Church needs missionaries, not 'clericalized' laity, pope says

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Catholic Church needs laypeople with a missionary
spirit, which means Catholics do not have to try to force members into a
vocation that is the Holy Spirit’s to give, Pope Francis said.

temptation to impose a vocation on laypeople as some kind of validation of
their service in the church “worries me,” the pope said April 27
during a meeting with members of Catholic Action.

“What has happened many times in dioceses?” the
pope asked. “A priest comes and says, ‘I have a phenomenal layman who does this, this
and that; he is a good organizer. What if we make him a deacon?’ Stop! Don’t give him a
vocation that is up to the Holy Spirit to give him. Do not clericalize!”

Action’s meeting with Pope Francis kicked off a three-day forum designed
to reflect on the theme “Catholic Action in mission with all and for

Warmly greeted by some 300 participants from around the
world, Pope Francis was presented with several meaningful gifts. Two members
from Lampedusa, Italy, where thousands of refugees arrive each year, gave the
pope an English copy of the Psalms and the New Testament found in one of the fishing
boats used by migrants.

After being told that the book was found with a folded page
marking Psalm 55, a song of supplication in times of need, the pope reverently
took the gift and kissed it.

He was also greeted by a family from Bethlehem. The
children, the pope was told, wanted to teach Pope Francis the Sign of the Cross
in Arabic to prepare him for his visit to Egypt the following day.

Bending over and attentively listening to the instruction of
the twin siblings, Pope Francis placed his hands above their heads and thanked

In his speech, the pope told members that a true missionary
apostolate involves “going out” to those in need or who are far away
from the church.

However, in calling others to conversion, the pope said
Christians must avoid the practice of proselytism or coercion, “which goes against
the Gospel.”

“It makes me really sad to see people who are in
ministry — lay, consecrated, priests, bishops — who are still playing the proselytism
card. No! It is done through attraction. That is the genius phrase of Pope
Benedict XVI,” he said.

The pope also called on laymen and laywomen to be agents of
mercy to those who are far from the church rather than acting like “border control”

“You cannot be more restrictive than the church nor
more papist than
the pope,” he said. “Please, open the doors, don’t administer
Christian perfection tests because you will only promote a hypocritical

Prayer, formation and sacrifice are also crucial in
preparing laypeople to become missionaries, otherwise, “there is no
fruit,” the pope added.

Groups and movements like Catholic Action, he continued,
must “take flesh” and be willing to serve within their dioceses
while avoiding the temptation to become self-serving, which would otherwise
remove them from their true calling.  

“A Catholic Action that only pretends and does not take
flesh isn’t Catholic. It is
action, but it is not Catholic. To take flesh doesn’t mean what I want, it
means what the church wants,” Pope Francis said.

Instead, he said, members of the international lay
organization must continue to make their presence known in all areas of life,
from the world of politics and business to prisons, hospitals and factories.

“Do not become an institution of exclusives that
doesn’t say anything to anyone nor to the church. Everyone has a right to be
evangelized,” the pope said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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