Understanding the noun “Lay” in the Comboni Lay Missionaries movement


Thursday, May 2, 2024
The Comboni Lay Missionaries (CLM) of Kenya asked Fr. Franco Moretti for a reflection to help them explore the second word of the name of their International Movement, “Lay”. We publish the text of the talk of Fr. Franco.

Comboni Lay Missionaries

Comboni Lay Missionaries (CLM) of Kenya.

The name of your International Movement is threefold: Comboni Lay Missionaries. You have already reflected on the first part, “Comboni”. Father Machiek asked me to focus on the second name: “lay”. And that is what I will try to do. I do not know to what extent I will be able to tell you something that will interest and help you.

We are all laypeople, or rather not: we are all priests (prophets / teachers)

The word layperson never appears in the New Testament. The Latin term laicus comes from the Greek word laikos, and indicates or means ‘belonging to the people’. The English adjective lay refers to the noun laos (people). The Greek version of the Septuagint (LXX) uses it to designate the ‘chosen people’ among other peoples. [Mind you: it is the chosen people, not the individual believer, who is distinguished from other pagan peoples. In Judaism, the term is used to indicate all those who are united by the same faith].

If in the pagan world ‘laypeople’ indicates the mass of the population as opposed to its ruling leaders, in the early centuries of Christianity, instead, ‘lay’ has a familiar sense, especially for Greek speakers, and indicates “God’s people” in opposition to others.

The original meaning of layperson does not distinguish between laypeople and priests within the Church, as is the case today, but distinguishes between Church and world, people of God and pagans. It places the Church not only in distinction but also in opposition to the world. The emphasis is on the Church-World tension, rather than on the clerical/faithful distinction.

According to the New Testament, there is no clergy/laity distinction, since all Christians are priests: all participate in spreading the gospel and all have access to the Father through Jesus Christ, the only mediator and high priest. So, we could well say: “We are all laypeople, or rather not: we are all priests”.

Greek, Roman, and Judaic world

In the Greek-Roman world, religious life – expressed through sacrifices and prayers and cared for by a well-structured priestly caste – was closely intertwined with social and political life, so much so that it represented a true civil religion. In the Roman world, the figure of the Pontifex Maximus, responsible for the cult to the gods, was of great importance in public life. Imperial power and religious power responsible for the official cult and guardian of the mos maiorum (‘costume of the ancestors’) were closely related.

The Judaic world had secularised and desacralised the deities worshipped by the other peoples (gentiles), branding them as idols and cultivating a rigid monotheism. But there was a cultic and ritual apparatus governed by the priestly caste and Levite collaborators, which was functional to the smooth running of society. They sought a peaceful relationship with it, offering sacrifices in the temple even on behalf of people of non-Jewish religion.

Although in the Greco-Roman and Judaic world there was a true secularism in the sense of separation and distinction between the strictly political-social sphere and the religious sphere as an expression of worship according to the Torah, the two lines of thought and action were related and closely intertwined in daily life. Important choices in political life and war exploits were not made without first consulting the gods through the oracle.

The ‘Lay’ Jesus

In his appearance on the scene, in the whole of his attitude and preaching, Jesus of Nazareth manifests himself as totally ‘lay’ (or ‘secular’). Jesus was ‘lay–secular’ on a socio-religious level, not belonging to the tribe of Levi, within which the cultic priesthood was transmitted in a hereditary manner.

His preaching and his frequentation of the most diverse social spheres and people (always united by complete secularism of behaviour and quite often in a state of cultic impurity) shows that Jesus is totally detached and distant from the cultic practices exercised in the Temple. His ‘laity’ (‘secularity’) and distance from the cultic and sacrificial world existing within the Temple area (hieron) and the actual sanctuary (naos – inner chamber) of Jerusalem is evident.

[John the Baptist was, indeed, the son of a priest, and therefore a priest himself, but he soon turned to a radical prophetic choice].

In his preaching, Jesus manifests a mental universe and a lay-secular imagery: he speaks of the life of fishermen, peasants, housewives, the market, customs, lunches in private homes (often discussed and criticised), etc. His life goes on mostly in Galilee, far from the religious-cultural-ritual centre of Jerusalem. Nothing in his dress or speech reveals the typical tone and content of the behaviour of the Templar priest.

