Lay People Have Expanding Roles in Post-Modern Society

"In order to accomplish his mission, a layperson should help the Church with resolution, without hesitation, without fear. ‘In time and out of time,’ as St. Paul cites, in our deeds, in our homes, wherever you are," said Kateri C?rdova-Orellana. C?rdova-Orellana headed the Youth Ministry for eight years at St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Adelphi, Md. Currently, she is a catechist and member of a marriage preparation group at the same parish. "Regardless of his age, whether in childhood, youth or adulthood stage; regardless of his marital status, whether single or married, the layperson should live his Christian commitment in fullness," stated C?rdova-Orellana at a youth event, "Seeking for a Place in Life," sponsored by the Office of Hispanic Pastoral Affairs of the Archdiocese of Washington last month. According to Sister Onellys Villegas, M.H.S.H., executive director of the Office for Hispanic Affairs, the role of the laity is so important that without their contribution, the Church’s presence and work would barely be noticed. "The need for the lay ministry is growing stronger. Modern circumstances demand a broader, more profound lay ministry," said Sister Villegas. Meanwhile, on this side of the Potomac River in Northern Virginia, the Institute for the Pastoral Formation of the Spanish Apostolate of the Arlington Diocese begins a new day. The Institute is responsible for the formation and training of evangelization leaders through appropriate instruction in catechetics, liturgy and Christian values in order to enable them to aid the area parishes in their Hispanic pastoral needs. "Today’s layperson shares society with post-modern men and women," said Father Ovidio Pecharrom?n, director of the Spanish Apostolate. "This means he lives with people distinguished by their hedonism and by a powerful desire for wealth." According to Father Pecharrom?n, "modern man displays a remarkable attraction to whatever pleases his senses and emotions; possesses a diffused, not clearly defined religiosity and a worldly attitude; they lack true identity and feel insecure as to where they belong." "Since baptism, the layman is sent to evangelize this world and its postmodern inhabitant," said Father Pecharrom?n. According to C?rdova-Orellana, "after receiving Baptism everyone is called to transform himself in Christ in order to take Christ to others." As many as 910 Hispanics have graduated from the Institute of Pastoral Formation since 1993. Upon graduation, not only have they enriched their personal experience in faith, but they have put it into practice for the service of their people in their parishes and communities. According to Sister Villegas, the role of today’s laity is "to seek and promote common welfare through the defense of the person’s dignity and his inalienable rights, through the protection of the weak and the needy, through the promotion of peace, liberty, justice and through the creation of more fair and fraternal structures." "As laity participation increases in the life of the Church and in its mission in the world, the need of a solid, profoundly humanistic, doctrinal, social and apostolic formation arises," said Sister Villegas. "Laity have the right to receive this instruction in the groups and associations they attend, but also in the appropriate institutes and close to their pastor." In intimate union In "Christefideles Laici", Pope John Paul II urges the laity to take a protagonist role in Church activity. "Laity," says the pope, "should get used to working in the parish in intimate union with the priest." In his concept of the "new parish," the Holy Father states that the parish is called to be "receptive and supportive, a place for Christian initiation, for the education and celebration in faith; open to diversity of charisms, services and ministries; organized in a responsible way for the service of the community and integrating all the already existing apostolic groups, in view of the cultural diversity of its people, open to pastoral projects within and outside the parish’s borders and open to the surrounding realities." The pope says this new parish entails the figure of a pastor with a profound experience in the Living Christ, a missionary spirit and a paternal heart. He should be an encouraging element to spiritual life and achieve evangelization through participation. "The new parish requires the cooperation of the laity," says the document. "These people are common Christians who have assumed seriously their vocation as laypeople and who know what a layperson is and are proud of it," said Father Pecharrom?n. "They are not frustrated for not being deacons or priests." For C?rdova-Orellana in Washington this new parish is a place where once again the layperson, along with his pastor, bears his faith in a more profound, committed way. "Such an experience and work of the layperson makes the parish live and flourish ahead to the future," said C?rdova-Orellana. Margarita Navas of Good Shepherd Parish in Alexandria agrees with Father Pecharrom?n. She does not feel frustrated because she is not a priest or deacon. As a woman and a committed lay person, Navas believes that everyone has a different field of work, based on the particular talents each one has, talents that should be put into the service of others. Navas is the coordinator of the diocesan "Pre-Cana" groups in charge of providing marriage preparation for couples. The labor of the layperson, says Navas, collaborates decidedly in parish growth and development. She states that lay activity transmits life to the parish, but notices that one should work in union with the priest as much as he allows it. "Every priest is different. We have open-minded priests that give you the chance to help, but there are also priests who does not let you perform," she said. "In such cases, there is nothing left for you but to obey them." Rights and duties According to Father Pecharrom?n, lay evangelists who take on an increasing role in the spreading of the Gospel have the right to receive spiritual aid from their pastor. They also have the faculty and sometimes the duty to express their opinions about issues related to the Church’s well-being," he said. At the same time, priests who are to be respected in Christ by the laity, must assign them duties, must offer them the opportunity to perform and accomplish works, and listen to their requests, desires and initiatives." For him, the layperson is the Church with the "hoe in hand." "This is precisely the lay mission: transform the land into a garden and the human being into a friend of God that talks to Him." The accomplishment of this "renewed parish" the Holy Father refers to, implies the presence of laypeople committed to the evangelization task within the parishes. According to Daysi Tirado, the layperson should not limit his work just to the parish but his aim should be to go further out. Tirado is the president of the Diocesan Council for the Family and Coordinator of Catechetics at Nativity Parish in Burke. "The problems we confront in society nowadays are not God’s problems but our problems, society’s problems, this is why it is so important for the layperson not to remain confined within his Church." For the past three years, Tirado has attended classes at the Institute for Pastoral Formation. "The institute has make us more aware of God’s word and getting to know it better," she said. "It has helped us be more responsible to our duties as laypersons and has contributed to our spiritual growth." The Archdiocese of Washington also has leaders who help in the formation of the faithful to be "committed baptized people." "As an example," says Sister Villegas, "in the Pastoral Center we have the Catechetics Office presided over by Sister Mar?a Luz Ort?z, M.H.S.H. This office is responsible for the preparation of catechists, who in turn prepare children for the sacraments. The Archdiocese has a program called ‘Glowing Hearts’ and is a requisite for every catechist." For Tirado, "the Church is a lay congregation and we have in our hands the proclamation of God’s Word." Nonetheless, she is deeply concerned by the serious lack of priests. "In the past we had more priests and less Christian faithful. Now there is an increasing number of Christians and less priests," said Tirado. This is why, she explains, "the Church has provided laypeople with more opportunities to serve within the Church." But, she insists, "it is not enough to serve only within the Church but outside. Their mission as laity should extend to serve at home, at school, at work and in every place where we can give testimony of God’s Word." Tirado is not concerned by the fact that she could never aspire to be a deacon or priest given that "if as laypeople we serve with this goal on our minds, I consider we wouldn’t be doing a good work because we would be frustrated Christians."

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