2nd Pan-African Congress of Catholic Laity

Pan-African Congress for the Laity Logo

The Pontifical Council for the Laity is organizing a second Pan-African Congress of Catholic Laity. It will be held in Yaoundé, Cameroon from 4 to 9 September 2012. The theme of the congress is “Being witnesses of Jesus Christ In Africa today”.

We are happy to announce that Mr. Ernest Kasongo, our Regional Responsible for Africa, will be joining about three hundred delegates from bishops’ conferences and associations and movements from all over Africa. It is a special honour and responsibility for our Marianist Lay Communities to be represented at this important meeting.

“The Church as God’s Family” is the ecclesial context in which the congress will take place. The co-responsibility of the lay faithful in building up communion will be an important point for discussion. This will include the subject of the new ecclesial movements and communities that are present on the continent.

We received news this week that Ernest will have an opportunity to present a brief report during a panel discussion on new ecclesial movements and communities. We encourage all our Marianist lay women and men in Africa to collaborate with Ernest, so we may give a truly representative voice from all our countries and experiences.

We were blessed to gather in Nairobi for our 5th International Meeting. We experienced the deep and joyous faith of our sisters and brothers in Africa, and their zeal for works of justice and peace. We know of their commitment to strong formation for lay women and men, so the gospel can be shared by all. And we have a deeper understanding of the many challenges that are present. The Pan-African Congress is an opportunity to gather with the Church, to listen and learn from past and present experiences, and to vision together for the role of lay women and men in the Church of Africa.

We encourage you to visit the web-site of the Pontifical Council for the Laity for more information, and join us in prayer for a blessed and fruitful congress.

Click here for a copy of the Announcement letter in English, Francais and Espanol.

Ecclesial Movements in the Church

Isabel2-98x125Isabel Duarte Quapper, our Regional Responsible for Latin America, is attending the III Congress of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities in Paraguay , September 2-5, 2010. This Congress is sponsored by CELAM, the Episcopal Congress of Latin America. Also attending are Fredy, her husband, and Kini Becerra from  CLM Peru. A questionnaire was sent to all delegates and participants prior to the Congress. These questions followed up on goals and issues discussed at the previous Congress. Each lay association was asked to identify the strengths and gifts as well as the challenges and weaknesses that they face as lay women and men in the Church and in the world. A summary of the responses was distributed. The answers are honest, direct, and reflect a serious pondering on the present situation of the laity in Latin America. You will see that our CLM have a strong and visible voice in Latin America! Thank you to Isabel and all the CLM leaders for their collaboration on this document. It promises to be a rich and vibrant dialogue at the Congress. We will be united in prayer with Isabel, Fredy, Kini, and all the participants in Paraguay.

Another important congress is taking place in Seoul, Korea from August 31 to September 5. The Pontifical Council for the Laity is holding a Congress for Asian Catholic Laity on the theme “Proclaiming Jesus Christ in Asia Today”. Sadly, we will not be participating directly in this Congress. But, we can join all our Marianist sisters and brothers in Korea, Japan, India and the Philippines in following its progress on the PCL web-site.

National, Continental, and International congresses for the laity are important opportunities for us. Our participation allows us to gather with other faith-filled men and women to dialogue, to pray, and to discern how we can work together as one Body of Christ in mission for the world. It gives us a voice at the ecclesial table and allows us to share our Marianist gifts more concretely in the Church. Our team continues to work on our continental and international relationships with the Church. And we can all work to form and nurture them on the local and national levels.

(Monsignor Miguel Delgado Galindo, of the Pontifical Council for the Laity has a Blog on Ecclesial Movements and their importance in the Church. It is in Spanish, but translates well with the Google instant translation tools.)

World Day of Prayer for Vocations

vocationsMarianist Family resources for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations (April 25, 2010) are now available in English, Spanish,  French and Portuguese (on Spanish site) at  www.marianist.org.

We pray as one family, in union with the Church, for an increase in numbers of faith-filled and committed priests, religious sisters and brothers, and lay women and men throughout the world and within our own Marianist Family. And may our own vocations be blessed with renewed energy and hope-filled joy!

Synod for Africa Concludes

Our Lady of Africa

Our Lady of Africa

The Synod for Africa has concluded. John L. Allen, Jr. has written an excellent summary of the Synod for the National Catholic Reporter titled Women may come out winners in the Synod for Africa. The results of the Synod reflect a realistic acknowledgement of present injustices while not forgetting the gifts inherent in the African continent and her people.

The Synod has presented Pope Benedict XVI with 57 propositions to consider as he prepares his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation. Here are some of the propositions that speak directly to the laity, New Ecclesial Movements, and Small Christian Communities. There is much for us to ponder in these words, especially in light of our new document, “Marianist Lay Communities in the Church and in the World“. (Emphases are mine.)

