By Filipe Domingues
ROME — The Catholic Church in Brazil concluded its national Year of the Laity on the feast of Christ the King, Nov. 25. The goal of the initiative, born of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB), was to ?encourage lay people and give them a new impetus,” according to Bishop Severino Clasen, president of a special CNBB commission for the Year of the Laity.
“We know that the laity’s participation in the Church is great, but sometimes their contribution is overlooked and underestimated,” he said, according to the CNBB website.
The theme of the year, which began on the feast of Christ the King last year, was “Christian Lay Men and Women, Actors in the ‘Outgoing Church,’ Serving the Kingdom;” its motto was “Salt of Earth and Light of the World” (Mt 5:13–14).
Several local churches and lay movements organized events to underline the year, with the goal of consolidating the impulse given to lay leaders by the Second Vatican Council.
Also, a 2016 letter by Pope Francis to Cardinal Marc Ouellet about the Church in Latin America was a source of inspiration for many of the episcopal conferences on the continent. Now, the conferences aim to deepen the role of the laity in a concrete way.
“A shepherd cannot conceive of himself without his flock, whom he is called to serve,” the pope wrote in the 2016 letter. “The pastor is pastor of a people, and he serves this people from within. Many times he goes ahead to lead the way, at other times he retraces his steps lest anyone be left behind, and, not infrequently, he stands in the middle to know the pulse of the people.”
For Pope Francis, the numerous demonstrations of popular devotion in Latin America are an expression of the sensus fidei, the sense of the faith, that is a natural characteristic of the people of God. This sort of “instinct,” a gift from God, is to be illuminated through life in the Church.
“Let us trust in our people, in their memory and in their ‘sense of smell,’ let us trust that the Holy Spirit acts in and with our people and that this Spirit is not merely the ‘property’ of the ecclesial hierarchy,” he continued in his letter.
Quoting St. Paul VI, he adds that lay people often “manifest a thirst for God” and, walking together with their pastors, “they are able to manifest a genuine presence of the Spirit.”
Accordingly, the activities of the Year of Faith in Brazil culminated with a three-day pilgrimage to the popular Marian shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Aparecida, near São Paulo, from Nov. 22 to 25. The place is well known in Latin America and it was also the birthplace of the Aparecida Document, whose rapporteur was then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
“We decided not to close the Year of Laity,” as the work for the promotion of lay men and women shall continue, said Bishop Clasen.
The need for permanent formation of the laity and of the clergy, so that they open their eyes and hearts to the ministries, needs and aspirations of the laity, was a highlight of this past year for the Church in Brazil.
Bishop Clasen said now, more than ever, it is the right time to enable lay people to be “yeast in the dough.”
“We’ll gather the fruits of the Year of the Laity in the upcoming years, as we realize that the presence of Christian lay men and women in the fabric of society is acting in a coherent and solid way, within the mechanisms that mobilize society in health, politics, education, work, communication, and family. They shall be salt of the earth and light of the world,” he said.