Lay Partners in Mission

  1. The Role of the Laity

Like all the documents from the Second Vatican Council that took their names from the first words of the document itself, the Decree on Apostolicam Actuositatem is reflected in the first sentence of the document, which says, “To intensify the apostolic activity of the people of God, the most holy synod earnestly addresses itself to the laity, whose proper and indispensable role in the mission of the Church….” (AA 1) At first, the Council Fathers could not decide what name to give this Decree. Although many were suggested, they settled on the Apostolate of the Laity, even though many Fathers disagreed with the word apostolate because it was a word that was associated mainly with the priesthood in the 20th century. The primary purpose of this document was to examine how the laity of the Church, while remaining united to the hierarchy of the Church, could assist in bringing the Catholic Church to the modern world. The document articulates clearly,

The Church was founded for the purpose of spreading the kingdom of Christ throughout the earth for the glory of God the Father, to enable all men to share in His saving redemption, and that through them the whole world might enter into a relationship with Christ. All activity of the Mystical Body directed to the attainment of this goal is called the apostolate, which the Church carries on in various ways through all her members. (AA 2)

Thus, it emphasized the duty of all members to participate in the mission of actualizing the kingdom of God. By virtue of their secular character, the Holy Spirit capacitates the lay people in a special way to establish His kingdom on earth. “The Lord wishes to spread His kingdom also by means of the laity, namely, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.” (Lumen Gentium 36) Lay people have a specific role and duty, together with the hierarchy, to establish the kingdom of God. This is a challenge to all lay people as they are inspired by the Spirit to be involved in the mission of the Church.

Many centuries ago, Pope Innocent III could say, in the Lateran Council of 1215, that “it remains for the laity to obey and not to command authority.” But, this was rewritten to say: “The lay person is one who has the right to pray, pay and obey.” Well, this is again rewritten today: “the laity are partners in God’s mission.” The document Apostolicam Actuositatem insists that, “Bishops, pastors of parishes, and other priests of both branches of the clergy should keep in mind that the right and duty to exercise this apostolate is common to all the faithful, both clergy and laity, and that the laity also have their own roles in building up the Church. For this reason they should work fraternally with the laity in and for the Church and take special care of the lay persons in these apostolic works.”  (25) John Paul II took this aspect forward with the Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (1988), “The lay faithful are seen not simply as laborers who work in the vineyard, but as themselves being a part of the vineyard.” (8) Pope Francis is more emphatic in his catechesis, exhortations and addresses that the lay people are not second-class members at the service of the Church hierarchy, but are disciples of Christ. He said that the Church needs missionaries, not ‘clericalized’ laity, thus lay people have a mission with their vocation and profession to be involved in the mission.  All are called to be “missionary disciples”, (EG 24, 120, 173) this can be accomplished through many ways and being partners in mission with religious congregations is one of the ways.

  1. Sharing the Charisms

Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata interprets the charisms in the light of the Confessio Trinitatis in the spiritual life, in communion and in mission. The charisms are gifts of the Spirit in order to think with the Church (sentire cum ecclesia) and to live in the image of the Trinity. He said to all the consecrated societies, “You have not only a glorious history to remember and to recount, but also a great history still to be accomplished.” (VC 10) The charisms which are cherished in the consecrated societies are to be passed on to the local communities, and these local communities could be an Order, Institute, Society or Association sharing the same charisms. All these various groups are called by Pope Francis a “Charismatic Family”. In his Apostolic Letter to All Consecrated People he said that the laity shares the same ideals, spirit and mission as consecrated institutes. He added, “ ‘charismatic family’, which includes a number of Institutes which identify with the same charism, and especially lay faithful who feel called, precisely as lay persons, to share in the same charismatic reality.” (III.1) Thus, the charismatic families are all the “groups” who share the same charism of the Founder of that Congregation/Institute. The charism which is the gift of the Spirit creates an open, welcoming and missionary family. The charismatic families are growing today, expressing the fruitfulness of the charisms. “A vision in the charismatic family leads beyond the disconnected elements, dynamics, contents, different initiatives, to the search for the burning spark and the heart which integrates the different elements and generates new vitality.”[1]

