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Pope Francis: Music opens our hearts to the true meaning of Christmas

Vatican City, Dec 15, 2017 / 10:41 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Music and art are especially suited to helping us more deeply comprehend the true meaning of the mystery of Christmas, said Pope Francis in remarks on Friday.

“Art is an impressive means of opening the doors of the mind and heart to the true meaning of Christmas. The creativity and genius of artists, with their work, music and singing are able to reach the innermost depths of the conscience,” the Pope said Dec. 15.

“Art enters precisely into the depths of the conscience.”

“Christmas,” he continued, “is a feast that is heart-felt, participatory and capable of warming the coldest of hearts, of removing barriers of indifference towards our neighbors and encouraging openness towards others and a free gift (of self).”

“This is why today we need to spread the message of peace and fraternity proper to Christmas; we need to represent this event by expressing the authentic sentiments that animate it.”

Pope Francis spoke to those involved in the organization and performance of the 25th edition of the Vatican’s annual charity concert: “Christmas at the Vatican,” which will take place Dec. 16.

This year the concert supports two children’s projects: The Pontifical Foundation “Scholas Occurrentes” and a program to free children enslaved in the coltan mines of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

It includes performances by Italian and international musicians and vocalists, including a children’s choir from Rome.

Scottish singer Annie Lennox and American singer-songwriter Patti Smith will also perform, as well as Suor Cristina, the young Ursuline Sister of the Holy Family who captivated millions when she won the 2014 edition of The Voice Italy.

Upon entering the Clementine Hall, the Pope was greeted by the sounds of a Christmas carol sung by various singers, including the children of the Italian “Small Choir of Piazza Vittorio” and members of the Art Voice Academy and Hallelujah Gospel Singers.

Pope Francis thanked all those who will take part, including performers and audience members, for showing concern for those in need of help and solidarity.

He said that he hopes the Christmas concert can be an opportunity to sow tenderness in the world, a word that is, he said, “much forgotten today.”

“Sow the tenderness, the peace and the welcome which spring from the cave of Bethlehem,” he said.

 

That time a priest was reprimanded by a saint

Vatican City, Dec 15, 2017 / 09:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When white smoke poured out of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel on October 16, 1978, Fr. Eamon Kelly, a seminarian studying in Rome at the time, couldn’t have known that he was witnessing the election of a future saint.

Nor did he know that more than a dozen years after that election, he would be reprimanded by that same future saint, John Paul II, during one of his Wednesday general audiences.

It was Holy Week of 1992, and Fr. Kelly, a priest with the Congregation of the Legion of Christ, was on his annual pilgrimage to Rome.

But this year was different.

His youth group had brought along eight Russian young people, the tension of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War just barely in the rearview mirror of history.

Fr. Kelly had done some strategizing to make sure the Russian youth got a good seat.

“We had our tickets and we went in early, and we did get positions up against the barrier of the corridor,” Fr. Kelly said. “So that was fantastic, we were going to see Pope John Paul II.”

His German students gave up all of the seats closest to the aisle, so that the Russian young people would get to shake the Pope’s hand as he walked through the Paul VI audience hall.

“I had the kids observe how he did it – he’d shake hands but by that he’d already moved on to talking to the next person, greeting them,” Fr. Kelly recalled.

“So I told them this pope knows Russian, and you need to greet him politely when he’s two or three people away; say some nice greeting in Russian.”

They did, and it worked: sure enough, the Pope’s ears perked up when he heard the Russian greetings. As soon as he got to the group, he stopped walking.

“He started talking to them in Russian, and there was a tremendous chemistry going on, and everybody was super excited. Our six rows of kids had assimilated into about two,” Fr. Kelly said.

Eventually the Pope asked, in Russian, how the group was able to make it to Rome. All the Russian students turned and pointed at Fr. Kelly.

He was a head taller than most of the students, so Fr. Kelly suddenly found himself in straight eye contact with John Paul II.

“There was so much joy and appreciation and gratitude in his eyes that these kids were there,” Fr. Kelly said.

“But then, his look turned like a storm with a critical question – ‘Why didn’t you tell me before they came?’” the Pope demanded of the priest.

