Laity in the Church Identity and Mission in India Today

We, the members of the Indian Theological Association (ITA), came together for our 291h annual Meeting at Vidya Deep, the CRI Brothers' Institute in Bangalore, during April 22-26, 2006 to reflect on the theme "Laity in the Church: Identity and Mission in India Today". The participants listened to the experiences of the laity drawn from the Catholic Church as well as from a few different Churches and to the research papers on various aspects of the life of the laity, and then deliberated on the concerns of the laity in the Catholic Church. In the light of these deliberations, a response was formulated and some concrete recommendations were proposed. The deliberations began by taking into account the national and global contexts in which the laity lives.



1. The laity, the major segment of the Christian community, forms part of civil society that makes up the national as well as global society. Global developments impact upon the national civil society, and inevitably on the Church; in turn, events taking place at the national level contribute to and shape global happenings. This inter- relatedness constitutes the framework in which efforts to restore the identity and mission of the laity today become meaningful and significant since the laity's participation at the national and global level is crucial for the mission of the Church.

2. Aspects of the Global Context: A distinctive feature of the international community has been that people the world over, with their increasing self-understanding and consciousness, are determined to be free of the constraints and bondage inherited from the dominating systems, cultures, traditions and powers of the past. They intend shaping their own future and reaching goals that they have envisaged and chosen. The process of democratization of peoples and nations and the proliferation of grass roots movements have been major indicators of these trends. Often enough, the will of the people is seen to replace the fiats of individuals whose interests are parochial and selfish. Control systems that manipulate and oppress men and women give way to social structures that are liberating and transforming. The tyranny of inherited spirit-inhibiting attitudes and perceptions, values, customs and institutions. is being eradicated so that the true dignity and worth of human persons are recognized and all men and women enjoy freedom of spirit. Such prospects at the global level have begun to affect Indian society even though some setbacks have occurred.

3. Dominance of the Globalizing Economic Forces: There is a counter wind, however, generated by money power and market forces that tries to prevent the prospects already mentioned from succeeding. Inherent in the mighty current of globalization, which apparently promises to create a global and universal community, is the danger of greater discrimination and division as well as terrorism and communalism. The close alliance of a few powerful, international, financial institutions supported by a few rich nations has furthered alienation and divisiveness among the many developing nations and is a serious obstacle to building a true world community. An unfortunate outcome is the North-South divide. The world community has already felt the negative impact of this alliance between the dominant financial and political blocks. Agriculture, developing industries, domestic markets, financial institutions and services like education and health care in the developing nations have suffered.

4. Serious Social-Cultural Consequences: The residue of these developments is the emergence of a new culture. In place of development that is humanizing, life sustaining and community- centred, the new culture highlights superficial goals and falsely promises instant fulfillment. To compromise life's enduring values for the sake of short-lived pleasures is one of the constant temptations in the field of scientific experimentation and research in bio-technology. The consequent erosion of values long cherished by humankind and the disregard for the sacredness of the human person are considerable.

5. Impact of the Media: The new culture also finds expression in the explosive mass media that poses a deadly temptation since it promises to effect fast, effective and wide networks and relationships. But it lacks the ability to deliver what it promises. The exterior, the superficial and the 'popular' tend to replace the core and depth that should always be present in humanizing communication. In effect, the quality of life in the people, a prized concern of enlightened citizens and the mark of a healthy civilization, is adversely affected. Unless the media is at the service of the community and responsibly directed, the end result could be the ruin of our culture. Principled rules of conduct drawn from the ethical, moral and sacred heritages of humankind have guided human behaviour and sustained it till recently. It now appears, however, that the dynamics and direction of the emerging world order with its newfound values and thrusts threaten to displace it.


I I. Global Trends and Forces, Their Impact at the National Level

6. The Global Impacting on the National Economic Processes: Often the State has resorted to massive eviction of its own citizens from their natural habitat with its rural and urban moorings to provide space for mega projects pushed through by the corporate world. Forced to move out and relocate with few, if any, sources of livelihood, the displaced persons experience a sense of helplessness and loss of confidence in the State as well as in the upper and middle class people of India who hold the reins of governance and planning. Imposing such hardship on a section of people that the State is obliged to protect and nurture is immoral and does not augur well for the nation. The might of global economic powers has caused serious hardship to the country by prescribing privatization as the panacea for the country's ills. It needs to be shown how the masses will benefit from the privatization of most public sector investments of the Indian nation. While in the post-independence era of planned development the Indian economy has gained in strength, the sordid profit-motivated culture that prevails in our country has left many sections of the masses unheeded and untouched. The upsurge in the economy has been brought about by the execution of revised policies and strategies improvised and enforced by the industrial, economic and commercial powers. However, the return of the trickle-down theory-i.e., the profits of the elite will, at some time, reach the masses that dismisses the economically 'unproductive' masses as unimportant and of little worth, poses the gravest threat to what is human and civilizing in our culture.

