Throwback Thursday: “Laity Co-Lead with Clergy” by Anselm Moons, OFM
Editor’s Note: In celebration of our 25th year of preparing and supporting lay missioners, we look back to our archives at a World Care newsletter from 1991 in which our founder, Anselm Moons, OFM, describes the changes that need to be made to the idea of evangelization and the role the laity have to play in working together with the clergy.
Laity Co-Lead with Clergy
Renate from Hawaii and Patria from the Philippines know the Eucharist from experience: “Today in our context it is the table-sharing of those who live in international solidarity with and among the victims of oppression and exploitation. It is bread for the suffering people who carry the cross in persecution, poverty, starvation, illness, prison, torture and under the deliberate inflictions of violence or deprivation.” Tridentine bishops (1545-1563) would look in vain for this definition of the Eucharist in their handbooks and would feel more comfortable with something like this: “the total conversion of the substance of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ by the virtue of the words of the ordained minister.” The two approaches are, of course, not mutually exclusive but complementary.
Similarly, clergy and laity are not mutually exclusive parts of a body, in which one can rule, dominate, monopolize, belittle or ignore the other. That would really amount to an assembly without members, a festive meal without guest, or a church without people. Instead, Eucharist, Church, Ministry all have a common goal: to serve and not be served. They all serve the world with the Good Tiding. They all evangelize.
Opportunity in 1992
To commemorate in 1992 five hundred years of Christian presence in the Americas, Bishops will meet in Santo Domingo and plan a “new evangelization.” Pedro Casaldaliga, bishop of Sao Felix do Araguaia in Brazil, lays out challenges to this project:
- analyze structurally the situation in Latin America;
- see many cultures as vehicles of faith;
- vigorously resume your 20-year journey with the poor.
Even a cursory glance at these challenges easily detects the primary role of the laity. They clearly focus on the Church as God’s People, and the people’s journey will have to be made by and with the poor. The bishops will have to come to Santo Domingo with the laity if they want a “new evangelization.” Together they must recognize both the injustices wreaked by 500 years of “Christian” leadership, and the powerful leadership within that same people to correct injustices.
Analysis with Action
The structural analysis called for by the bishop must examine—and take initiatives to correct—the injustices they discover; e.g., land ownership which deprives the Indians of their most fundamental right, the devastations of nature that produce ecological imbalances, the laws and institutions introduced without participations by the local population, and the presenting of new religious teachings and practices that have paid little, and mostly hostile, attention to the religious traditions already supporting the people for many generations. As a complex, these practices have been producing the centuries-long white supremacy that robs non-Western races of their cultural identity and of their very livelihood.
To address these injustices in the church’s own practices and beyond, the initiatives cannot be the result of one bishops’ meeting in Santo Domingo, but must be built on the experience of lay people and the expertise of qualified advisors.
The “new evangelization” envisaged by the bishops need not be completely new: in the last twenty years the laity have taken a clear direction. People have formed support groups in which the open the Bible to draw insight and inspiration. They have found ways to celebrate the life of Jesus, and to address God in their own style. They have enough of the Spirit in themselves to withstand oppression and, in challenged, to pay the highest price. The number of recent lay martyrs runs into the hundreds. The laity invite their bishops to walk with them and provide leadership.