“You know, like I could call up the Pope and tell him we’re coming,” Fr. Kelly recalled with a laugh.

“I tried to give an excuse, I said it was hanging by a thread that it was going to happen, I just fumbled my way through it. What are you going to do when the Pope is asking you for accountability?” Fr. Kelly said.

In hindsight, Fr. Kelly said he maybe could have called an office in the Vatican to alert them of the Russian students, but he didn’t realize that this visit would be so important for the Pope.

But Russia was dear to St. John Paul II’s heart, as he had played a critical role in the peaceful fall of communism and the Soviet Union. Just a few years prior, he had met for over an hour with President Mikhail Gorbachev, who later said the peaceful dissolution of the USSR would have been impossible without the Roman Pontiff.

Perhaps their meeting in 1989 had also softened Gorbachev’s heart prior to World Youth Day 1991, when the leader allowed some 20,000 Russian youth to attend the event in Poland for the first time ever. The conciliatory move was the whole reason the Russian students were now meeting John Paul II in Rome.

“He said to me, 'This is the first group of Russians I’ve ever greeted in the audience hall',” Fr. Kelly said.

It’s possible that it may have been the first youth group from Moscow to visit Rome ever, Fr. Kelly said.

“I don’t want to claim that title, because there may have been others, but it’s unlikely that anyone would have been able to come before the start of communism,” he said.

He said the Pope was visibly moved by the Russian students.

“He was happy, he was happy. He said if he would have known that they were there, he would have greeted them formally from the stage.”

And the Russian students?

“They were elated.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA Oct. 22, 2016.

Why Does Mary Visit Her Cousin Elizabeth?

Why Does Mary Visit Her Cousin Elizabeth?

Q:  Why does Mary visit her cousin Elizabeth? It doesn’t make sense to me for a pregnant woman to take such a long journey. Any…

The post Why Does Mary Visit Her Cousin Elizabeth? appeared first on Busted Halo.

Vatican communications department will soon unveil new website

Vatican City, Dec 13, 2017 / 11:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis and his Council of Cardinals met this week to continue discussions on reform of the Roman Curia and unveiled a new communications system for the Secretariat for Communications.

Taking place at the Vatican Dec. 11-13, all members were present for the meetings, apart from Cardinal George Pell. Pope Francis was present except for Wednesday morning during the general audience, as is ordinary.

Fr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, prefect of the Secretariat for Communications, presented the new communications system, including a new website and logos, during the 22nd round of meetings.

According to a Dec. 13 statement, the “the Vatican media system adopts a new production model based on integration and unified management, in full harmony with the reform desired by Pope Francis.”

The center of the communications system will be new multimedia publishing center, which will present a unified structure for the daily production of content, including audio, text, video, and graphics, in multiple languages.

This system is the result of consolidation on both an economic and technical level, and will be available soon (in a beta version) at vaticannews.va, the press release stated. This replaces the previously used informational websites and aims to streamline the image and channels of communication.

Starting Jan. 1, 2018, the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s photo service, and the Vatican Typography will merge with the secretariat.

It will start with a team of 70 people divided into six language divisions – English, Italian, French, German, Spanish, and Portuguese – in four thematic areas: Pope, Vatican, Church, and world. It will all be overseen by an editorial directorate in coordination with other support groups.

The new system draws its inspiration from the words of Pope Francis to the Secretariat for Communication during their first plenary earlier this year: that “reform is not ‘whitewashing’ things: reform is to give another form to things, organize them in another way.”

Viganò also reported on the final stretch of the reform of Holy See communications, including the achievement of goals to reduce costs and consolidate personnel.

The meetings also included an update from Cardinal Kevin Farrell on the work of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, which is preparing for the 2018 synod on youth.

The cardinals also listened to presentations by Fr. Michael Czerny and Fr. Fabio Baggio, the under-secretaries of the Migrant and Refugee section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

The section is developing a global strategy to implement in cooperation with the Secretariat of State, bishops’ conferences, NGOs, and religious congregations.

As usual, Cardinal Sean O’Malley also provided an update on the work of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Members of the commission are appointed for a term of three years, which may be reconfirmed. The terms of the present 15 members of the commission end Dec. 17. Pope Francis will decide whether to reconfirm current members and whom to appoint as new members.