Knowing the importance of the charismatic families, the religious congregations in Rome come together twice a year to deliberate on the role of lay groups that are associated with each congregation/institute. Knowing the importance of lay people in mission, today we can call them as lay partners or collaborators. Pope Benedict XVI said (August 10, 2012) that lay people “are being called upon to reflect on ‘ecclesial and social co-responsibility’”. He further explained, “Co-responsibility requires a change in mentality, particularly with regard to the role of the laity in the Church, who should be considered not as ‘collaborators’ with the clergy, but as persons truly ‘co-responsible’ for the being and activity of the Church.” The term ‘co-responsible’ should not lead us to dispute; in fact, it gives more clarity on their role, duty and commitment to God and to the Church. Sharing the charism, they become co-responsible partners in continuing the mission of God.

Mumbay Lay Partners

The question arises who is a lay partner? What is his/her identity? Well, we are using this term to accommodate various groups and individuals who support, sympathize, share, and collaborate with a congregation/institute’s charism and mission. The identity has to be developed by a person sharing its spirituality and being involved in missionary activities. Having grown with its charism, lay partners do their mission and ask the congregations to collaborate with them to deepen the understanding of missio Dei.

  1. Lay Partners and SVD

During the first general chapter of our Society, the capitulars had discussed an “institute of secular cooperators to help the missions” (January 27-28, 1885). Right from the beginning, our founder Arnold Janssen sought the cooperation of lay people to continue the missionary activities. The Society has discovered lay partners as a genuine treasure in doing mission. Over the years, although mission was continued with lay partners, not much emphasis was given to create an association or a group.  The 15th general chapter called us to share our spirituality with lay people, especially those with whom we work (94). The 16th and 17th general chapters made recommendations on collaboration with the laity in mission and called for promoting the participation of the laity in our assemblies and chapters on PRM or general levels, our initial and ongoing formation, and in our administration. More importantly the 17th general chapter made a resolution on the lay associate groups. Over the years, many lay partner groups have emerged cherishing the charism of our Society and inspired by our Saints Arnold Janssen and Joseph Freinademetz.

4.1 Lay Partners Groups

The 18th general chapter, in its resolution 1.1.4 (reconfirmation of 17th general chapter resolution1.2.3), gave the criteria to recognize lay associates. In following these markers, until now 20 groups are officially recognized by the provinces/regions/missions (PRM). There are approximately 184 lay partners groups existing in our Society. But to calculate the exact number of these groups is rather difficult; some groups are functioning under the patronage of one name and have several groups in each district or parish. According to the latest reports, some of the groups are functioning well and others are not performing to a satisfactory level. And more difficult is to know the exact number of persons affiliated with the lay partner groups because strict norms are yet to be established for joining the groups. The challenge is to animate these groups, appointing spiritual directors or animators to accompany these groups. There are potentialities and passion among lay people. These can be tapped only when an organized group is formed with guiding principles and a concrete action plan to continue the SVD charism with vigor and enthusiasm.

Some provinces have expressed that although some groups have all potentialities to be lay associates, it is difficult to recognize them officially due to various local concerns. We see the trend of forming new lay groups who are interested to share the charism of the Society. They are inspired by the spirituality, traditions and the spiritual depth of the founding generations of the Society. Other than the devotions and prayers, we see that Trinitarian Spirituality, Logos Spirituality and spirituality of the cross are some of the highlights that attract the lay partners. More interestingly, the missionary practice to reach out to the four prophetic dialogue partners is captivating the lay partners; these four dialogue partners are people who have no faith community and faith seekers, people who are poor and marginalized, people of different cultures and people of different religious traditions and secular ideologies.

Some of the groups who are exercising various ministries are incredible. These lay partners have convictions, fire in their hearts and high motivation to reach out to others. They consider it as a privilege and challenge to be in an SVD lay partner group as well as to continue their professional work and normal family engagements. But their conviction is tremendous and commitment is very high. Some persons who have discontinued from our seminaries and found another vocation are convinced of their lay missionary service and they have experienced the spirituality of the Founder and the charism of the Society, thus they are inspired to do missionary service through another way, forming groups with their friends. Personally visiting and interacting with the lay partners in the Philippines, Poland, Italy, India, South Africa and Vietnam, etc., and sharing and discussing with them their goals and activities, were always encouraging. These occasions were in the spirit of how the SVDs and the lay partners are rooted in the Word. The inspiration and sustainability comes from the Word. The lay partners cherish the Word; accompanying them and being co-responsible together in their missionary activities is important to strengthen their commitment to God’s mission. Here, I would like to illustrate three lay partner groups who do excellent service as missionary disciples.[2]