7. Impact upon Religio-cultural Milieu: The sale of religion without God has become a common feature today. One sees the sensual masquerading as religiosity, the self and selfishness occupying centre-stage in society, and science and reason substituting for faith. The cultivation of idols for material gain has often replaced the practice of true religion. Religions in India need to vindicate their claim and title as authentic meaning dimensions of the struggling peoples of India. Further, there can be no justification for revengeful acts being undertaken in the name of religion. The true practice of religion cannot countenance the demolishing of sacred shrines, the ravaging of hearths and homes, and the ensuing death and destruction.

8. The cultures of the land, marked by time honoured values like fellowship, non-violence, tolerance, compassion for life, and diversity, are being poisoned by a systematic injection of hatred that breeds communalism, intolerance and divisiveness. Monocultural and homogenizing tendencies are blind to the value of diversity and reject the worth of plurality. Hasty legislation by some states that, in practice, curtail and restrict basic rights as enshrined in the Constitution, prevent persons from exercising their God-given freedom in society.

9. Encouraged by such trends, upstart militant groups engage in individual and institutional harassment, and even organize violent onslaughts of a systematic nature, upon the minority communities across the land. The agenda hidden in these nefarious activities is the promotion of mono-cultural claims and self-serving goals stemming from a section of the majority community. The upsurge is most disheartening to the members of the minority communities- religious, ethnic, or other. The deliberate delay or inability of the Indian State to intervene and enforce law and order at the initial stages of communal disturbances or riots has resulted in several members of minority communities losing confidence in the constitutional assurances enshrined in the articles of the Indian Constitution. The net result is that the identity and especially the secular credentials of the nation are threatened.

10. The Pressures on the Indian State: The pressure exercised on the policies of the state by various international agencies and powers has inhibited free and sovereign governance. The nation can less easily chart its own policies for the good of its citizens; instead, it is more often controlled by the demands of the market and designs of self-serving powers. At the same time, internal forces pressurize the country. The growing concern among the citizens about external domination over the nation is not matched by a similar concern about the prevailing c1ass-caste-gender domination that is endogamous and bound up with the religion-culture mix of the land. On the one hand, the spectrum of massive awakening and mobilization among the Dalits and the Other Backward Classes (OBC) with their set goal of obtaining political power, and on the other, the adept maneuvering of the rightist forces to retain their privileged place in government and society, have made the sovereignty of the state more fragile.

11. The social fragmentation that was inflicted upon the Indian social identity by caste considerations-overt or hidden-in all walks of life, has surfaced in recent days revealing the still extant and deep vertical social divide. The reservation debate has opened up the festering wounds and exposed the weakened body politic in India. Since Dalits and Tribals make up a sizable segment of Indian Christians the Church too is experiencing the reverberations of that debate. Christian Dalits suffer for decades since the reasons for the persistence of caste in the Church were not analyzed and appropriately dealt with. As a result, the laity's mission in Indian society is adversely affected by considerations based on caste and becomes less credible as an agent to change the status quo.

12. It is against the backdrop of rapid development in the economic, social, political and cultural realms, both national and global, that we consider the current state of the laity in the Church and their mission to society at large. The laity constitutes the bulk of the Christian community and the mission of the Church is, in the context referred to, best exercised through the laity. Hence it is in this context that the identity and mission of the laity deserves the urgent and wholehearted attention of everyone in the Church.


III. The Situation of the Laity in the Church

13. The Laity in Civil Society and in the Church: Christians possessing skills, competence and scholarship adorn eminent professions in the academic, intellectual, socio-economic, political and administrative areas of Indian society. Their contributions in the many and varied sectors of private and state-owned enterprises are well documented and some have occupied responsible positions in commercial, industrial, defense-and-security-related areas of the Indian State.

14. In the years after Vatican Council II, there have been several Church documents stressing the role of the laity in the Church. There have also been a renewed self-understanding and consciousness of the laity as the People of God that is reflected in the activities of lay associations and movements in the Church. These range from the self-managed pious associations at the parish level to the charismatic movements and national organizations like the All India Catholic Union. Some of these are active in fostering inter-religious dialogue, others in promoting inter-cultural activities, and still others in bringing about Christian renewal. There are church organizations (e.g. Youth Groups) giving credible Christian witness in the political and cultural sectors, helping the deprived and offering philanthropic services to those in need. Yet the competence, opinions and initiative of the laity are mostly left out of consideration in policy making and decision taking in the church!