Peter Saunders, founder and former Chief Executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood and a member of the commission since Dec. 2014, told the Tablet Dec. 13 he plans to step down from the commission at the end of the week. He has been on a leave of absence from the advisory body since early 2016.

Established by Pope Francis shortly after his pontificate began in 2013, the Council of Cardinals – also known as the “C9” – serves as an advisory body on Church governance and reform, with special emphasis on the reform of Pastor bonus, the apostolic constitution which governs the Roman Curia.

The council’s next round of meetings will take place Feb. 27-29.

Pope Francis: Think 'being good' is enough? It’s not. Go to Mass

Vatican City, Dec 13, 2017 / 03:20 am (CNA/EWTN News).- According to Pope Francis, a Christian can’t just be a good person and skip Mass on Sundays, because it is the Eucharist that provides the nourishment needed to truly live the Gospel well in our daily lives.

“How can we respond to those who say that there is no need to go to Mass, not even on Sundays, because what is important is to live well, to love our neighbors?” the Pope said Dec. 13.

“It is true that the quality of the Christian life is measured by the capacity to love,” as Jesus says in the Gospels, he said.

“But how can we practice the Gospel without drawing the necessary strength to do it, one Sunday after another, from the inexhaustible spring of the Eucharist?”

Pope Francis spoke during his Wednesday general audience, during which he continued his weekly catechesis on the Mass and Eucharist, focusing on the reasons why we must go to Mass every Sunday, besides the fact that it is a law of the Church, which he said is important, but “not enough alone.”
 
Instead we must go deeper: “We Christians need to participate in Sunday Mass because only with the grace of Jesus, with his living presence in us and among us, can we put into practice his commandment, and thus be his credible witnesses,” he said.

The Eucharist and Mass, he said, are where we find our strength for daily life.

Without it, Christians “are condemned to be dominated by the fatigue of everyday life.” Often consumed by worries and fears, this weekly meeting is where Christ gives us the strength to live each day with courage and with hope.

He explained how participating in the Eucharistic communion with Jesus here on earth helps us to anticipate heaven, where it will be “Sunday without sunset”: no more tears, grief, or pain, but only “the joy of living fully and forever with the Lord.”

At Sunday Mass we rest from the busyness and work of the week, which teaches us to place our trust in the Father, not in earthly things, the Pope said. In this same way, abstaining from unnecessary labor on Sundays helps us to live out our identity as sons and daughters of God, and not slaves.

The Pope also noted an important distinction about Mass, which is that Christians do not go in order to give something to God, “but to receive from Him what we really need.”

This teaching is evoked in a prayer from the Roman Missal, which addresses God, saying: “You do not need our praise, but for a gift of your love you call us to give you thanks; our hymns of blessing do not increase your greatness, but they obtain for us the grace that saves us,” Francis said.

Pope Francis then noted that there are some Christian communities which are not able to celebrate Mass every Sunday, but they are still called to gather together in prayer, to listen to the Word of God, and to nurture their desire for the Eucharist.

Alternatively, there are many secularized societies which have entirely lost the Christian sense of an “illuminated Sunday,” he said.

In this case we must help revive and recover the meaning of the day, he said, which should be celebrated with joy, with community, and with solidarity; as a day of rest “that restores the soul and the body.”

Can’t Force the Feeling: How Letting Go of Expectations Helped Me Enjoy Christmas

Can’t Force the Feeling: How Letting Go of Expectations Helped Me Enjoy Christmas

It hits me at odd times throughout the year, in small, fleeing sparks: that feeling of perfect warmth and wonder that embodies Christmastime. Perhaps it’s…

The post Can’t Force the Feeling: How Letting Go of Expectations Helped Me Enjoy Christmas appeared first on Busted Halo.

Pope: 'La Guadalupana' shows that everyone has a place in the Church

Vatican City, Dec 12, 2017 / 11:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis marked the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Tuesday saying the "mestizo" Virgin is a concrete sign that the Church is for everyone, especially the poor and marginalized.

Noting how Juan Diego, when Mary first appeared to him, had said that he was no one and wasn't worthy, the Pope said this sentiment can often be felt today in Latin America's indigenous and Afro-American communities, “which, in many cases, are not treated with dignity and equality of conditions.”

