.- Lay-faithful are taking the lead in ground-breaking initiatives to spread the Gospel in one of Latin America’s most secular countries – Uruguay. Facing an acute shortage of priests, Bishop Luis del Castillo of Melo in north-east Uruguay, recently discussed how lay catechists are at the forefront of a plan to revitalise the faith in a country where 75 percent of people have been baptised but only five percent are regular Mass-goers.
In a conversation with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) recently, the bishop explained that the Church faces a tough mission in Uruguay, whose long history of anti-clericalism means that the country has become as secular as Cuba. Fierce separation between Church and state goes back as far as 1908 and, unlike most other Latin American countries, no religious education takes place in publicly-funded schools.
In his interview with ACN, Bishop del Castillo explained how the lay faithful are increasingly taking their place alongside the clergy in developing programs of outreach and evangelisation.
The bishop said the role of lay leaders is becoming crucial, noting that in his diocese 135,000 people are currently served by just 18 priests – most of them foreign missionaries. In response, lay Catholics in rural areas have been leading simple “Liturgy of the Word” prayer services, training catechists, producing religious education literature, and appearing on the radio.
Describing those returning to the Church as “recovered Christians”, the bishop went said, “we encourage them to be missionaries and to accompany the priests in their visits to rural areas.”
Stressing that the initiatives were “small steps in the right direction”, the bishop said: “We are still fishers of men but unfortunately we cannot cast out our nets in the hope of getting a big catch. We have to go to people one by one.”
With baptism still popular, the bishop is encouraging lay people to catechise new parents, giving them leaflets, booklets, pictures, and posters for use with their children. “After they have had their children baptised,” said the bishop, “parents are reluctant to come to church. We want to teach parents the Faith so that their homes can become the ‘Domestic Church.’”
Bishop del Castillo thanked ACN, which he said had provided crucial help for Christians across Uruguay, especially in its support for priests, seminarians, and the distribution of ACN’s Bible for children.