15. The Laity hemmed in by Church Structures: There are vexing questions as to whether, in practice, the laity occupies its rightful place in the Church. Are their human rights respected? Are members of the laity recognized as adults and equal partners of the clergy in the Church? It happens that Christians whose leadership roles are recognized in civil society find themselves sidelined in the Church. Often enough lay participation in Church affairs is limited to a few. Apathy on the part of the laity could be a reason, but more often it is the systematic exclusion of the laity from most areas in the Church that has been responsible for their reduced participation. The clergy- laity divide is the outcome of a centuries-old understanding that sees the clergy as representing the essential core of the Church and the laity as its peripheral members.

16. Many factors have contributed to this divide. First of all, division of labour, social stratification, power relations and a hierarchy of authority are to be found in civil and secular society and also in the Church. In the ensuing divisions, the laity in the Church is at the receiving end and, for the most part, is controlled and dominated by the clergy. It is not likely that such a laity will confront domination in secular society and campaign for egalitarianism at all levels. Given the diminished status of the laity, how will it effectively challenge and fight the evil of caste in India when it is itself a victim of the hierarchical culture in the Church? Faced with the truth that a distinctive mark of the Reign of God is building community and fellowship, the laity is ill prepared to struggle against the graded social hierarchy in civil society.

17. Insufficient awareness of the ground realities stemming from the composition of the Indian Christian community is another malaise that sharpens the laity-clergy divide. Dalits and Tribals, the subaltern groups, suffer from a triple discrimination. Treated as outcastes for centuries, Dalits had lost their right to freedom and human dignity. They suffered from a tarnished image of self-identity and unwittingly internalized the new reduced identity. Secondly, owing to their conversion to Christianity, they were deprived of of their constitutional rights and privileges that Dalits belonging to other religions like Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism enjoy. Thirdly, because of the treatment meted out by the so-called high caste Christians, their own fellow Christians in the Church looked down upon them. In addition, Dalit women face additional discrimination because of being women among Dalits!

18. Status and power are central notions that operate in a stratified society. In such a social hierarchy, power gets centralized and concentrated in those who are entrusted with authority. In a bureaucracy the higher one ascends the more centralized and concentrated becomes the power placed in a person. There is a tendency to take those at the lower rungs for granted. This destroys the soul of participatory culture, the very essence of democratic governance, where the will of the people is paramount.

19. A similar culture and structure prevail in the Church. By proclaiming itself as a community of faith, the Church is called to witness to the unity willed by Christ. However, the constant yet unnecessary efforts to stress the roles that differentiate the clergy from the laity militate against the building of true unity among God's people. The laity is allowed only a subsidiary function. Noble Christian and religious values that should be practised by the clergy and laity alike are diluted and contribute to the building up of structures that are dysfunctional. Regaining the original Christian vision of an egalitarian model of life would require that we search for alternative models of structuring and functioning in the church community. The participative model reverses the many assumptions and dynamics of the past and may provide a vibrant and viable alternative to civil and religious society.

20. The Consequence of a Culture of Non-Participation: Participative culture is the very soul of the new grassroots level democratic institution. However, the laity is handicapped in carrying out this task since, within the Church, participative culture is rarely valued, fostered and promoted. What prevails in the Church is the hierarchical culture with its sharp edge of clericalism. There does not exist for the laity adequate space for exercising responsible ministry in the Church. They are kept out of significant areas of decision- making in the Church. Besides, the increasing appropriation of non- clerical functions by the clergy leads to a further shrinking of space that belongs to the laity. There is need to insist on the legitimate rights of the laity and on the duty of the clergy to vacate the space that rightfully belongs to the laity. The laity is neither an inert theological category, nor an isolated segment, but a constitutive part of the Christian community as understood in Vatican II. A theologically enlightened church community could help reapportion the rightful functions proper to the clergy and the laity.

21. The structures of participation initiated by Vatican II, like parish councils at the local level, pastoral councils at the diocesan or national level are handicapped by three ailments: their 'consultative' character, the prevailing 'nomination' culture, and the irregularity in their being convened. Even the finance committees are no exception. Because of these ailments, the participatory role of the laity envisaged by Vatican II for the renewal of the Church remains mostly a dream.

22. Exercise in self-governance and responsible exercise of authority for the common welfare are central to the new democratic institutions like panchayatiraj, self-help groups, voluntary organizations and peoples' movements. These are positive developments for humankind as a whole at the level of person and community. Like other persons in the Indian polity, the laity could join those who seek the welfare of people through these initiatives. However, responsible participation in the affairs of the Church is limited and restricted for the laity.