This feeling of shame and unworthiness, he said, is also shared by many women “who are excluded because of their gender, race or socioeconomic situation,” and by youth who “receive a low-quality education and don't have opportunities to progress in their studies nor enter the field of work in order to develop themselves and build a family.”

It is also the feeling of the many poor, unemployed, migrants, and displaced people “who try to survive in the informal economy,” and is also the shame felt by young boys and girls who are subjected to child prostitution, which Francis noted is “often linked to sexual tourism.”

However, Mary, the Mother of God, is the image of the Church, he said, and from her we learn how to be a Church “with a 'mestizo' face, with an indigenous, African-American face, the face of a peasant,” just like Our Lady of Guadalupe, he said.

In her, we see the face of the poor, the unemployed, of the young, and the old, “so that nobody feels sterile or infertile, so that no one feels ashamed or that they are nothing.”

Pope Francis celebrated Mass in St. Peter's Basilica marking the Dec. 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Veneration of Our Lady of Guadalupe dates back to the 16th century when a “Lady from Heaven” who identified herself as the Mother of the True God appeared to Saint Juan Diego, a poor Indian from Tepeyac, on a hill northwest of Mexico City.

She instructed Juan Diego to have the bishop build a church on the site of the apparitions. As a sign, the now-famous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was imprinted miraculously on his tilma, or cloak. Both the image and the tilma remain intact after more than 470 years.

Pope Francis centered his homily for the celebration around the Gospel reading from Luke, in which Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth shortly after the Annunciation.

The Pope noted how when Mary arrives, one of the first thing Elizabeth says is “how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Elizabeth, who had previously been marked by the sign of sterility, is now singing praise “under the sign of fertility and amazement,” Francis said.

He pointed to the two states of Elizabeth before and after her encounter with Mary: first her sterility and then her fertility and amazement.

The religious mentality at the time viewed sterility “as a divine punishment” for a personal sin or the sin of one's spouse, he said, noting that it was “a sign of shame she carried in her own flesh because she considers herself guilty of a sin that she did not commit or because she felt like nothing since she was not able to live up to what was expected of her.”

This type of sterility, the Pope said, is one “that goes deep and ends up paralyzing all life,” and which takes on “the many names and forms of every time a person feels in their flesh the shame of being stigmatized or feeling like nothing,” much like Juan Diego.

However, after meeting Mary, Elizabeth becomes fertile and filled with wonder, he said. She is the first one to recognize her cousin as the Mother of God, and she also experiences in her own flesh the fulfillment of God's word, because she now carries the “precursor to salvation.”

In Elizabeth, Francis said, we understand that “God's dream is neither sterility nor to stigmatize or shame his children,” but is rather “to bring forth in them and from them a song of blessing.”

The same goes for Juan Diego, he said, noting that it was precisely he, and no one else, that carried the image of the Virgin in his tilma: “the Virgin of brown skin and a 'mestizo' face,” he said, referring to the fact that she was of a mixed indigenous race. The term “mestizo” was used at the time to describe the children born to Spanish and Aztec parents.

By appearing this way, Our Lady, he said, is a mother who is capable of taking on the various traits of her children “in order to make them feel part of her blessing.”

In thinking about the themes of sterility and fertility or fruitfulness, Francis said we can also relate these to the richness of the cultural diversity in Latin American and the Caribbean.

This diversity, he said, is “a sign of the great richness that we are invited not only to cultivate, but, especially in our time, to courageously defend from all attempts to homogenize which end up imposing – under attractive slogans – a singular way of thinking, of being, of feeling, of living.”

In the end, these efforts at uniformity end up “making either invalid or sterile everything inherited from our elders.” They make people, and especially the youth, “feel like nothing because they belong to this or that culture.”

Pope Francis said the diversity and fruitfulness of Latin America makes it a requirement “to defend our peoples from an ideological colonization” which seeks to cancel out what makes these cultures rich and unique, “be they indigenous, African-American, mestizo, peasants or suburban.”

On the contrary, everyone is called to be like Elizabeth and Juan Diego, feeling that they are “the bearer of a promise, of a hope,” but as one people, without canceling out the features of one or another.

