The Catholic cardinal of Quebec said Tuesday that pastors are to be shepherds who help their people grow in a relationship with Jesus Christ, not “the boss” or manager of laypeople.

Cardinal Gérald Cyprien Lacroix spoke at a Feb. 14 press conference previewing a three-day Vatican meeting on how to improve collaboration among laypeople, priests, and bishops.

Lacroix, the archbishop of Quebec and primate of Canada, will be giving a talk on the second day of the Feb. 16-18 conference on the role of pastors in effective co-responsibility.

“What is our role as priests and bishops in this beautiful adventure?” he asked. “Well, our main role is to be pastors. We’re not managers, we’re not the boss: We’re pastors, shepherds.”

“Helping the lay faithful,” he continued, “helping our Church to encounter the Lord and to grow in a relationship with God. That is our mission.”

The title of the conference is “Pastors and Lay Faithful Called to Walk Together.” It has been organized by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, headed by Cardinal Kevin Farrell.

The final day of the Vatican’s invite-only meeting will be an audience with Pope Francis.

Lacroix told journalists Feb. 14 that part of effective co-responsibility is Catholics growing in love for the Lord together so that they can better fulfill their baptismal call to share the Gospel with others.

Within this, the role of pastors is, he said, “to make sure we are all walking together toward this same goal: to be missionary disciples of the Lord.”

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The cardinal emphasized that pastors need to be focused on the mission of helping people grow in holiness. “Evidently we’ve been working on this a long time — about 2,000 years I would say,” he added.

More than half of the 210 conference participants will be laypeople; there will also be 67 bishops and 36 priests in attendance.

The participants were asked to complete a short survey before the conference.

Lacroix said in his talk he wants to encourage priests to not only invite laypeople into their parish activities and programs but also to ask how they can support parishioners where they are already present.

“The laypeople are not there at our service. We are there together at the service of the Church,” he underlined, noting that the Church needs “better formation, better awareness, and a lot of work” to bring this vision to fruition.

Lacroix recalled a time before he was a cleric, when he gave this advice to pastors: “Resist inviting us to come into your things. Recognize that some of us are in school, some of us are in our profession, and we need to be good disciples there.”

“You’re always asking how we can serve you, which isn’t a bad thing, but it needs to be more than that.”

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Cardinal Farrell told journalists “it is very important that we do not reduce the role of the laity in the Church to a mere functional participation or a mere functional involvement.”

“The laity have a lot more to offer than a mere function that they can perform,” he added.

“The laity are not just to take up the collection at the Sunday Mass. They are to do much more.”

The Irish-born American cardinal said he hopes the conference can help nurture a much deeper understanding of what it means to be co-responsible for the life of the Church.

Organizers also said the conference theme works well within the Church’s ongoing conversation on synodality.

“I think that the question of synodality is extremely important for the Church,” Farrell said. “It was the style of the Church from the very beginning. The Church was founded in a synodal way and I believe the Church always functioned in a synodal way,” he said, before changes took place with the Reformation.

“Today we are headed back toward our founding principles: synodality,” the cardinal asserted.

Both Farrell and Lacroix emphasized the importance of personal conversion on the part of both pastors and lay men and women.

Farrell also said co-responsibility “doesn’t mean that laity have to become clerics and clerics have to become laity.”

Everyone has his or her own calling and gifts, he said. “I would caution against … reducing the worth of the laity and the great gift they bring to the Church to just some ministerial role in the Church.”

Linda Ghisoni, a canon lawyer and undersecretary of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, said this week’s conference has been in the works since 2019.

She also pointed to article 132 of Praedicate evangelium, the new apostolic constitution of the Roman Curia, which states that the dicastery “studies issues relating to cooperation between the laity and ordained ministers in virtue of their baptism and the diversity of charisms and ministries, in order to foster in both an awareness of co-responsibility for the life and mission of the Church.”