23. Insufficient awareness of the ground realities regarding the very identity of the Christian community in India is another malaise that sharpens the laity-clergy divide. These are seen not from the perspective of common discipleship but from the clergy's vantage point within a hierarchical structure and culture. In this scenario, the values of the Reign of God as taught by Jesus are blurred or, at times, even totally absent. Educating and forming the laity, wherever it takes place, is 'from above' and seldom occurs in an atmosphere of dialogue and communication that is present among equals. The absence of a 'servant model' that fosters fellowship and unity in the Church raises questions about the kind of authority that the hierarchy seeks to exercise.

24. A well-developed political theology would put the laity in the forefront of the Church's service to the world. The absence of such a theology, however, gives the hierarchy an 'excuse' for not encouraging a democratic and participative culture within the Church. Such a theology is missing from seminary formation in India. Besides, candidates to the priesthood or religious life often come from societies where interactions are patterned on a caste- based hierarchy. Even when ordained, such persons reinforce the 'controllers-controlled' relationship that perpetuates the clergy-laity divide in the Church.

25. The Awakening Call: The wake-up call to act as true followers of Christ keeps coming from different quarters: from the concerned protesters in the Christian community, from the shocked citizens of the country, and above all from the Holy Father himself. In the country at large, turmoil has been raging relentlessly. Dalit awakening and their mobilization at the social and political levels have been responsible for the rapid topsy-turvy in the political processes, electoral formations and alliances. Many individuals and parties with their social base among the Dalits have captured, exercised, and tasted power. In doing so, the newest phase of the Indian socio-political process has probably begun, not only for the Dalits but also for all who dream of an egalitarian society in which liberty and progress are to be enjoyed by all. Will the laity be ready and prepared to collaborate in this phase and participate in it wholeheartedly? The powerless are empowering themselves at a rapid pace. However, entrenched in the social evil of caste and imprisoned within structures that discourage participation, it is not likely that the Laity will support and contribute to the liberation struggles in Indian society that is caste-ridden. The cleavage between prescription and practice renders the presence of the laity in civil society less effective.


IV. Drawing from Indigenous Models

26. Models in Civil/Secular Society: The Indian Parliament has amended the Constitution and introduced Panchayatiraj. This new initiative envisages the empowerment of the hitherto suppressed, silent and powerless sections of Indian society, especially Dalits and those marginalized. The introduction of Gramsabha was meant to restore to Tribals their communitarian culture and structure. This newly begun initiative by the Indian State was intended to deepen the process of democratization of society, the unfinished task of the nation. Similar models can also be found in the ancient and modern traditions of the Churches in India.

27. There have been also other indigenous, egalitarian, and social structures in India, e.g. tribal communities, fisher-communities etc. Though not perfect these structures to a great extent ensure participation of all, irrespective of gender, financial status, educational standards etc. In our search for more egalitarian and communitarian structures in the Church inspiration could be drawn from such indigenous social structures.

28. The recent revival of tribal cultures has made known models worthy of consideration by the Church. Community is central to the tribal identity. Participative culture and promotion of fellowship and egalitarianism of a high order are aspects of these indigenous cultures. The role of the community even in religious celebrations has been remarkable. The existing dialogue of the Church with the indigenous sources holds promise of great contribution to the Church.

29. Models in Church Society: There are various models of lay participation available in the Church. The ancient Thomas Christian model of 'Palliyogam' has certain features worth emulating. Researches have shown rather convincingly that Palliyogam structures were either influenced or inspired by the 'manram' organization of Dravidic communities of South India. These cultural roots of such ecclesial structures need to be further explored and utilized.

30. A still extant indigenous and participatory ecclesial institution, the Yogam, acted at three levels-the parish and regional levels and as a full Church assembly through representatives. At the parish level the eldest male member of every family and all the priests of the parish were members of the Yogam. The senior most priest presided over the parish assembly. At the regional level representatives of the parishes, both lay people and priests participated. Similarly the full assembly was constituted and functioned on the same pattern. The Yogam, the Christian version of structures that existed and functioned among the Hindus and the Jews and represented the supreme assembly of the Christian community, deliberated and decided on the spiritual and temporal matters of the Church. Still active in the Orthodox and Mar Thomma traditions, and surviving in a mutilated form in the Catholic Church, the Yogam provides a suitable indigenous model for the Church in India. With some necessary changes made in it, the Yogam offers a suitable indigenous model for the Individual Churches follow and to incarnate the Second Vatican Council’s vision of 'People of God'. However, the proportionate presence and active participation of women should be ensured.