4.1.1 Auxiliary Missionaries of the Divine Word (MAVD), MEXICO

Origin or beginning

As a clear and definite response to Christ’s command to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel to all people, a small group of lay men and women met  Fr. Manuel Myvett SVD, the then Mission Secretary of the province in Mexico, in September 1981. Then, with the spirit of passion for mission and impelled by the Spirit, the Auxiliary Missionary Movement of the Divine Word (Misioneros Auxiliares del Verbo Divino, MAVD) was born in February 1982. In MAVD, there are dynamic and hardworking people committed to the Gospel, willing to be leaven and communicate it in the situation in which each one works, and actively collaborate with the Church in its universal mission work. Their missionary project consists of: awareness, animation, promotion and missionary cooperation.

What they do and where they go  

The first missionary field is the family and the relatives with whom they live daily.  In the second place are the indigenous communities of their country, and the Mission Ad Gentes. They meet periodically in different base groups to prepare themes, to enrich spiritually, and thus to be able to give an example of their life.

They go for mission in the Holy Week or during summer to the indigenous communities of the State of Hidalgo in the Diocese of Hujeutla de Reyes and to the Parish of Santiago Apóstol de Anaya, in Chiapas.  In Ch’oles they visit communities of the parish of San Fernando de Guadalupe in Salto de Agua and San José in Playas de Catazajá, in Oaxaca, also in the highlands of Juarez in the parishes of San Juan Yaeé and Santa Cruz Yagavila, where they started their mission in 1983. Finally, they go to Sonora, in the parish of Tubutama, diocese of Nogales, and to the 12 communities of Camotlán which belong to the parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Manzanillo, Colima. 

Formation

In MAVD, they commit themselves personally and formally with the mission, by forming “BASE GROUPS” in various locations in the country.  In these groups the missionaries are responsible and dedicate themselves:

  • To form, evangelize, and deepen their faith with regular meetings, in the place and time that each one accepts.
  • To promote everything related to the missions in local and / or parish communities.
  • To pray for the mission of the Church throughout the world.
  • To write or to be in contact with the Mexican missionaries who work abroad.
  • To go for mission at least once per year, either during the Holy Week or summer.
  • To assume during one year, a concrete social-missionary commitment in the realities of each base group.

To be the Mission

In their Words: An important part of our charism is to visit the most distant and needy communities. We are going to be the mission and not to do the mission.  The main thing is to share life and respect all that is to be visited. During the year, two mission experiences are carried out at the national level: during the Holy Week and the Summer Mission.

The Holy Week Mission: It takes place every year during the Holy Week where they inculturate, share life, encourage sharing of the Word of God through Lectio Divina, give different themes for reflection, introduce various dynamics, conduct games and help in the celebrations of the Holy Week.  They have a missionary medical-dentistry team which is totally dedicated to give free health services and medicines during the whole week.

Summer Mission: During the last week of the month of July and in the first week of August of each year, the mission experience is organized in a specific selected and previously evaluated place in any field of mission. At this time different activities are carried out such as: catechesis, biblical circles, preparation for the sacraments, formation of choirs, liturgy, youth groups, etc., according to the need of each place. Also they help to teach: embroidery, tailoring, vegetable gardening, music, literacy, crafts, electricity, plumbing, etc. After 35 years, they are aware that God wants something from them. They have made their journey with the missionary family of St. Arnold Janssen, a family that loves One Triune God, which embraces the world with its many faces, to form through them a single heart in His name.

Their Collaboration with the SVD

The principal objective of the group is to help in the personal and group commitment of faith through the lay, missionary and universal perspective. By being aware of God´s invitation to holiness and a complete fulfillment of their lives, they live their vocation in Christ.

