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Hong Kong moves to 
promote lay ministry


A Conference on Sharing the Experience of Lay Ministry among Chinese Catholic communities from around the world is scheduled in Cheung Chau in early November to mark the end of the Year of the Laity.

It comes as the Church is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II and 20 years after the Catechism of the Catholic Church was published, both of which events pushed the importance of the role of lay people in all facets of the mission and ministry of the Church.

It also begins just as the Synod of Bishops in Rome is packing up. Pope Benedict XVI placed the laity in the spotlight at the opening Mass, when he put his hope for the future in the lived institution of the sacrament of matrimony, rather than the pursuits of academic institutes or structured outreaches.

Although Vatican II did much to promote the ministry of lay people, lay involvement in Church and mission is far from new.

In the last 150 years or so, Irishman, Frank Duff, founded the Legion of Mary, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society got off the ground through the efforts of Emmanuel Bailly and Frederic Ozanam. Both organisations are lay-founded, lay administered and work within Church structures.

However, while they, and others like them, are concerned with the apostolate of the streets in the areas of poverty alleviation, nursing, healing and education, they have also served to give the Church a wide face among the poor and outcasts whom Jesus came to call into his kingdom.

For all of the past century strong lay apostolate movements formed to educate people on how to be a Catholic voice in politics and the day-to-day life of a secular state.

They provided education, opportunities for reflection and support structures for Catholic people who were prepared to place their faith in the public square and argue for its values in civic and industrial affairs.

People like American, Dorothy Day, have become household words for their commitment in this area. While they may not have always been the golden haired boys and girls of the established Church, they did put faith into trade union halls, caucus rooms, court houses, police and prison cells, as well as on factory floors, at board room tables, in hospital wards, in pubs, on sporting fields and into the media.

However, possibly the most difficult area for lay people to crack was liturgy and the traditional sacramental ministries.

Lay involvement in these areas on a wide scale is mostly a post-Vatican II happening. But today, lay people lead Eucharistic services, proclaim the scriptures, prepare people for baptism and matrimony, visit the sick and take them communion, as well as preside at funerals and comfort the bereaved.

These are the traditional domain of the clergy and while it is often said that the laity only edged into these areas because of a shortage of priests, Vatican II says that they are ministries proper to the laity.

Some have even suggested that the Holy Spirit has withheld priestly vocations in order to promote the ministry of lay people in the Church, so it may show its true face to the world.

The broad scope of the upcoming conference among Chinese-speaking people from across the world is a constructive contribution to a still fledgling apostolate. JiM