V. Biblical, Theological and Ecclesial Sources

31. It is the Church as a whole that witnesses to Christ and carries out his mission. Through baptism, the laity publicly celebrates its Christian discipleship. In virtue of their baptism, the laity "are incorporated into Christ, placed in the people of God, and in their own way share the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ." In addition, they "carry on the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world." (Lumen Gentium 30) Placed in this framework the existing anomaly of the clergy-laity divide is a departure from the authentic understanding of the ecclesial community, and its many charisms and ministries. In spite of the theological clarification concerning the laity spelt out by Vatican II more than forty years ago, we still have to contend with the divide.

32. Christian Discipleship in New Testament Times: God created human beings in the divine image and likeness and entrusted to them the care of all creation, that they might enter into a right relationship with God, with other human beings and with the cosmos (Gen 1:26- 7). This vision was given its fullest realization in the person of Jesus who, in obedience to the Father, proclaimed the good news and went about doing good. Through his words and deeds, signs and miracles, Jesus brought together persons who formed a community of disciples who believed in him and continued his mission of bringing about God's Reign of justice and love, freedom and fellowship, peace and harmony in the world.

33. Identification with Jesus and proclaiming the Reign of God are integral dimensions of Christian discipleship. The community of Jesus' disciples share in a single mission, each entrusted with particular functions and roles. To each person is given charisms to fulfill his/her calling and everyone is responsible for the welfare and building up of the community, the body of Christ (1Cor 12). Jesus earnestly desired that in such a community those given authority should exercise a leadership of service (In 13).

34. During apostolic times it was the whole Christian community that participated in the life and mission of the Church. For instance, ordinary believers carried the faith to Antioch (Acts 11: 20-6). Their works of love, service and justice gave witness to the life of Christ and the action of the Spirit and inspired many to embrace the faith. One can also observe that in the New Testament, various types of ecclesial structures are found which emerged and evolved according to the needs of the communities and the signs of the times.

35. Drift, Deviation: The State's Impact on the Church: It is difficult to trace the clergy-laity divide to a single moment in time. In the history of the Church, various and complex factors or reasons played a part in bringing about the clergy-laity divide. Some of these were organizational needs, e.g. creating a manager cadre to govern and order affairs of the Church, a pool of persons with competence and skills to carry out the mission of Christ. Others were religious, e.g. by the second century the sacred orders of bishop, presbyter and deacon were recognized to carry out the ministry of Jesus, aspects of the Old Testament-where priests were recruited from a class/tribe-suggested patterns which were taken into the New Testament priesthood. In addition, some reasons stemmed from events in history, e.g. the gradual importance given to Christianity from the time of Constantine in the fourth century when bishops functioned as governors and judges of the state thus giving added honor to their ecclesiastical status. Influenced by customs and institutions of authority found in civil society, the Church adopted the trappings of the imperial state. In doing so, the clergy became a class set apart by ordination and--exempt from secular control- became accountable solely to leaders of the Church who claimed their authority from God, not the people. Finally, the observance of celibacy as a necessary obligation of the ordained priest--especially in the Latin Church-accentuated the separation in the Church between the clergy and the laity. The public image of the Church itself came to be equated with the clerical class, in which the power of decision-making came to be vested.

36. Through the centuries, one can trace a reductionism taking place in the Church. What was previously the prerogative of the whole community became the performance of a single ordained minister. The celebration of a sacramental act by and in the community became primarily a performance by the clergy; worship was conducted by the clergy and in a language unknown to the great majority of the congregation; and church law especially canon law-privileged the exclusively male clergy in matters concerning juridical actions and administration of the Church. In the face of searching questions raised during the Protestant Reformation regarding the Catholic priesthood, the function and status of the clergy were clearly articulated. Little was said about the role of the laity in the Church. In the twentieth century, the Liturgical Movement and Catholic Action attempted greater involvement of the laity in the sacramental life and mission of the Church. However, the theological vision of the pre-Vatican II Church envisaged a laity that was expected to leave responsibility to the clergy in matters of doctrine, liturgical celebration and apostolic mission.

37. Second Vatican Council and Restoration: The Council pointedly described the Church (Lumen Gentium) People of God" before allowing that it was hierarchically constituted. The Council taught that in virtue of their baptism the laity shared in "the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ" and were empowered to "carry on the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world." (30) Further, "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."Yet the official theology prevailing in the post-Second Vatican Council Church does not reflect fully the Council's understanding of the identity and mission of the faithful. The key phrase, 'People of God' does not sufficiently influence the deliberations and decisions of the hierarchical Church and the day-to-day experience of the faithful.

38. Further, the legitimate autonomy of the secular as stated in Gaudium et Spes has still to be fully recognized and the participatory role of the laity in sacramental celebration (Sacrosanctum Concilium) needs greater acknowledgement. Finally, in the light of the Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People, there is need to see the laity given its rightful role in decision-making procedures and apostolic responsibilities in the Church (Apostolicam Actuositatem). It is therefore necessary to rediscover baptized persons as a community of equals, as brothers and sisters with various charisms at the service of building up the Body of Christ. As one united body, clergy and laity are called to serve the cause of the Reign of God and bring about a human family of freedom, justice, and love, where each member of the Church is accountable to the other.