They find a special motivation in the Spirituality, in the commitment of the missionaries of the Divine Word and in the missionary Family of St. Arnold Janssen. Together with them, they seek to be a support for the animation and missionary cooperation in their country and in the world. They support missionary tasks and works of the MAVD group to which they belong, on a national level and within the framework of their time and possibilities, and the apostolic works of other missionary organizations and movements.

Parishes are the ideal places where they really incarnate their missionary commitment. It’s very important to have a deeper and a reliable missionary commitment, by feeling greatly responsible for the missionary realities which no one thinks of or where no one wants to go. They are very sensitive to everything that has to do with mission ad gentes, and they raise awareness about the missionary ad gentes vocation of the Church.

They accept a specifically missionary apostolate among the indigenous people’s areas and in other regions or realities of Mexico that cry out for the arrival of the kingdom of God. They are keen to support constantly in prayer and in material needs the missionaries of the Divine Word and the Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit, but in a very special manner with the newly consecrated missionaries. They contribute to SVD/SSpS formation houses through their prayers, donations and by other means by being aware of the fact that all their help contributes to the future missionaries of Mexico for the world.

4.1.2 Disciples of the Divine Word (DDW), Mumbai

History

The Disciples of the Divine Word (DDW) began in October 1999 as a small group of lay volunteers, who helped to propagate the programs conducted by Atma-Darshan, a SVD Center for Spirituality and Counseling in Mumbai, India. The group was initiated by Gregory Pinto SVD, the then director of Atma-Darshan, who is currently a member of the SVD General Council. Edward D’Mello, SVD was instrumental in naming this group as Disciples of the Divine Word, in short DDW. The purpose of the group evolved over the years and today it has a three-fold purpose: (a) to know, learn and integrate aspects of Arnoldus spirituality relevant to our personal and family lives; (b) to grow as a team; and (c) to reflect over, pray for, and reach-out to the poor and marginalized. On October 03, 2014, the India Mumbai (INM) Provincial Superior and his leadership team recognized DDW as a Lay Associate Group of the Society of the Divine Word, India Mumbai Province (INM).

Structure and Membership

India is a land that symbolizes unity in diversity. DDW members come from across a range of social, cultural, age and educational backgrounds. Presently, we are 47 members who meet once in 45 days to plan, evaluate and execute activities. Our meetings begin with a prayer followed by the recital of the Quarter Hour Prayer. The President leads and facilitates all meetings and activities as per the agenda; that is followed by group discussions and Holy Eucharist. Meetings generally end with a fellowship-meal. Every year, the commitment is renewed at the Eucharistic Celebration on the feast day of St. Arnold Janssen. In 2018, the Mission Cross was bestowed on members who had completed 3 years or more in the group.

Major Activities

Spiritual Enrichment: To deepen our Spirituality we have regular Bible classes, retreats, recollections and talks on Arnold Janssen Spirituality. The focus of DDW is on SVD Spirituality – Trinitarian and Logos, rooted in the communion of the Triune God and is a participation in Christ’s mission. It recognizes that our life has a greater value than what we do.

Mission Support: We promote and support mission awareness and nurture missionary vocations, in particular the Society of the Divine Word. Many of our members, through SVD Mission support offices, sponsor SVD seminarians for their formation at the various SVD seminaries in India.

Mission Animation: Our members are involved actively in the different ministries in their local parishes as well as in the Archdiocese of Bombay, viz. Bible apostolate, Small Christian Communities, Parish Pastoral Council, Prayer groups, Liturgy, Lectors, Music Ministry, Justice and Peace Commission, to name a few.  Some members are actively involved as resource persons in assisting the staff of Atma-Darshan (INM) in their week-end programs, viz. Empowerment Retreat for Widows, Family and Couples Retreat, etc.

A Passion for JPIC: At the very beginning of DDW, members visited tribal villages in the Diocese of Khandwa (INC) and provided financial help toward the education of poor children. Currently, our members are reaching out not only to Mumbai Province (INM) but also to all SVD provinces and the one region in India. Upon invitation, members travel in small groups to the mission to identify the immediate need and report their experience at the meeting. On evaluation, the DDW members carefully work out financial and other resources in consultation with the province. After project completion, the province provides a report to us on some areas where we are now assisting.