He lived his life as a complete gift of self, an existential ‘offering’ and a ‘pro-existence’ (that is, being there for the other, with humble commitment to others and to the common good), that, in the aftermath of his death and resurrection, the disciples interpreted and expressed in part with sacral-cult terminology (‘self-offering’ sacrifice = thysia).

For his part, Jesus never interpreted his own life and his relationship with God in terms of a sacrificial offering, either on an existential or terminological level. He spoke and lived in love, in the personal and existential gift of self. This, combined with specific moments of prayer, constituted his way of living ‘religion’, that is, his way of ‘re-reading’ – more than ‘re-binding’ – and living out his relationship with God the Father.

We must remember also that all the disciples called by Jesus were also lay people and have remained so.

Jesus, priest / high priest

In the authentic or authorial Pauline literature, strict secularity of thought and terminology is radically observed. Never, for example, does the term ‘priest/iereus’ appear. In the deutero- (Eph, Col, 2 Ts) and trito-Pauline tradition (1-2 Tm, Tt) a sacrificial-priestly terminology infiltrates instead, which however is used in a non-literal way and intends to express the personal and communitarian participation in the total gift in love that Jesus performs on an existential and not a ritual-cultual level.

If Jesus, the Apostle Paul and other New Testament writings can use sacrificial terms, they always do so on a metaphorical-translated level – except when referring to the Jewish religious and cultic world –, wanting to indicate the life lived generously in the gift of self. 1 Pt 2:5.9 can thus speak of a ‘holy priesthood’ and a ‘royal priesthood’ as a communal participation of Christian communities in the special ‘priesthood’ (self-giving) lived by Jesus.

Only the author of the Letter to the Hebrews employs the priestly language in force in the Jewish world, interpreting the figure of Jesus and his self-giving with a priestly lexicon normally employed in the cultic world of the Jerusalem temple.

In this letter, Jesus is pervasively presented as ‘priest/high priest’ (iereus/ archiereus). However, also this text employs this terminology not in a literal way, but in a symbolic way. The author intends to identify in Jesus the high priest who, thanks to his upright life and his death marked by the generous outpouring of his life (= ‘blood’) enters the ‘Holy of Holies’ (that is, in the presence of God the Father) as did the Jewish high priest on Yom Kippur. Jesus does not do this to present to God the blood of an animal, but his own blood, i.e. his own life given/spilled, his ‘body/self’. The language and terminology of the Letter to the Hebrews refer to the mental, lexical, and content universe of the official Jewish Templar religion, but Jesus’ presentation of the ‘offering’ of his own life is presented by the letter clearly in existential terms, as an offering of his whole self, of his own body, that is, of his own existence in its totality.

Laity in the Gospel of Mark

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

When he had gone a little farther, he saw James, son of Zebedee, and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay, he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. (Mark 1,16-20)

As far as we can tell, the twelve persons Jesus called to be his companions were ordinary men. Jesus did not do background checks to determine their IQ levels, financial acumen, professional skills, or temple education. He picked people very much like you and me. Furthermore, his disciples were anything but perfect. Many times, they misunderstood him. They often hesitated to follow him. Judas even betrayed him, and Peter denied him.

In the passage we have just read, we see how Jesus chooses the first ‘laypeople’ (λαϊκοίthe first members of the new chosen people of God). In their call, we can discover who the true lay person is.

Jesus has just said that “the time has come /or is fulfilled”. If the time is ‘fulfilled’, someone may add: “then, there is nothing more to be done”. But this is not the meaning of the sentence, which is: the time has come (is mature, ready) for God to intervene in person. He makes himself present, close, at hand. And the creation of a new ‘people of God’ begins.

We have a first point to note: the choice is absolute and is made by Jesus. The ‘laypeople’ (λαϊκοί, or members of God’s new people) are chosen by Jesus and they are loved by him. This constitutes the chosen λαϊκός not just an “anybody”.

A very deep change takes place by the will of Jesus: “You are fishermen... Perfect... Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men (or I will send you out to fish for people)”.

Jesus values the person he calls for what he/she is, but he adds an additional value: “From now on, you shall deal with the things of the world, ordering them according to God” (this is the ‘Kingdom of God’ in Jesus’ mind; not a territory, but a new way of doing things and thinking).

And they leave their boats and nets and follow Jesus. These ‘laypeople’ leave everything behind and enter the fellowship of God’s people that Jesus has come to create. Every ‘layperson’ called by Jesus ‘goes to a higher level’.