VI. Spirituality of the Laity

39. Spirituality may be seen as the relationship of a person or community to God that affects self-understanding, feeling, imagination and decision-making. Old Testament spirituality was founded on God coming to dwell among his people: "I will be their God and they shall be my people" (Ezek 37/26-27). In the New Testament, the Christ event colours the spirituality of those baptized by transforming them into "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people ... " (1 Pet 2/9). The spirituality that Vatican II symbolized was one that encouraged Christians to find God in the world. All persons are called to be God's people and, through a single-minded commitment to God, to participate in the struggle of those who seek liberation, justice and human dignity in the present context. Today's people of God in India are called upon to carry out their prophetic mission by mediating a global awareness that creates fraternity, builds up humanizing relationships among all persons and communities, cultivates religiosity, and promotes a life of self -transcendence.

40. The Spirituality of Discipleship: The identity and mission of the laity are essentially linked to the discipleship of Jesus for to be a disciple of Jesus, is to be truly spiritual. Baptism identifies a person first of all as a disciple of Jesus Christ and inserts him/her into a community of equals, kingdom-oriented, and acknowledging God as the supreme and loving parent. The ecclesial community consisting of Jesus' disciples is a community of brothers and sisters who share equally in the kingdom and mission of Jesus, though each one plays his/her own part or role. Hence, Paul sees all Christians, as "heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ" (Rom 8:17).

41. The responsibility of carrying out the mission of Christ to bring about a transformed world and to liberate people belongs to all who are baptized, not merely, the clergy. Christian discipleship is a following of Christ and pertains to a way of life whereby the disciple imitates the Master, the Guru, in his words and deeds, signs and actions. Discipleship requires a life of commitment to Jesus Christ in the service of one's neighbour. It does not accord with assuming superiority because one belongs to the Christian community. The Church is to be seen less as the people who are separated from humankind and more as a community that seeks communion with other communities, since there is one single plan of God to save all. Jesus had envisaged an egalitarian community of brothers and sisters. The Church is meant to be a transforming presence (salt and light: Mt 5: 13-14) in the world.

42. Discipleship's Triple Role: Prophet, Priest, King: The identity of the Christian faithful derives from Christ himself who is prophet, priest and king. As prophet, the Christian stands for a counter culture in keeping with the values proclaimed and lived by Jesus; as priest, he/she, in the manner of Jesus, offers him/herself to the Father through serving others in the world; as king, the Christian shares the royal dignity of those belonging to God's household. Thus, all Christians share in the ministry of Jesus as Servant-Messiah (Mk 10:45). As free and responsible members of the Church and sharing a common dignity, the faithful have a right to be heard in the Church, and be given responsibility in the governance of the Church, especially in what concerns their needs as persons called by God to be God's People. Hence, while the Church Magisterium, by virtue of its office, has the duty to authenticate and proclaim the Church's doctrine, it is the whole Church that teaches and the whole Church that listens. In this way the revelation of Jesus, Christ can come to its fullness.

43. Family, the Primary Community of Discipleship: Lay spirituality has to be sacramentally celebrated and also inter- religiously fostered. A lay spirituality that is contextually committed has its twin foci - family and the socio-eco-political world. The immediate context in which the laity live, interact and achieve Christian perfection is the family, the mini/domestic church. It is a source of faith, a wellspring of spiritual sustenance and a centre of evangelization. Its members contribute to evolving a spirituality of the family conducive to the growth- of each member, as well as of the immediate neighbourhood and society at large. Indeed parents are the naturally appointed evangelizers of children in the family. The family is the first school of Christian love where Jesus Christ is encountered, and 'the other' is affirmed through caring, sharing and self-denial. If the mission has to be located primarily in the family, its spirituality has to be in the context of the family members, so that they experience growth in body and spirit and in the manifold relationships to persons that such growth implies.

44. While the family is the immediate context of lay spirituality, the larger context in which they interact is the socio-economic-political world. This context can be positive or negative: positive if the factors there work towards the furtherance of the Reign of God, and negative if, on the contrary these work to frustrate the realization of that Reign. When the factors are positive, the spirituality of the laity will be one of support to all the agencies and movements that work to further the values of God's Reign; but when negative, then lay spirituality could inspire action that takes the form of protest and resistance (Populorum Progressio). This spirituality of protest and resistance is in keeping with God's option for the poor and the needy. God will judge people to be worthy to the extent that they have cared for their suffering neighbour (Mt 25/31-46).

