New Spiritual Communities and Movements

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Encouragement and Coordination of the Lay Apostolate Through the Papal Council for the Laity

The Papal Council for the Laity is part of the Roman Curia. With the Apostolic Constitution Regimini Ecclesiae Universae of August 15, 1967, Pope Paul VI has effectuated the reform of the Curia, desired by the Council, and complemented them with more subsequent reform processes. Despite the title "Council" and, as far as its task and objective are concerned, the Pontificium Consilium Pro Laicis could more easily be compared with a congregation.

Article 131 of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus concerning the Roman Curia states, "The Council is competent in those questions, which affect it from the Apostolic See for the furtherance and coordination of the lay apostolate and, in general, in those questions, which concern the Christian life of the laity" (AAS 880 (1988), 894). This description seems to go beyond the real possibilities of this dicastery; for the lay council, it certainly represents a lasting challenge and an incentive for new initiatives.

In the course of this lecture, we can only outline and deal with some of the focal tasks and initiatives of the Council of Laity; in doing so, we are mainly dealing with the period since 1990 (cp.with the following also "Laity Today", Information Service of the Papal Council for the Laity, 18 (1996).

The main task of the Papal Council for the Laity is to support the Pope in carrying out his pastoral service (cf. Pastor Bonus, Art. 1). During the past years, the Council for the Laity has been guided in this task particularly by the post-synod Apostolic Letter Christifideles Laici and the catecheses and addresses regarding the laity, which Pope John Paul II has held in Rome or on one of his apostolic journeys.

A further focal point are the relations of the Council for the Laity with the various dioceses of the Church and the Bishops' Conferences. For numerous bishops, the post-synod Apostolic Letter Christifedeles Laici was an aid and a directive in dealing with new questions and situations in accompanying the laity. During the past years, the Council for the Laity has recorded an increase in the delegations of bishops, who visited the dicastery for their ad-limina-visits. Also the bishops' personal visits to the Papal Council for the Laity have increased. The most frequent topics of conversation during these meetings were: the education of the laity; the relations of the church movements with the bishops and their inclusion into the life of the local church; the services and functions, which are not bound to ordination and can be transferred to the laity; the service of the laity in the world; the participation of women in the pastoral care of youth. The connection to the Bishops' Conferences is mainly being sustained by their commissions for the lay apostolate.

Another focal point of their duties is the accompaniment of the national Councils for the Laity. The Papal Council for the Laity has collected and evaluated very diverse experiences and has compiled a document in 1995 concerning the criteria of discernment and the constitution of the national Councils for the Laity. It was published under the title National Councils for the Laity: Criteria and Models in no. 38 of the publication "Laity Today". The dicastery thus wanted to encourage the formation of such councils on a national or regional level as a place of genuine community, of participation and collaboration among the different institutions of the laity.

In a new era of consolidation of the laity (cf. CL, 29), the task of the Papal Council for the Laity concentrated increasingly on examining the new forms of communities and the responsibility for their canonical recognition and their foundation (cf. For this Pastor Bonus, Art 135, AAS 80 (1988), 895). These recognitions are always preceded by a positive report of the Ordinaries of the dioceses in which the respective movements have their branch, and by consultations with Bishops and experts in canon law. The numerous applications of the new associations for canonical recognition or their foundation caused the Council for the Laity to define a "method of procedure" for applications and review; the Council for the Laity was particularly careful in examining the statutes and formulating the decrees necessary for the recognition of an association as a juridic person. In the field of canon law the primary concern was for the criteria of distinction for associations of public and private right, about membership of Christians of other confessions in Catholic lay associations, or about the canonical structure of lay associations whose members live radically according to the evangelical counsels.

As there is an increasing plurality of unions, the Papal Council for the Laity is frequently being asked for advice in the formation of lay organizations, that are connected with the spirituality, life and work of religious orders. Beside the renewal of some so-called third orders, numerous movements, brotherhoods and lay organizations have come into being that have been affiliated in various forms to a religious order and the charism of its respective founder. In the course of meetings and gatherings, the Council for the Laity has always emphasized the primary importance of the testimony of the religious order and the required lay identity of the organization it is connected with. Religious orders and lay assocations should not mingle their lifestyles, but maintain a heartfelt community and work together in their mission. For the clarification and promotion of mutual relations, the Papal Council for the Laity, in joint activity with the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the societies of apostolic life, organized a meeting of the Generals,the Mother Generals,and heads of lay associations already during the preparatory phase of the Bishops' Synod on Consecrated Life. The acts were published under the title: Branches of the One Vine in Documentation Service, no. 28 (1994).

The Papal Council for the Laity is in contact with more than 120 international lay associations. The fostering of mutual recognition, collaboration and community between the various associations remains a special challenge for the Church throughout the world in the coordination of the lay apostolate. In this respect the collaboration with the Catholic youth organizations, youth movements and youth groups also plays an important role. In recent years, a large amount of the work of the Council for the Laity has concentrated on the preparation, organization and realization of the international youth forums and the World Youth Days, affiliated with them: Tschenstochau (August 1991), Denver (August 11993) and Manila (January 1995). After that came the important European youth meeting in Loreto (September 1995) and the realization of the World Youth Days in Paris (August 1997). These events have contributed decisively to the revival of the pastoral care of the youth on a local and world-wide level. In addition, the fact that members of movements and associations meet with a multitude of youths from various parts of the Church has created an increasing missionary solidarity. At the same time, one has to critically inquire to what extent these mass meetings can be carried over into the everyday communal life of the Church. (cp. also K Nientiedt, "A New Generation. The 12th World Youth Days in Paris, in Herderkorrespondenz 10/1997, 500-505).

At present, the Papal Council for the Laity is preparing a world meeting of the movements in the Church to take place in Rome from May 26th to 29th, 1998. This meeting is to be a place of encounter, of friendship and prayer; it is meant to serve an intensive theological deepening of the reality of the movements and it is to be a Church event that stimulates the collaboration of the movements in their work of the new evangelization (cf. "Laity Today", Information Service of the Papal Council for the Laity 20 (1997), pp. 5 - 6).


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