The Pope closed his homily encouraging faithful to echo the song of Elizabeth, and, like so many who never tire of repeating it, say together: “blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.”

Cardinal Kasper: The controversy surrounding Amoris Laetitia has come to an end

Munich, Germany, Dec 11, 2017 / 10:00 pm (CNA).- The controversy regarding Amoris laetitia has come to an end, according to German cardinal Walter Kasper. What is more, he has affirmed that the admission of remarried divorced persons to the sacraments in individual cases is, in his view, the only correct interpretation of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation.

Writing in an op-ed for the German language section of Radio Vatican, the prominent prelate asserted that “with the official publication of the letter from Pope Francis to the bishops of the Buenos Aires region, the painful dispute over the apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia is hopefully over.”

The "great majority of God's people have already received this letter with gratitude and may now feel confirmed [in this stance]," Kasper wrote in the article published Dec 7. He accused critics of making the mistake of committing “one-sided moral objectivism” that does not do justice to the role that personal conscience plays in moral acts.

The admission of remarried divorced persons to the sacraments in individual cases, as the papal letter dated September 5, 2016 to the bishops of the Buenos Aires region of Argentina agrees with, according to Kasper, has its basis in traditional doctrine, “especially that of Thomas Aquinas and the Council of Trent.”

Therefore, the German cardinal continued, this interpretation “it is not a novelty, but a renewal of an old tradition against neo-scholastic constrictions. As proven experts of the doctrine of Pope John Paul II have shown, there is no contradiction with the two predecessors of Pope Francis.”

Cardinal Kasper accused the "critics of Amoris laetitia" of falling prey to "one-sided moral objectivism" that underestimates "the importance of the personal conscience in the moral act".

To be sure, conscience must pay attention to the objective commandments of God, Kasper continued. "But universally valid objective commandments (...) cannot be applied mechanically or by purely logical deduction to concrete, often complex and perplexing, situations."

Whilst not specifically answering the questions of the dubia, Cardinal Kasper emphasized that on his view, it was necessary to ask "which application of the commandment is the right one, given a specific situation."

Cardinal Kasper further argued that this “has nothing to do with situational ethics that knows no universal commandments, it is not about exceptions to the commandment, but about the question of understood as situational conscience cardinal virtue of prudence."

The prelate compared the question to the distinction, in secular law, between murder and manslaughter in cases of homicide.

Finally, Kasper wrote that Pope Francis stood "firmly on the ground of the Second Vatican Council, which has taught that conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths. (Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 16)."

This article was originally published in German by our sister agency, CNA Deutsch. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Analysis: What is the context of Pope Francis’ words on the Lord’s Prayer?

Vatican City, Dec 11, 2017 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis’ remarks on the “wrong” translation of the Lord’s Prayer in a TV show hosted by the Italian Bishops’ Conference’s TV2000 network are part of a wider debate that has taken place in Italy for over two decades.
 
The Pope said that the words “non ci indurre in tentazione” – “Do not lead us into temptation,” in the English version – are not correct, because, he said, God does not actively lead us into temptation.
 
The Pope also praised a new translation operated by the French Bishops’ conference.
 
The new French translation is “et ne nous laisse pas entrer in tentationI” – “let us not enter into temptation.” It replaces the previous translation “ne nous soumets pas à la tentation” – “do not submit us to temptation.”
 
It is worth noting that St. Thomas Aquinas considered the question of whether God leads men “into temptation” in a commentary he wrote on the Our Father. The saint, and Doctor of the Church, concluded that “God is said to lead a person into evil by permitting him to the extent that, because of his many sins, He withdraws His grace from man, and as a result of this withdrawal man does fall into sin.”

The Pope’s intent seems to be to emphasize that God’s active will does not “tempt” men, that, instead, the permissive will of God allows people to be tempted because of their sinfulness. This is the emphasis of the French translation. The theological context is complex, but certainly the Pope has not intended to deny the theological and scriptural sense in which God allows, or permits, temptation.

However, the Pope was talking in Italian, on an Italian television show, and his remarks dealt with the Italian translation of the Lord’s Prayer. It would be a mistake to assign his remarks significance beyond the Italian context, in which they would be well understood.

