FINAL MESSAGE OF CATHOLIC LAITY CONGRESS
World Congress of Catholic Laity
Our mission is to bear witness to Christ in the world
At the end of the World Congress of the Catholic Laity, held in Rome from 25 to 30 November, the participants issued a Final Message. Here is the English text.
On the threshold of the third millennium more than 550 christifideles laici gathered in Rome for the World Congress of the Catholic Laity, as part of the Jubilee of the Lay Apostolate. Delegates represented local Churches, associations, movements and new communities. We gathered with joy, hope and gratitude. Aware of the royal, priestly and prophetic task deeply connected with our Baptism, we strongly reaffirm our Christian belonging with renewed commitment in following our call and our mission, as lay faithful in the Church and in the world.
1. The Holy Father wished to review the journey of the laity from the Second Vatican Council to the Great Jubilee 2000, while looking towards the future. In the symbolic gesture of entrusting the Second Vatican Council's documents to representative groups of lay faithful, John Paul II showed his trust and solicitude towards us, the christifideleslaici. By this gesture we assume our responsibility to live out the Gospel, a task that is becoming increasingly urgent in today's circumstances. This responsibility is rooted in a continual renewal, aware of our vocation and mission according to the teaching of the Church.
2. The 20th century witnessed the birth and collapse of tragic totalitarian regimes, together with the fatal combination of disastrous alliances and two world wars, which caused the deaths of hundreds of millions of people.
The impact of pretentious ideologies has left us with destruction and disorientation. Our time is dominated by a "culture of death": abortion, euthanasia, and marked by anti-Christian culture: indifference, nihilism and ethical relativism. At the same time there is also an intense search for God and for a deeper meaning of life. In the face of all of this we look for ways to proclaim Christ, the unique Saviour of the world. Thus we accept the responsibility of engaging in the work of formation and education in faith. We begin with ourselves.
Our main task in the drama of life is to build a more humane society together with all Christians, believers of other faiths and all people of good willin the reality of our secular world. The Holy Father reminded us powerfully of this by citing our beloved Pope Paul VI: "Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and, if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses" (Evangelii nuntiandi, n. 41).
Women and men of our time are not persuaded by the continuous verbal or cultural repetition of the Christian message, but are touched by a personal encounter. For this reason we are strongly challenged by the Holy Father's invitation to make a serious examination of conscience: "What does being a Christian mean today, here and now?" (Homily, 26 November 2000, n. 4)
3. The proceedings of the congress have helped us to respond to that question. We re-examined the baptismal roots of christifideles laici, which St Paul called the "new creature" (cf. Gal 6:15). Recognizing that we belong to Christ, we look at him and his mission, as "envoy" of the Father. The baptized Christian discovers his own mission through the historical circumstances of his own call. The Holy Father reminded us strongly, citing Lumen gentium, that this mission is marked by the "seeking of God's kingdom, in treating and orienting secular things towards God" (n. 31).
For all these reasons we can testify to the beauty of being the lay faithful (which means Christian) in the Church and in society where the encounter with Christ changes life. Notwithstanding our limitations, difficulties and resistance, our life is made more human, through the love of husband and wife, in the education of sons and daughters, in friendship, in studies, in the workplace, in politics and in every dimension and gesture of our existence.
4. In facing the great challenges of our new millennium, war and peace, technology, genetics, globalization, interpersonal relationships and peaceful living between peoples, we accept the invitation of the Holy Father calling us to bring the light of the Gospel into society, where we are called to be prophets of Christian hope and apostles of "the One who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty!" (Rv 1:4).
We have celebrated the memory of innumerable Christian martyrs of the 20th century, many of whom are lay people. We understand that our mission is to be courageous witnesses of Christ in our time. We are ready to accept the cross, aware that this is possible only through the "Light", the brightness of our intimate union with the Lord. This union is experienced in our walking together with God, and guided by Christ towards the final encounter when we will see him face to face. In this way the martyrs of the 20th century call us and remind us of a greater challenge, which is sanctity, the true humanity, the plenitude of Christian life: "... do not be afraid to take up this challenge: be holy men and women!" (Homily, 26 November 2000, n. 5)
5. In the variety of contributions emerging in these past days, expressions of the richness of the more traditional associations as well as the ecclesial movements and newer communities, it is evident that the truth of the Christian experience can never be measured in terms of numbers or power. It has been said that the real danger is not in being a minority in a country of ancient Christian tradition, or in those countries where evangelization is more recent, but in becoming irrelevant and useless to the world. "You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world" (cf. Mt 5:13-14). We are called to be the salt of the earth, completely immersed in society, and to bring to fruition in the world the distinctive reality of our faith. We realize that our vocation and mission is that of transforming a constantly changing world according to the loving design of God. In the new millennium, our way of thinking and behaving will be influenced by globalization and the rapid advancements in the fields of computer science and biotechnology.
6. The Holy Father reminded us that, thanks to the commitment of the laity in different fields of life, the presence of the Christian message is made possible in great part only through them. In these times of radical cultural changes we are called to give witness to the world that the Church is a sacrament of communion and reconciliation with God and his people.
It is a mystery of communion, organized and missionary. We discover ourselves to be called actively to participate in the Church's evangelizing mission. For us laity, our mission is in the world. The living foundation of the Church is part of the history of men and women touched in their freedom by their vital encounter with the Lord. "If you are what you should be—that is, if you live Christianity without compromise—you will set the world ablaze" (Homily, 26 November 2000, n. 5), the Holy Father said at the end of the Jubilee of the Catholic laity. This blaze of fire is set alight by the humble certitude of the work of the Lord in our life. It becomes in this way truly ecumenical, which gives value to every sincere attempt, open and attentive, for the dignity of every person, especially the poor who suffer injustice.
At the conclusion of our congress, 35 years after the Second Vatican Council, we see the sign of a new springtime. We have renewed hope to be sent into the third millennium with the words of Jesus: "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me will bear much fruit because without me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5).
Weekly Edition in English
13 December 2000, page 8
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