role of the laity as “co-responsible” for the Church’s mission rather than merely “collaborators” of the clergy, he said.
Benedict XVI defined the mission of the Church as “guiding people to the encounter with Christ” and “proclaiming his message of salvation,” Cavadini said, and this is a mission that belongs to all Catholics.
“This great challenge is not presented to only a few in the Church – it is not directed to the hierarchy alone – but instead is the challenge properly belonging to all the faithful,” Cavadini said.
He also pointed to the words of Pope Francis, who has stressed the importance of formation for the laity in order for them to be equipped to fulfill their responsibilities.
“Lay people are, put simply, the vast majority of the people of God. The minority – ordained ministers – are at their service. There has been a growing awareness of the identity and mission of the laity in the Church,” Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium.
“At the same time, a clear awareness of this responsibility of the laity, grounded in their baptism and confirmation, does not appear in the same way in all places. In some cases, it is because lay persons have not been given the formation needed to take on important responsibilities.”
The “Called & Co-Responsible,” conference will delve into these questions about leadership in the Church and formation of the laity. It will consider structures for consolidating lay leadership, the difference between governance and management, what it looks like for clergy to empower the laity for leadership, and how to ensure this leadership is ordered toward the sacramental life of the Church.
“Actually, we believe the answer is just under our nose!” Cavadini said. “It is already visible in the concrete and fully ‘co-responsible’ leadership of lay people and of clergy, already striving, almost instinctively, towards this new conception of leadership that Benedict introduced and Francis has developed.”
“We want to make this striving more visible and to reflect upon it consciously,” he said.
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