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The Laity: Movers in the New Evangelization

Interview With Ramiro Pellitero

PAMPLONA, Spain, JUNE 10, 2006 (Zenit) - The role of the laity as the principal force behind the evangelization and transformation of society has been rediscovered, says Ramiro Pellitero.

The professor of pastoral theology at the University of Navarra, has written "The Laity in the Ecclesiology of Vatican II," published in Spanish by RIALP Editions, in which he brings together the writings of 13 authors on the vocation and mission of the lay faithful, in the light of the Second Vatican Council.

In this interview with us, the author discusses what the role of the laity in the Church.

Q: Let's begin with questions of language that might be obvious to experts, but not for those unfamiliar with these matters. The word "laity" is used today to designate the partisans of laicism. One speaks of the "lay state," "lay schools," etc. -- a position that is foreign to or even opposed to religion. I suppose that you are not using the word in this sense.

Pellitero: Indeed. The meaning of "laicism" that you are referring to is related to another term, "laicity," whose content is more conciliatory with the Christian perspective, one referring to the quality of a state or society that, without being confessional, is respectful of religion. But that's not the only meaning. My book is not about the "laymen" who are the politicians who make statement about religion but rather lay Christians, faithful Christian men and women who live in the world, and who are called to spread the Gospel message in the heart of civil society.

Q: Also, what exactly is ecclesiology? Wouldn't it be enough to refer to the "role of Christians in the Church," or something like that?

Pellitero: To speak of Christians in the Church would be correct, but confusing. First, because here we are not referring to Christians in general but to certain specific Christians, though they make up the majority of Christians -- those who are neither clergy nor members of the consecrated life. In short, they are the people in the streets, professionals, fathers, mothers, those who circulate in the cultural and political realms, and so on.

On the other hand, to speak of their role "in the Church" might be taken to refer exclusively to ecclesiastical duties or at least intra-ecclesial ones: in the parishes, the seminaries, the convents, etc. That is to say, a "world" different from the ordinary world, the environment of the street.

This is why the focus is ecclesiology -- the perspective of trying to understand the Church and its mission in close relationship with the world, and just how that mission has been understood since Vatican II.

Q: With a touch of malice, someone might ask if the Church hasn't invented the laity because of the priest shortage, or because some priests haven't been doing their jobs.

Pellitero: The laity, in the sense in which we are using the term here, have not been invented by the Church but have existed ever since the first Christians.

Today we know that the Gospel was spread throughout the Roman Empire in very little time, thanks above all to the "ordinary Christians": in families, among seafarers, soldiers, and so on.

As Pope John Paul II said, and as the present pope has repeated, all the faithful are committed to live and to spread the message of the council. That message is that the faithful laity "are" the Church as "are" the clergy, or those that Canon Law calls consecrated Christians.

In the present age of technological globalization, cultures are changing. Multiculturalism is presented as the ideal, but without dialogue, this is risky. While the West is de-Christianizing itself, everywhere there is a confused return to the sacred, blended with and even disguised by the practical idolatry of power or money. This leads to a view of life that is disenchanted and pragmatic.

In this situation, Christians and especially the lay faithful have a great task before them. They need not settle for "business as usual" or take refuge in initiatives that are officially Catholic. They have a mission to personally carry out, along with others, if they wish, who may or may not be believers, with coherence between their faith and their lives, with an attitude of dialogue, in search of love and justice, participating in cultural and political life, and with special attention to the neediest people.

The lay faithful are called to live out all human realities in the Christian spirit. This was the constant teaching of the founder of Opus Dei and the University of Navarra, Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer. Such is the theme of this book.

Q: Could you explain in more detail how the Second Vatican Council understood the vocation and mission of the laity? What is the relationship between Christian faith and the things of everyday life, ...

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