45. The Discipleship of the Laity in Civil Society: In virtue of their baptismal commitment, the laity is called to be actively involved in the social, political, economic and cultural contexts of everyday life. The preaching of John the Baptist could be inspirational for this spirituality (Lk 3: 11f). Many Christian lay faithful-individuals and groups-are today actively involved in promoting justice and peace in our society. These prophetic actions reflect the power of the Spirit at work in the laity, especially those working for the oppressed at the margins of society. Through these actions, the hierarchy can recognize God's Reign becoming concrete and visible in the world.

46. Lay spirituality is a scripture-based spirituality. What is specific in the Bible, especially in the New Testament is the fact that God is Love (1Jn 4: 8). The basic insight 'God is Love', when read in the context of the prophetic writings (e.g. Micah 6:8), highlights the characteristics of a spirituality of the laity: "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." This verse implies a multi-pronged love relationship: to one's self, others, the poor, the exploited, the neighbour, the earth and ultimately God. A concrete corollary of the Old Testament and New Testament approaches to spirituality must lead to a spirituality of forgiveness and reconciliation. Many families and communities, finding themselves in situations of conflict and hurt, are tempted to seek revenge. Unless the effort is made to show compassion and be forgiving towards others, we cannot expect peace in society and the world.

47. Discipleship of the Laity in the Context of Religious Pluralism: Living in the midst of religious pluralism in India, inter- religious dialogue must be a way of life (Ecclesia in Asia). Being Christian in India means being inter-religious. The Christian realizes that persons of other faiths hold different world views and are well schooled in other spiritualities. More importantly, one recognizes God's saving presence at work in communities other than Christian. Recognition must lead to respect and respect must lead to responses by way of evolving interfaith initiatives at the local and neighbourhood levels. An example of this could be not only Basic Christian Communities (BCCs) but also Basic Human Communities (BHCs) that involve people of all faiths and also those with no apparent religious faith.

48. The whole of humankind is called to be the 'People of God'. God is in dialogue with all human persons and this is articulated in the diverse religious scriptures and symbols. Hence, the task of God's people, the faithful, is not primarily to disburse salvific largesse, but to discover the mystery of God's saving activity outside the confines of official Christianity and to do so in partnership with other religions. To realize this, the whole Church is called to be involved in the world that is characterized by pluralism in lifestyles, social concerns, eco-systems, political governance and faith persuasions. At the same time, this world also houses significant groups of persons who are exploited and condemned to marginal positions in society. The mission of the laity is to fulfill the potential of creation and bring justice and wholeness to all peoples.


VII. Concrete Proposals for Realization

49. Holistic Faith Formation of the Laity: Holistic faith formation will enable the laity to participate in the life and mission of the Church. Therefore formation of the laity must be given as much importance as that of the clergy. The Church's resources (monetary and others) must be utilized for the laity's formation. Communicative and dialogical models of formation should be designed in which there is space for constructive criticism. There should be training programmes for lay leadership in various regional formation centres for the laity. In those centres and seminaries, a healthy democratic culture of dissent and protest should be promoted with prudence. Training should be given to the laity to become civic leaders and teachers of the community that will empower them to be responsible citizens of the country. There is need to develop a political theology which will motivate the laity to get involved in politics, use power for the good of the, people, especially the deprived and the marginalized, and to get them involved in human rights issues that affect the poor. A new syllabus for the theological formation of the laity should be formulated that is in line with political theology.

50. Prophetic Movements: Since certain Charismatic movements and the Jesus Youth movement have a tendency to espouse a narrow, fundamentalist understanding of Jesus, plurality of religions and inter-religious dialogue, the laity should be introduced to the Kingdom-centred mission and be helped and encouraged to participate in prophetic protest movements like Action for National Interest (AGNI), Fisher-workers Movement, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA, Save Narmada Movement), etc.

51. Formation of Future Clergy: While being formed, the future clergy must be in constant contact with the people and their life situations so as to be weaned away from patriarchal mind-sets. They must adopt egalitarian attitudes in their dealings with the laity. For instance, they should listen to the laity, treat them with respect and understand them as their brothers and sisters. A special concern should be fostered for the poor in rural areas, the youth and women who are dominated and humiliated.

52. Pastoral Care of the Families: All the families, especially those living in city slums and villages, face the problems of understanding between husband and wife, parents and children, and other members of the family. There is often discrimination against the girl child in providing nourishment, education, etc. Intolerance, marriage- breakdowns, lack of faith or superficial faith, and superstitions often add to domestic restiveness. There is need to form Basic Christian Communities (BCCs) to discuss the problems and challenges faced by the families and to find viable solutions in the light of faith- through concrete collective action. Professional counseling must be provided for the families facing serious difficulties.