And, in fact, a new Italian translation of that very sentence of the Lord’s Prayer has already been done.
 
The new translation of the Bible issued by the Italian Bishops Conference says “do not abandon us to the temptation,” and the rephrasing of that sentence was the fruit of a long process, aimed at being more faithful to the Latin text of the prayer – the so-called editio typica – and at the same time more fit to the current language.
 
Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, Archbishop of Florence and a well known scripture scholar, who has also served as undersecretary and secretary of the Italian Bishops Conference, recounted to the Italian newspaper Avvenire how the process for a new translation took place.
 
“The work,” he said, “dates back to 1988, when the decision was made to review the old 1971 translation of the Bible.”
 
At that time, a working group of 15 scripture scholars was established, coordinated by a bishop – the first was Bishop Giuseppe Costanzo, then Bishop Wilhelm Egger, and finally Bishop Franco Festorazzi.
 
This working group collected the opinions of 60 more experts on scripture. The group was overseen by the Bishops Commission for the Liturgy, and the Italian Bishops’ Conference Permanent Council, a group composed of the presidents of regional bishops conference, and the presidents of the commissions established within the Bishops’ Conference itself.
 
Cardinal Betori said that “within the Permanent Council, a restricted committee for the translation was established,” was composed of Cardinals Giacomo Biffi and Carlo Maria Martini, and of Archbishops Benigno Luigi Papa, Giovanni Saldarini and Andrea Magrassi.
 
“This committee,” Cardinal Betori said, “also received and considered the proposal for the new translation of the Our Father.”
 
The formula “do not abandon us to temptation” was adopted because it met the approval of both Cardinal Martini and Biffi, who “were not, as is known, from the same schools of thought,” Cardinal Betori explained.
 
Cardinal Betori said that the formula was chosen because it had a wider meaning, as “do not abandon us to temptation” can both mean “do not abandon us, so that we will not fall into temptation” and “do not abandon... when we are already facing temptation,” Cardinal Betori explained.
 
The new translation was approved by the Italian bishops in 2000. In 2001, the Congregation for Divine Worship issued Liturgiam Authenticam, a set of new provisions for the translation of liturgical texts.
 
After Liturgiam Authenticam, the whole work of translation was reviewed by a group of experts, led by bishops Adriano Caprioli, Luciano Monari and Mansueto Bianchi. Cardinal Betori was part of this group.
 
The revision, which suggested many amendments, was forwarded to the bishops. However, these amendments “did not change the proposal for the new translation of the Lord’s Prayer.”
 
The new translation of the Bible was finally approved during the 2002 General Assembly of the Italian Bishops Conference, with 202 out of 203 bishops voting favorably. The text of the Lord’s Prayer was approved separately, to be certain there were no doubts from bishops. The Holy See gave its recognitio in 2007, and the Italian Bishops Conference Bible was finally published in 2008 with the new translation.
 
The new translation of the Lord’s Prayer was ‘transferred’ to the Missal. However, the new translation, in order to be part of liturgical use, must be approved by the Holy See, and the text has not been approved, because there are other issues of concern in the Missal’s translation.
 
This is the reason why, the formula for the Lord’s Prayer in Italian is still “non ci indurre in tentazione.”
 
Ultimately, speaking about the translation of the Lord’s Prayer, Pope Francis did not say anything really new. Italian theologians and scripture scholars have already provided their solution for the translation.
 
However, there is another story to be told. There is a question regarding what will happen to translations that once needed a “recognitio” from the Holy See, which is now simply called to “confirm” the new translation.
 
Will this lead to a general change in translations in languages other than Italian?

 

Vatican conference highlights role of laity in addressing modern challenges

Vatican City, Dec 11, 2017 / 03:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Leading lay experts and top Vatican officials have joined forces this week to talk about how they can collaborate in addressing key areas of modern concern, placing a special emphasis on the role of laypeople.

“Even before the (Second) Vatican Council, the conviction of the Church was that lay involvement in certain spheres of life, particularly political and social, was absolutely indispensable,” Archbishop Paul Gallagher told CNA Dec. 11.

The importance of the laity “is quite clear even more today,” he said, explaining that without their activity and social and political advocacy, the Church would lose its voice.