Empowerment: SVD missions strive towards the holistic and sustainable development of the poor tribal people.  DDW has initiated a support system with the missions in the four provinces and one region in India, addressing social, economic, educational and developmental issues of these marginalized people with a special focus on women and children. Members visit the missions regularly and share their time, talents and resources with the self-help groups, teachers and social workers.  Based on the analysis of their report, responsibilities are shared among the members.

Education for poor children: Amid challenges and prospects, SVDs promote primary education of the poor tribal children of the inaccessible rural areas in India. Tribal children stay in the hostels to do their formal studies as their homes are in the distant hills with no access to transport.  To empower these children with education we are helping financially in the building of hostel facilities for children, especially for girls, as well as computer lab rooms, library books, toilets and shower blocks, etc.

Healthcare: DDW networks with Vikas Deepti, Odisha (Physically challenged children’s home), to provide care and treatment that include physiotherapy and surgical correction of deformities for the disabled children. Some members collaborate with Asha Jyothi, Hyderabad, to support and care for children affected and infected with HIV/AIDS.

The Road Ahead…

“No one has the right to be happy alone” is the motto of DDW.  A call to be a missionary is a call from Christ to deepen our own faith and share it with the people around us.  Besides the social activities that we are involved in, we give priority to our growth as disciples. We are learning to integrate our personal lives with Arnoldus Spirituality and to deepen our commitment to the SVD missions as lay partners. We need to expand our understanding of mission. Our practical involvement needs to be enriched by both academic and spiritual reflection. We need to grow in our identity as DDW and grow into the spirit of what it means to be associate members of the SVDs.

Being a disciple is a challenge. Collaboration is not always easy – sometimes amongst us, sometimes with the SVDs. Keeping the dialogue channels open has helped us in overcoming the communication and relationship blocks. What has helped us in the process is the strong faith experience that together we can do much and that in times of difficulties an answer always emerges. Many of the group members have truly felt the power of Christ to meet the challenges and move forward in the mission. We believe in the ‘power of togetherness’. When the experience of unity is accompanied by confidence, we can work together, serve together, and pray together, trusting in the Lord always. May the heart of Jesus live in our hearts and in the hearts of all people.

4.1.3 The Lay Society of St. Arnold Janssen (LSSAJ), Manila

The Beginnings

In August of 2009 during the Centennial Celebration of the SVDs in the Philippines, then SVD Superior General Fr. Antonio Pernia, SVD addressed the XVDs (ex-seminarians/priests): “Our Founder St. Arnold Janssen had considered to establish another order to express the lay charism among his congregations, but the plan did not materialize in his lifetime. Perhaps St. Arnold Janssen’s plan could somehow be actualized.” Several mission-oriented men and women in Philippines took the challenge and organized among themselves to form a lay society, The Lay Society of St. Arnold Janssen (LSSAJ).

The founding Chairman and President were Mr. Joseph Pernia and Mr. Eli Segundo, respectively. The latter, following his demise in 2012, was succeeded by Mr. Tyrone Cimafranca. In September 2010, the Constitution and By-laws of LSSAJ were ratified by a General Assembly. Fr. Restituto Lumanlan, SVD is the current Spiritual Director. This Association was recognized as the official lay association by the Philippines Central province (PHC) in January 2014.

Unique Message: Faith Life Disconnect

The fundamental insight behind the creation of the LSSAJ is that the disconnect between faith and life is the root cause of the failure of personal spirituality and of the social problems in Philippine society. Faith has become a set of devotions and rituals rather than a way of life.  Thus, contradictions abound in Philippine society between the bases of our Christian faith and rampant acts of corruption, social injustice, oppression of the weak and poor, environmental abuse and criminality. Should not a predominantly Christian country in Asia have more righteous citizens behaving in accordance with their Christian beliefs? Surely, Christian values provide a more encompassing and deeper foundation for righteous living than mere human values.  Christ became man to show us the way to righteous living not only in theory but also in practice in all his humanity. Thus, LSSAJ finds meaning in responding to some of these challenges in our society.

Important Activities

Collaboration with SVD: The following are some of the activities that are done in collaboration with the SVDs; we enjoy doing our mission and there are significant effects because of this active collaboration.

