Today at Castelgandalfo Pope Benedict XVI received participants in the 22nd plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, presided by Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko. The Holy Father told the participants, who are gathering to discuss the theme “The Parish Rediscovered. Paths for Renewal,” that while programs are important, true renewal and rediscovery occurs through profound encounters with Christ.
The Pontiff began by praising the work of the Pontifical Council, noting especially the work accomplished with World Youth Day and the meeting of ecclesial movements and new communities this past Pentecost
Benedict recognized that the purpose of the council’s meeting is to ponder the question of the parish community from “an operational point of view,” but warned them not to disassociate the operational from pastoral aspects of parish ministry.
"Indeed," he continued, "theological-pastoral aspects and operational aspects cannot be disassociated from one another if we wish to understand the mystery of communion, of which the parish is called to be an ever greater sign and instrument."
The Pope then outlined certain "essential criteria" for "understanding the nature of Christian communion and, therefore, of each parish," referring to the first Christian community of Jerusalem, which was "devoted to listening to the teaching of the Apostles, to fraternal union, to the 'breaking of bread' and to prayer, a welcoming and united community, even to the point of sharing everything they had.”
"The parish can relive this experience, and grow in understanding and fraternal cohesion through prayer ... and listening to the Word of God, especially if it participates with faith in the celebration of the Eucharist presided by a priest. ... The hoped-for renewal of the parish cannot, then, arise only from pastoral initiatives, useful though they are, nor from programs worked out at a theoretical level.”
"Drawing inspiration from the apostolic model," the Pope added, "the parish 'rediscovers' itself in the encounter with Christ. ... Nourished by the Eucharistic bread, it grows in Catholic communion and walks in complete faithfulness to the Magisterium," while "the constant union with Christ gives it the strength to commit itself ... to serving our brothers, especially the poorest for which its often the primary point of reference."
The Pope concluded his address expressing the hope that the work of the plenary assembly may contribute "to making the lay faithful ever more aware of their mission in the Church, especially within the parish community, which is a 'family' of Christian families."
Archbishop Rylko’s reflections
Yesterday, in an interview with Vatican Radio about the 22nd Plenary Assembly of his dicastery, Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko the President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, emphasized that parish renewal, “is possible and is the task of all: priests, laity, associations and ecclesial movements.”
In the interview, Archbishop Rylko said the theme of the Assembly, which will conclude on September 24, is parish renewal and he noted, “Despite the numerous difficulties that exist in our secularized world, the parish ‘continues to maintain and to carry out its particular mission, which is indispensable and of great relevance for pastoral care and the life of the Church (Ecclesia en Europa, 15)”.
Likewise, the archbishop continued, “Today people speak and write much about the parish, but often only to criticize and denounce.” He emphasized that the Assembly’s goal is “to review the different concrete projects of parish renewal—already taking place in different parts of the world—that seek to restore its vitality and missionary impetus.”
Archbishop Rylko explained that the parish should be, as Pope Benedict said during his recent visit to Germany, “an interior homeland of the people, a great family in which we experience the life of a larger family, which is the universal Church, learning from the liturgy, catechesis and all the expressions of parish life to travel on the road of true life.”
“The renewal of a parish cannot simply be by decree from a desk. Structural changes, while necessary, are not sufficient,” the archbishop maintained. “What is needed is a permanent formation of the laity in an adult faith, a serious program of true and proper Christian initiation of the baptized: the rediscovery thus of the role of Baptism and of the Eucharist as the source and summit of Christian life. This is where the true renewal of our parishes lies,” he stated.