The voice of laymen at FABC General Conference
Among those participating in the FABC General Conference in Bangkok are laymen who have been invited as guests. They too come from all over Asia. Their presence makes the People of God “complete”.
Four laymen attending the FABC General Conference in Bangkok shared their thoughts with Vatican News about why their presence and contribution at this meeting are important.
We know the real concerns of real people
“We bring to the conference the views of someone living at the grassroots”, began Gerald Kong, Executive Secretary of the Catholic Councils for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenical Dialogue for the Archdiocese of Singapore. Compared to the clergy, he says, laymen have a lot more contact with ordinary people. In his role as Executive Secretary, he meets not only people in positions of leadership, but also people “at the grassroots – the ordinary Buddhist, Muslim, Anglican, Presbyterian, Evangelical”, he continued. This “brings a lot more colour, a lot more perspective, and definitely a lot more depth to our interreligious and ecumenical relations”. He has therefore been able to represent the grassroots at the FABC General Conference.
Regarding interreligious and ecumenical dialogue specifically, Gerald says that these should be part of our everyday lives, not something “secondary” or “auxiliary”. Catholics in every walk of life “should be more conscious of the role we play in society at large because of our standing as Christians”. This means witnessing to people of other faiths by “first building good friendships”, and then exploring possible “collaboration in terms of working for the poor, the vulnerable and the like”.
The voice of the layperson is important in the conference to present the “real concerns” of ordinary people and what “practical implications there are”, to offer encouragement to Church leadership, and to demonstrate that we can “view each other as brothers and sisters, not based on our class differences…that we can encourage each other as one People of God, one family of God”.
We think realistically rather than theologically
“We add our own perspectives as ordinary people, who think by the experience of ordinary people and their realities, and not theologically”, Percival Holt said. Having participated in the Synod on Youth, and in his present capacity as a member of the Metholodogy Commission for the Synod, Percival says he “sees how synodality is perceived from both sides…how the Church perceives walking with people and how the people perceive” how the Church walks with them. We bring the realities of culture, language, diverse backgrounds, indigenous people, people of different faiths. This is important because “it adds the perspective for the Bishops”. He then related the surprise of a Bishop who once said to him, “I thought people want this, but what you are telling me it is the contrary. This is the perspective we add to a Conference such as this”, Percival concluded.
We are part of the picture
“I am coming here and I left my wife and my daughter at home”, Alwin Macalalad, from the Dicastery for Promoting of Integral Human Development, began. His presence at the Conference helps make the People of God complete, he continued. “You can’t have a Bishops’ Conference and just have Bishops and Cardinals speaking. That will promote an incomplete view. I am part of the picture”. Alwin says it is important for him “to be this presence, that part of the People of God which they always refer to, and for that to be real we need to be here”.
Alwin also spoke of the importance of forming relationships with Bishops not only “on the hierarchical level”, but also on the “relational, personal, even friendly” levels. “I find that here,” he stated, “and I want to be able to give testimony that these relationships can exist and can be part of our future as the People of God”. Regarding perspectives, Alwin said, “it’s very difficult to exist in different bubbles”. He acknowledges the temptation in the Church and in the hierarchy, “to exist in a kind of bubble, especially if they don’t see the lives of those they serve”, or those with whom they serve. “I bring that perspective as well, I hope, and also a lens”, Alwin explained. He hopes this experience will help him work with the Bishops better, and know “how to support them better inasmuch as they support us”.
When we work, the Church works
When Bishops make decisions or want to see change, those who execute those decisions or effect that change are lay people, Antony Judy, National President of Indian Catholic Youth Movement of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, observed. Eventually their decisions affect the lived reality of real people, he continued. In the case of the Synod, “we need the change to happen and the Holy See wants change to take place in the family”, Antony noted. Here at the Conference, the Bishops and Cardinals have been listening. This is how lay people can contribute: explaining the “ground realities”, what processes can be implemented, what new pathways can be taken to achieve the decisions or goals that are made.
Looking toward the future, the participation of lay people is important, Antony says, because, if you think of it, most of what gets done in the Church is done by lay people. “If the laity is working, the Church is working. If the laity is not working, if the laity is sleeping…”. Topics such as the laity and youth are “interrelated”, he says. “Consideration and support and acceptance is needed for the laity. If the laity comes to the Church”, we are joined together and walk together. “No one is leading. We are walking together. We are journeying together in the process to achieve the goal”. Whatever reaches Rome, he concludes, begins in the parish. This means “no one is bigger”.
Sr Bernadette Mary Reis