  • Doing mission work for the Indigenous Peoples together with SVDs
  • Mangyans in Mindoro, Aetas in Pampanga and Dumagats in Rizal
  • Active member of VIVAT International, Philippines (National Executive Team)
  • Gives Legal assistance to SVDs via lawyers – members
  • Active in Education, Value Formation, Skills and Capacity Building and Alternative Learning System (ALS)
  • Yearly participation in the SVD 4CD Camp in Divine Word College Calapan
  • Monetary assistance to Divine Word Seminary
  • Attended Jubilee Celebrations of SVDs in the Philippines
  • Membership on Board of Divine Word Colleges
  • Assistance/consultancy to Divine Word College Vigan to increase enrollees
  • Collaboration/coordination with SVD Mission Secretary and other coordinators on four Characteristic Dimensions

Spirituality Exercises

  • Spiritual Formation for the members
  • Gave retreat to non-teaching and teaching personnel at Divine Word College, Vigan
  • Facilitated Community Reflection – ‘The Love of Jesus impels us’

Conducted Feeding Programs

  • Active in AJKC(Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center) for the homeless

Conducted Faith Transforming Life Sessions

  • Conducted these sessions in the Divine Word Colleges and University, in Bangued, Calapan, Laoag, Legaspi, San Jose, Semirara, Urdaneta, Vigan and Holy Name University in Tagbilaran

Social Issues

  • Conducted Symposium on Mining, Good Governance and Poverty
  • Involved in Pilipino Movement for Transformational Leadership in preparation for 2016 Philippine Election
  • Networking with Church, Government and NGOs in the rehabilitation of drug-dependents
  • Providing assistance to families of Drug Victims

Formation

  • Formation of LSSAJ to strengthen families and protect life
  • Formation of LSSAJ Youth

Disaster Relief

  • Disaster Relief for earthquake victims in Bohol
  • Disaster Relief for Yolanda victims in the Eastern Visayas in collaboration with the SVD Philippines Southern Province

Environment

  • Caring for Mother Earth, clean air, water and land, planting of trees

Poverty alleviation projects

  • Some of our members provided employment directly and by referral
  • Giving Skills Training to poor people in LSSAJ chapters
  • Microfinancing in Manila and in Cavite
  • Established cooperatives in Dasmarinas, Cavite and Pampanga

Leveraging on Arnoldian Connection

We collaborate with the Arnoldian congregations, especially the SVD, with their schools, parishes, and missions nationwide. They offer LSSAJ a national platform for effectively carrying out its advocacies. Collaboration is naturally synergistic with their religious and spiritual inputs complemented by our lay and secular perspective in development work. The 17th SVD General Chapter in Rome has boosted collaboration between the SVD and LSSAJ, having now an explicit SVD orientation towards collaboration with laity. We have created a committee on collaboration that will work with a counterpart committee of the Philippine Central Province. This should naturally expand to the Southern and Northern Philippine Provinces.

Conclusion

The role of the laity is an essential component in actualizing the missio Dei. Today, lay people are gifted with many talents, abilities and gifts; many are professionally trained, well-educated and are great innovators. Being in the secular world brings a lot of reflections on the contemporary situation, the Church, and the way the Church and religious congregations function. Some of the lay persons and the lay partners groups are filled with passion and commitment, thus the religious congregations who share their charism with the lay people are much more enriched to see the new horizons, new ways and new possibilities as these groups bring newness to the congregations and to the local community. The religious congregations who are making progress in promotion of lay partners groups have become more effective in the missions and also found themselves more meaningful in their interactions with the laity.

Along with the recognition of the lay partners, our duty is to give good formation; this would strengthen their orientation and commitment. The religious congregations should be able to share their ‘space’ – the institutions, buildings and houses for the activities of the lay partners. These groups being independent would be very significant, they make decisions on their activities, programs and finances. Religious congregations are only to give them animation and support. That makes room for the lay people to take more initiatives and to be innovative.

The charism of a religious congregation would continue as well as become more effective to the extent that it strengths the lay partners groups in its mission areas. Through their involvement in mission, they become true missionary disciples in action. The above examples are witness to this fact.

[1] “A Path Towards Communion”, Planning 2017-2010, Associazione AMCG, Famiglie Carismatiche, Roma, 7.

[2] The details of the three lay partner groups are provided by the leaders of these groups.

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