After Simon and Andrew, Jesus calls James and John, and, soon after, he calls a publican sitting at the tax booth:

As he walked along, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me’, Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him” (Mark 2:14).

Difficult path to travel

These five ‘laypeople’ (and the other seven Jesus calls a bit later) will learn that the disciple’s path is a difficult one: they will have to learn that being attached to Jesus leads to extremely challenging detachments. This is the spirituality of the any ‘layperson’ called by Jesus (not just of the religious or priest).

Later, they will have to make a new ‘conversion’: to accept that Jesus must be rejected, persecuted, and crucified. They will always need to detach themselves from their own lives (from their own ideas, dreams, and plans): “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mk 8,34).

Detachment is not contempt for the world (as if the world were worth nothing). We detach ourselves from ‘the world’ (or rather, from the world’s way of thinking) just for a reason: to have fellowship with Christ.

Here is the task of every ‘layperson”: to detach him/herself from the world, to seek the Kingdom of God, dealing with temporal things, and seeking the Kingdom of God. This is an extremely challenging dynamic.

Mark’s gospel tells us again that this itinerary does not only demand to take new steps, some of which very risky, but it is so difficult that it presents us with a total shipwreck: the utter failure of Jesus, who dies alone on the cross, abandoned by all.

Mark is keen to say that, in the end, they will all flee and abandon Jesus. But Jesus will not leave them: he will rise again and let his ‘laypeople’ know that he is going before them to Galilee; there they will see him; there things will start again, and again…

The Resurrection is beautifully read by Mark as that force that makes it possible to be lay Christians, and thus also makes ‘ministry’ possible.

The sacredness of Jesus’ death

The veil of the Temple was rent in two, from top to bottom. Then the centurion who stood before him, seeing him expire like that, said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:38-39).

Jesus’ death marks the end of the ancient Temple. The veil is rent asunder...

During Jesus’ baptism, it was the sky that was rent asunder... and the voice of the Father was heard: “This is my beloved Son... Listen to him...”. And the Spirit came upon him. Now, the veil of the Temple is rent asunder, but there is no voice of the Father. Now the Father is silent. But a rough Roman soldier, the most possible far-away person from any religiosity, in the scandalous desertion of the disciples, makes the most exact confession of faith: “This man was truly the Son of God”.

The man, as distant as possible from Jewish religiosity, in the absence of the disciples, makes the exact confession of faith, the one that had tormented Peter and led him eventually to abandon Jesus. The evangelist makes us see it somewhat anticipated at the level of the utmost laity/secularity.

Our layperson is not the ordinary man: he is the follower and disciple of Christ, the member of the new people of God, which is the Church; he belongs to Christ, and his specific task is to deal with temporal things by ordering them according to God. A beautiful meditation could be made on the centurion under the cross as a figure of the true λαϊκός who deals with and faces the things of the world by seeing and ordering them according to God. In this case, he deals with the capital execution of Jesus and interprets it according from the point of view of God the Father: “Truly this man was a son of God”.

“Love is worth more than sacrifices”.

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions. (Mark 12,34)

The sentence that serves as the subtitle of this section tremendously secular! If love is worth more than sacrifice, the whole cultic apparatus comes to be scaled down. The scribe’s phrase echoes very much that of Hosea, taken up twice by Matthew: “Mercy I want and not sacrifice” (Mt 9,13; 12,7). There was already preparation in the Old Testament, but in Mark’s gospel there is a very “strong re-presentation”, when one finds oneself in the temple in Jerusalem. Not for nothing does Mark emphasise this episode of the double commandment of love right there, in the Temple.

Note that the ‘Temple’ is not eliminated altogether, for there is the first part of the commandment (to love God), and one cannot love God without liturgy, without worship. True enough, God does not need the liturgy: it is we who need it. Being the ‘people of God’, we need to celebrate God’s love, and the love that exists between us. We need to celebrate the sacraments...

But mercy and love have primacy: they are the foundation of the transformation of the world that God wants to bring about.

In this respect, just read the great scene of the final judgement in Matthew 25,31-46: the criteria on which the king’s examination of the lives of the persons on trial is based is very ‘secular’ in character. [For that matter, the Beatitudes are also ‘very secular’; in them, there is not even a shadow of clericalism! Instead, there is a lot of ‘laicity’ and ‘secular-ness’ typical of the new reality brought about by the arrival of the Kingdom of God: the followers of Christ are called to live caring for the world and humanity according to the mentality of God the Father].