  • The Synod renews its support for the promotion of Small Christian Communities (SCC), which firmly build up the Church-Family of God in Africa. The SCC are based on Gospel-sharing, where Christians gather to celebrate the presence of the Lord in their lives and in their midst, through the celebration of the Eucharist, the reading of the Word of God and witnessing to their faith in loving service to each other and their communities. Under the guidance of their pastors and catechists, they seek to deepen their faith and mature in Christian witness, as they live concrete experiences of fatherhood, motherhood, relationships, open fellowship, where each takes care of the other. This Family of God extends beyond the bonds of blood, ethnicity, tribe, culture and race. In this way, SCC open paths to reconciliation with extended families, which have the tendency to impose on Christian nuclear families their syncretistic ways and customs. (35)
  • Christ’s lay faithful share in the threefold mission of Christ, priest, prophet and king, because they are members of the People of God. They are therefore called to live their vocation and mission at all levels of society, especially in the socio-political, socio-economic and socio-cultural spheres. …Consequently, the Church must provide them with an initial and ongoing catechesis for a conversion of heart, supported by an adequate spiritual, biblical, doctrinal and moral formation for a social Christian conscience.
    In this regard, perhaps one of the providential tools for the development of this conversion and faith experience are the new ecclesial movements. These movements and communities of faith and communion exist in the Church as “veritable laboratories of faith”, places of formation and empowerment through the Spirit for a life of witness and mission. Thus equipped as disciples of the Lord, they act in the world as leaven. (37)
  • For those who are engaged in directing political, economic and cultural affairs, the Church is to take special care to plan a formation programme based on the Word of God and the social doctrine of the Church (cf.”The Compendium”, 12). This program is to include formation in leadership which transforms life through action (leadership training for transformative action).…Small Christian Communities are to offer assistance in the formation of the People of God and serve as a place for concretely living out reconciliation, justice and peace. (37)
  • Permanent catechists or those who act as catechists on occasion are the vital heralds of the Gospel for our Small Christian Communities, where they exercise various roles: leaders of prayer, counsellors and mediators. They require a solid formation and material support which is necessary for them effectively to assume their role as spiritual guides. They also need to be encouraged and supported in their zeal for service within these communities, especially their service to reconciliation, justice and peace.

Our Marianist Lay Communities in Africa formed their own Region within the International Organization of MLC during our 2005 meeting in Bordeaux. Lorna Mueni Kilonzo, the first Regional Responsible for Africa, constantly reminded the international team of the need for formation in the countries she represented. Her words were, “we must form formators”! Ernest Kasongo, the new Regional Responsible for Africa, is continuing the call for formation resources and programs. This will be an important agenda item for us during our meetings in Rome.

The African Bishops recognize that lay women and men, formed and educated in their faith, are needed to build both the church and society. And, they are needed for leadership within both. Ecclesial movements and small Christian communities, such as our Marianist Lay Communities, provide “veritable laboratories, places of formation and empowerment through the Spirit for a life of witness and mission.”

Synod for Africa

The Catholic Church has made headline news in Canada these past weeks. Sadly, it was focused on the resignation of Bishop Raymond Lahey of Antigonish, Nova Scotia upon being charged with possession and importation of child pornography. The news story was not only deeply depressing, but it renewed and increased the hurt, anger, and distrust that many Catholics in North America have with the hierarchical leadership in our Church. It’s becoming harder and harder to not only defend our faith, but to defend our Church. Many have given up trying.

Yet, there is hope in our Church. I’ve been following the Africa Synod of Bishops taking place in Rome from October 4 – 25. There are some interesting ideas coming from the African bishops, ideas that reflect our own Marianist vision in many ways. Unfortunately, the words of these progressively thinking Bishops, speaking out for justice and peace, aren’t making even a small blip in our secular media.

I’ve been reading the coverage of John L. Allen Jr., the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter in the USA. There is a complete index of his articles online. On October 14 he wrote, “As the Synod of Bishops for Africa reaches its midway point, its key themes seem to include empowering women (both in the broader society and the church), a perceived Western assault on the African family, globalization and its discontents (especially chronic poverty), and dialogue with Islam.”

Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi was described as one of the ‘big guns’ in the African church. Njue asserted that “Africa continues to thirst for good governance”. Bad governance is too often the reality “where unchecked hunger for power has led to impunity, corruption, manipulation of people, and other similar social political evils.” (Cardinal Njue celebrated the opening mass for our Nairobi meeting. We were all moved with his affirmation of the role of the laity in the Church.)