“It is absolutely key, crucial, for the future of the Church's engagement with society that laypeople should be prepared to do this, should be courageous in doing it, and should have this great will to bring the voice of Christ now in the political sphere and social sphere, on a local level and an international level,” he said.

“I think they can do a great service to the Church and to the world in this way,” he said, adding that “any form of engagement” is encouraged.

Msgr. Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, spoke before celebrating Mass on the opening night of a Dec. 11-13 conference organized by the Forum of Catholic-inspired NGOs, titled “Promoters of Humanity in a Transforming World.”

The conference, which drew a slew of representatives from various NGOs around the world, including non-Catholics, focused on how Catholic-inspired organizations can help safeguard core values such as family and religious freedom, and ensure the that a proper integral human development is achieved in the context of a rapidly changing global society.

In his speech for the conference, Gallagher said the Holy See and Catholic-inspired NGOs can work together to achieve “the ideal of human fraternity and a means for its greater realization.”

He stressed that the Holy See isn't “controlling” the forum, but that rather, the members and leaders of the NGOs are the real protagonists, since they bring “real life experiences and expertise” to the table through their work.

Among those “protagonists” present for the conference was Helen Alvare, a professor of family law, law and religion, and property law at Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University. She is also the cofounder of the “Women Speak for Themselves” organization, the president of “Reconnect Media” non-profit communications group, and an adviser to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  

In comments to CNA, Alvare also stressed the importance of the role of laity, specifically women and the poor, in advocating key issues in the Church, especially in regards to the family.

Through the organizations she is involved with, Alvare focuses on giving voice to people on the grassroots level and empowering them to have a greater role in the push for both religious freedom and the family values lost in the sexual revolution. The hope is to show that questions on sexuality “cannot be separated from issues about economic well-being and poverty and human happiness.”

Pope Francis has been a leading voice advocating for women and the poor, Alvare said.  However, while the Pope has set “a wonderful tone” on these issues, she believes that “one of the signs of the times is that it cannot come from top down in the Church.”

“No matter how lovely a tone Pope Francis sets on empowering women and the poor, when the subject matter turns to sex, marriage and parenting, the powers that be don't want to hear from him or the Church in any level,” she said.

Rather, the argument needs to come from those who have supposedly been empowered by the sexual revolution – laity, and especially lay women.

When the Church hierarchy joins forces with laity and religious on the ground, they can have a powerful effect, Alvare said, and this includes reaching the people taken in by the agenda of the sexual revolution.

Speaking of the partnership the Holy See can have with NGOs and the people who run them, Gallagher in his speech highlighted several key areas of collaboration, the first being to advance the 2030 sustainable development goals, which Pope Francis has called “an important sign of hope” and which in large part are aimed at ending poverty, protecting the environment, and promoting education.

He also pointed to the issues of forced migration and displacement resulting in “unprecedented population shifts,” giving specific mention to the 2018 U.N. global compacts on migration and refugees.

Other major areas of concern, he said, are climate change and the promotion of an integral human ecology; the freedom of thought, conscience and religion, which includes concern for religious discrimination and persecution; and freedom of expression, as well as the freedom to convert.

While the global landscape in light of these issues might seem “immense and complex,” Gallagher said it is also promising, because the efforts that appear to be small are capable of “developing and achieving ends for the benefit of the common good of all.”

In a brief Q&A after his talk, Gallagher encouraged members of NGOs to be active and involved in the debate on relevant issues in their competence, keeping the papal representatives in the loop on the discussion and seeking advice or input from the Holy See when needed.

“Part of the thing about autonomy, is one shouldn't be waiting for instructions,” he said. “It's about working together, its about collaborative ministry together,” he said, adding that it's not about “a voice coming from on high saying, 'Do a,b,c'.”  

Responding to a question on his advice for Catholic doctors and medical personnel who work with Catholic-inspired medical organizations, Gallagher said the most important traits needed today are “great courage and sacrifice.”

Part of this courage also means exercising the right to follow their conscience. “We expect you to assert the rights of your conscience and that of your more vulnerable colleagues,” he said, adding that the role of the conscience for those working in the medical field right now “is absolutely fundamental.”