19th Plenary Assembly of the CCBI
Held at Aluva from 4 to 9 January, 2007
- The Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI) met for its 19th Plenary Assembly in St. Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary, Carmelgiri, Aluva, Kerala, from January 4-9, 2007. Aware of the vital role of the laity in the Church and society, the bishops, at their meeting, focused on the theme: ‘The Vocation and the Role of the Laity in the Life and Mission of the Church’.
- By way of preparation, a survey was done on all-India level on a random-sample basis. The survey confirmed that on the part of the bishops, priests, religious and laity there was unanimity with regard to the laity’s participatory role in the evangelical and pastoral mission of the Church.
- The Second Vatican Council, the 1985 Synod of Bishops on the Laity and Church Documents view the Church not only as an institution, but also as a communion symbolized and realized in the Eucharist. Through faith and baptism, the lay faithful are united to Christ as members of His body, becoming “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Pt. 2:9).
- Christ’s lay faithful are called to holiness of life. That is their prime and fundamental ‘vocation’. Vatican II’s document on the Church states: “It is … quite clear that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and by this holiness a more human manner of life is fostered also in earthly society” (Lumen Gentium, no. 40). Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation on the Laity, adds that this universal call to holiness is “the basic charge entrusted to all sons and daughters of the Church by a Council which intended to bring a renewal of Christian life based on the gospel” (Christifideles Laici, no. 16).
- All the members of the People of God enjoy a fundamental equality and dignity. All share in three-fold office of Christ as priest, prophet, and king. After stating that the lay faithful find themselves on the front lines of the Church’s life, Christifideles Laici, states: “Therefore, they in particular, ought to have an ever-clearer consciousness not only of belonging to the Church, but of being the Church” (C.L., no. 9)
- The Church as communion is not inward-looking, but is directed to building up the reign of God in the world. The Church, as “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13-14), is sent to transform and sanctify the world. Vatican II affirms in its document on the Missions: “The Church on earth is by its very nature missionary” (Ad Gentes, no. 2). The lay faithful share in the mission of the Church. In particular, they have a special role in the Church’s mission to the world. The Vatican Council’s Decree on the Apostolate of Laypeople states: “Laymen ought to take on themselves as their distinctive task this renewal of the temporal order” (Apostolicam Actuositatem, no. 7; Cf. Lumen Gentium no. 31).
- During the Plenary Assembly, the inputs, panel presentations, and group discussions drew the attention of the bishops especially to the following factors:
7.1. Globalization affecting the cultural and moral values of people, and in particular having an adverse effect on the day-to-day life of the poor.
7.2. The hunger for the Word of God and for a God-experience on the part of so many, a hunger that has to be satisfied.
7.3. Need for a solid formation on the theological and spiritual basis for the vocation and mission of the laity in the Church.
7.4. The basic contribution of women to the enrichment of Church communion and the discrimination suffered by them.
7.5. The numerous Associations of the Faithful and Ecclesial Movements in the Church – a sign and fruit of the working of the Spirit
- Even though much has been done in the way of empowering the laity, the bishops realize that more has to be done. Hence, in drawing up plans for their Regions, the bishops felt the need of a renewed pastoral approach. In particular, they committed themselves:
8.1. To work for a change in the attitude and practices of the clergy and religious, wherever needed. Right from their formation period, future priests and religious should be oriented towards regarding laypeople as responsible collaborators. Priests and religious must encourage the laity to exercise their rightful place in the Church.
8.2. To establish in every diocese, within two years, the participatory structures envisaged in Canon Law such as Pastoral Councils and Finance Committees both at the diocesan and parish levels, wherever these do not exist. So also, to promote even more the Small Christian Communities which make the Church truly participatory.
8.3 To create urgently a system of accountability in every diocese where it does not exist.
8.4. To organize a comprehensive catechesis for the laity around the three hinges of Christian life: Word, Sacraments and Community. In particular, given the hunger for the Word of God, to concentrate especially on opening the riches of the Bible, understood within the tradition of the Catholic Church.
8.5. To allocate sufficient resources specifically for lay formation so as to equip the laity to be competent and responsible collaborators.
8.6. To invite theologians, in constant dialogue with committed lay faithful, to formulate a meaningful lay spirituality geared to action. Since transforming the temporal order is the specific domain of the lay faithful, they must be empowered, through a critical socio-political awareness, to transform the existing unjust situation.
8.7. To open avenues for the lay faithful to exercise their charisms and to establish new ministries in the Church according to the needs of the time.
- The bishops decided that in every Region/Diocese, an evaluative and monitoring mechanism, suited to the Region/Diocese, would be devised as an expression of their earnestness and seriousness in ensuring implementation of the decisions taken at the Plenary Assembly.
- Moved by the Spirit, the bishops felt the need of an authentic dialogue and a firm commitment to create mutual understanding and trust between the clergy and the laity. We are confident that with the effective functioning of participatory structures, the laity will assume its rightful place in the life and mission of the Church. May Mary who gathered the early Church together in the Upper Room, keep us one in mind and heart as we prayerfully await a fresh outpouring of the Spirit (Acts 1:14).