Receiving bishops from the U.S. completing their ad limina visit on Saturday, Pope John Paul II spoke about the bishop’s role in helping the lay faithful incorporate their role in the Church’s mission, emphasizing the need for lay people to integrate their faith into their everyday professional, political and cultural life, while fully respecting the “legitimate” separation of Church and state.
"Each bishop is called to acknowledge the 'essential and irreplaceable role of the laity in the Church's mission' and to enable them to carry out their proper apostolate, said the Holy Father, quoting "Christifideles Laici," to the 22 bishops from Louisville, Mobile and New Orleans.
He said that “a clear pastoral priority" of each bishop is to help the lay faithful "in understanding and embracing the 'munus regale', the kingly office, they received by their baptism incorporation into Christ."
"Lay men and women," said the Holy Father, "must be encouraged, through sound catechesis and continuing formation, to recognize the distinctive dignity and mission which they have received in Baptism and to embody in all their daily activities an integrated approach to life which finds its inspiration and strength from the Gospel.”
He went on to explain that “this means that the laity must be trained to distinguish clearly between their rights and duties as members of the Church and those which they have as members of human society.”
They must also be “encouraged to combine the two harmoniously, recognizing (as stated in "Lumen Gentium) that 'in every temporal affair they are to be guided by their Christian conscience, since there is no human activity - even of the temporal order - that can be withdrawn from God's dominion'."
The Pope underscored that "a clear and authoritative reaffirmation of these fundamental principles of the lay apostolate will help to overcome the serious pastoral problems created by a growing failure to understand the Church's binding obligation to remind the faithful of their duty in conscience to act in accordance with her authoritative teaching.”
He highlighed the “urgent need for a comprehensive catechesis on the lay apostolate which will necessarily highlight the importance of a properly formed conscience, the intrinsic relationship between freedom and moral truth, and the grave duty incumbent upon each Christian to work to renew and perfect the temporal order in accordance with the values of God's Kingdom.”
“While fully respecting the legitimate separation of Church and State in American life,” said the the Holy Father, “such a catechesis must also make clear that for the faithful Christian there can be no separation between the faith which is to be believed and put into practice and a commitment to full and responsible participation in professional, political and cultural life."
He encouraged the bishops "to foster among the laity a shared sense of responsibility for the life and mission of the Church" which, when "rooted in the principles of a sound ecclesiology," will ensure genuine collaboration "without the danger of distorting this relationship by the uncritical importation of categories and structures drawn from secular life."
The pope concluded by thanking "the countless men and women who strive each day to bring the light of the Gospel to their homes, workplaces and to the whole of society."