Friday, September 22, 2006

The Christ-centered Parish

This morning in the Apostolic Palace of Castelgandolfo, the Pope received participants in the 22nd plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, which is presided by Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko. The theme of the gathering is: "The Parish Rediscovered. Paths for Renewal."

"During my years of service in the Roman Curia, I have had the opportunity of witnessing the growing importance of the Pontifical Council for the Laity within the Church," said the Holy Father. He then went on to mention some of the events promoted by the council which he had presided as pope, such as the 2005 World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, or this year's meeting with ecclesial movements and new communities held in St. Peter's Square on the eve of Pentecost.

Going on to consider the work of participants in the 22nd plenary assembly, Benedict XVI recalled how, having analyzed "in your last meeting the theological and pastoral nature of the parish community, ... you are now pondering the question from an operational point of view, seeking elements useful towards favoring authentic parish renewal."

"Indeed," he continued, "theological-pastoral aspects and operational aspects cannot be disassociated from one another if we wish to understand the mystery of communion, of which the parish is called to be an ever greater sign and instrument." He then outlined certain "essential criteria" for "understanding the nature of Christian communion and, therefore, of each parish," referring to the first Christian community of Jerusalem, which was "devoted to listening to the teaching of the Apostles, to fraternal union, to the 'breaking of bread' and to prayer, a welcoming and united community, even to the point of sharing everything they had.

"The parish can relive this experience, and grow in understanding and fraternal cohesion through prayer ... and listening to the Word of God, especially if it participates with faith in the celebration of the Eucharist presided by a priest. ... The hoped-for renewal of the parish cannot, then, arise only from pastoral initiatives, useful though they are, nor from programs worked out at a theoretical level.

"Drawing inspiration from the apostolic model," the Pope added, "the parish 'rediscovers' itself in the encounter with Christ. ... Nourished by the Eucharistic bread, it grows in Catholic communion and walks in complete faithfulness to the Magisterium," while "the constant union with Christ gives it the strength to commit itself ... to serving our brothers, especially the poorest for which its often the primary point of reference."

The Pope concluded his address expressing the hope that the work of the plenary assembly may contribute "to making the lay faithful ever more aware of their mission in the Church, especially within the parish community, which is a 'family' of Christian families."


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