53. The Family as the Domestic Church. Since the family is the domestic church, it has to become the nursery of value education and effective faith formation in keeping with the values of the kingdom. This can be realized through a proper catechesis, longer marriage preparation courses, the celebration of a family Eucharist at set times, daily family prayer, and occasional family-liturgies for anniversaries, deaths and extraordinary events, e.g. weddings. Special liturgies are to be promoted for neighbourhood families (BCCs), for the youth and the aged, and at moments of significant happenings in the community. Sufficient funds need to be allotted for the on-going formation for families.


VIII. Structural Changes to Ensure the Laity's Authentic Role and Function in the Church

54. The Service Model of Leadership: The service-model of leadership in the Church (e.g. Jesus' washing the disciples' feet in (Jn 13) should be stressed. Since the parish is meant to be a community of Jesus' disciples who share an equal dignity as children of God, the parish priest must be regarded not as the 'boss' but as a brother making his service available to all. Since the clergy are the servants of the people of God, clerical titles of honour as "Lordship" and "Excellency" for Bishops, "Father" for priests, and "Mother" for superiors of women religious should be avoided. The clergy must make efforts to recognize and acknowledge the laity's competence, skills and ability in matters concerning the life and mission of the Church. Since the Church is a community of brothers and sisters, there should be wider consultation of the laity also before appointing persons to leadership positions (e.g. parish priests, Bishops, etc.)

55. Concrete Roles for Laity Participation: In order to assure the laity's authentic role in the Church, provision should be made for their active presence whenever important decisions concerning the Church have to be made. The present hierarchical model places exclusive responsibility on the ordained clergy for juridical acts affecting the Church. Hence, a "communion model" should be fostered and diocesan synods held in which all sections of the laity, women and men are duly represented. CBCI commissions for the laity could be headed not necessarily by Bishops and priests as presidents and secretaries but also by laymen and laywomen. In order to promote democratic structures in the Church, BCCs and other associations like the Small Christian Communities (SCCs), and other lay movements should be encouraged in the parish. Structural changes should be reflected through signs and symbols present in the liturgy. There should be, for instance, space in the liturgy for sharing experiences, reflections and intercessory prayers by lay persons.

56. De-linking the Functions of Ministry and Administration: There is need to de-link the ministerial functions of the clergy from the administrative tasks in the Church. Diocesan pastoral and parish councils should be entrusted with decision-making in specified areas, for which necessary changes in the present Canon Law are to be recommended. Financial administration of the parish and the diocese is to be given 'to the respective financial councils. The diocesan and parish budgets must be passed in the diocesan and parish councils respectively. Credible structures for redressing grievances of the laity should function in every diocese.

57. Lay (Christian) Movements: Creating political consciousness should become part of the Church's agenda. The parishes should support people's movements in their efforts to promote human and moral values. The political dimension of the Eucharist and other sacraments must be brought to light so that entering into clean politics is considered as part of one's worship and Christian duty. There should be Christian political cells at diocesan and national levels. The infrastructure of the Church institutions could be made available to peoples' movements that are just and right.


X. A Vision for a Mission

58. Change has always been difficult to face up to. It involves a difference, a displacement, and a sense of loss as the condition for the newness that must come. The vision of Vatican II suggested change in its call for aggiomamento. A hierarchical clergy that had occupied a place in the Church and offered little space to the Christian faithful would find it difficult to accommodate the identity and mission of the faithful as envisaged by the Council. What will the future face of the Church be? Will a theology that had undergirded the hierarchy since Vatican I be replaced by a theology that gives pride of place to the lay faithful? The very soul of such a changed situation will be the rising tide of participative culture the world over. That the Church should enter the new era with new vitality to transform the present world is the deeply experienced hope of the laity in the Church today.

59. India responded to the Council's call for change by organizing the 1969 All India Seminar in Bangalore. Many initiatives were envisaged for participation by the faithful in the life and mission of Church. Much euphoria was generated. But through the years, it was realized more and more that the de facto prevailing theology did not give the faithful the fulfillment that Vatican II symbolized. There is need of a theology that is not cast in the mold of Trent or Vatican 1, where a pre-established scholastic system was basically the point of departure for any theological reflection. There is need for a paradigm shift to understand and appreciate the message of Jesus that announces a new heaven and a new earth. The message of Jesus calls for a new incarnation in the different contexts of this world. Today's theology views the situation of a community, especially one that suffers from oppression, poverty and loss of human dignity, as the point of departure for discovering God's saving action in the world. Will the Church be a community of persons sharing equal dignity and status while carrying out its mission of service in the world? Our belief in the transforming action of the Spirit of Jesus in today's world assures us that such a happening is a realistic goal.