Archbishop John Onaiyeken of Abuja, Nigeria spoke of irresponsible actions of multinational oil companies in Africa. He also observed how it was time for Catholic/Islamic relations to go beyond dialogue to concrete collaboration in issues of peace and justice.

Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, the general secretary of the synod stated “The synod fathers have heard the cry of women…women need to be recognized in society as well as in the church as active members.” Fellow Ghanaian, Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Accra, gave an interview to John L. Allen Jr. where he posed this intriguing idea. Instead of a synod of bishops, why not a “pastoral congress of the universal church.”? The full interview is well worth reading, especially for his concrete strategies for integrating women into Church leadership within the present structures. These include actively promoting the education and formation of women, and promoting “women’s affairs” diocesan offices.

Those who attended our International Meeting in Nairobi, were deeply moved by the faith and energy of our sisters and brothers in Africa. Pope Benedict, in his opening address to the Synod, called Africa an “immense spiritual lung” and praised the “extraordinary human wealth” of Africa. I echo his sentiments, and smile at the images of African drums and Congolese choirs in St. Peter’s Basillica!

Cardinal Njue

The past leadership team meets with Cardinal Njue in Nairobi. August 2009

Women in the Church and in the World

In our Nairobi document, Marianist Lay Communities in the Church and in the World, we state

We promote a more active role for women and their participation in decision-making of the Church. (3.9)

How do we promote this more active role for women? One way is by being involved in the current discussions within the Catholic Church on the role of women. The Pontifical Council for the Laity has a special Women’s Section . In February, 2008, an international congress was organized to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Apostolic Letter, Mulieris Dignitatem , “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women”. Our International Organization of Marianist Lay Communities received an invitation to attend this congress, “Woman and Man, humanum in its entirety”. I was fortunate to be the delegate, and wrote a Report for the Marianist Family.


Our involvement in international dialogues within the Church is still very new. It comes as a result of our ecclesial recognition as a private association of the faithful. It is a valuable gift to have the opportunity to bring our Marianist voice to the table. But, as always, tasks come with the gift. We need to be informed of present views that are being presented. The women’s section of the PCL began an initiative through their web-site to open the conversation to all those in the Church involved in promoting women in the Church and in the world. Online resources are being updated regularly. A special invitation was given to Ecclesial Movements that are in relationship with the Pontifical Council of the Laity to share their writings and research. That’s us!

We need to take advantage of this opportunity. There is a growing desire within our Marianist family to study the Marian dimension of Church as a model of more egalitarian, inclusive, participatory and dialogic model of leadership. We need to promote this conversation on local, national and international levels. We need to explore concrete ways to answer the challenge from our Nairobi document. We need to identify lay Marianists who can research and write on the topic of women in the Church and in the world, or who have already done so. We need to bring this voice to the Vatican table.

Marianist Lay Communities in the Church and in the World

With much gratitude to our writing teams in Spain and in Nairobi, we have a new international MLC document. The writing process mirrored the complexity of the issues that were being explored. We speak of our Marianist “way” as one of family spirit, inclusivity, commitment to dialogue (especially difficult ones!), and giving an opportunity for all voices to be heard. And, at the foundation of all our efforts is prayerful pondering. It was a challenge to remain faithful to our methods as the document was being drafted. But faithful we remained. And, the prayers of many guided our work to completion.

The result is a document that reflects two years of intense work by Ana Blazquez Ubach and the writing team in Spain. Much of this work focused on an international survey of all lay Marianists to gain a “snap-shot” of where we stand on various issues facing the Church and society today. Despite technical, cultural, and linguistic difficulties, the team persevered and gleaned enough results to begin work on a document. The survey results were respected, even when they were different than expected. This is the challenge of allowing all voices to be heard so true dialogue may take place. And the writing team and translators in Nairobi continued to remain true to our “way”, despite the many long and late hours of hard work. The survey results are woven through the document, reflecting our strengths as well as the concrete challenges of our present reality.

Our first four documents formed the foundation of “who we are”. As a new international organization we explored our identity, our mission, our life in community, and the role of Mary in our mission. “Marianist Lay Communities in the Church and in the World” reflects our maturity and challenges us to take all the gifts that we have acknowledged and embraced and to use them in service to our Church and our world. It is a document that reflects the apostolic balance of our Founders. It is both prayerful and practical. It is seeking to understand the signs of the times. It nudges us to ponder deeply. It challenges us as lay women and men to put our faith into right and just action in our own place and time. And it encourages us to embrace our Marianist charism as a timely and prophetic gift to be shared with all.

Marianist Lay Communities in the Church and in the World

El Papel de las CLM en la Iglesia y en el Mundo

Le Rôle des CLM dans l’Église et dans le Monde