We Christians invented secularism. Because the Romans (and so many other peoples, including Africans), before the Christians arrived, made the emperor (or the local chief or king) sacred by considering him a ‘god’ or a quasi-divine person. This makes us realise that our faith is tremendously – and ‘divinely’ – ‘secular’. If God became flesh, then flesh is the hinge of our salvation, and we must care for the whole person, not just for his or her soul.

A bit of history

Ministries in the New Testament

In the New Testament, services and ministries are not seen in relation to the priesthood, that is, starting from the priesthood and almost extending it, wondering what spaces it leaves free… Nothing of all this! Instead, we begin with the community, the communitarian co-responsibility, the mission of the Church and her life, and the concrete historical situation in which we find ourselves.

The ministries are not derived from substitutions, making up for shortcomings, or filling holes, but from the Church and her manifestations. Every ministry has its reason for being in the need to value the charism on which it is based, not in the need to make up for other ministries. Therefore, all ministries must be valued for their intrinsic value, since it is right and just to exercise the various charisms, and not as substitutes for others.

The following statement may seem paradoxical, but, in the final analysis, is correct: “It is not the task of lay ministries to help the ordained ministries to reach where they find it impossible to reach, but rather, the ordained ministries are at the service of the ministries of all”.

The ministries, which are all born based on the service of the Church and the needs of the community and of the people, find their place only in a living missionary climate, in a Church projected towards God and the world, and adhering to history, attentive to true and concrete needs. Ministries are born in a Church full of impetus and concreteness.

In the New Testament, it is possible to observe the many forms of mission, the many functions of the Word, the many relationships, and links between the communities. The same cannot be said today.

Ministries (from their plurality and their quality) are the visible signs of a living or dead Church, incarnated in history or disembodied. They are an excellent way to see the health of the Church. The first problem, therefore, is not the institution of ministries and their ordering. At the beginning, there must be life: from life come services and ministries, and after (and only after) come their order, arrangement, and evaluation. It is not possible to go the other way round.

For the many necessary services to flourish and be welcome in a local Church, a correct approach to the relationship between authority (presidency service) and community (open to the many gifts of the Spirit) is indispensable. Everything is ruined when authority and community are conceived as two opposing realities (not necessarily from a theoretical point of view, but ‘in fact’): this happens, for example, when one thinks of the community as a place of prophecy, and of authority as a place of conservatism; or even, when one thinks of authority as something that is above the community, dominating it, and of the community as a simple place where the ‘decrees’ of authority are obeyed and carried out.

But there are also other dangers to avoid. For example, the danger of introducing ministries without global renewal, where, by global renewal, I do not mean only – as already pointed out – momentum, vivacity and initiative (within the community, among communities and towards the world), but, above all, a profound conversion to service. Only in a Church (or community) that conceives herself as a servant (not just in words, all too often abused, but in concrete terms: heedless of power and privileges), in imitation of Jesus Christ, is there room for the variety of services. In a Church (community) that wants to dominate there would only be room for bureaucracy. The New Testament is clear about this.

Moreover, there is the danger of excessively privileging cultic ministries (something we do not find in the New Testament), believing, for example, that the promotion of the laity consists primarily (if not solely) in attributing these ministries to them. In fact, much more is needed: the layperson must have a voice and co-responsibility in managing the life of the community, without forgetting that the lay person qualifies, first and foremost, for the full assumption of the worldly reality.

Things change

The term ‘lay’ appears for the first time in the 2nd century in Clement Roman’s Letter to the Corinthians: “The lay person is bound to the precepts for the laity” (40:5). Clement, who thinks of and models the Church in Old Testament language and forms, distinguishes the lay person from deacons and bishops (episcopes). However, the term is very rarely used among Christians before the 3rd century, when it begins to become commonplace.

Irenaeus of Lyons attests to the ministerial structure of episcopes, presbyters and deacons. Tertullian says that ‘laicus’ is one who does not belong to the clergy. He speaks of sacerdotalia munera distinct from those of the laity, but speaks of them in existential terms.

For Ambrose, all children of the Church are priests, and so too for Augustine. With the Apostolic Tradition, a description of the ordination of bishops, presbyters and deacons appears in 215 AD. The 4th (local) synod of Toledo in 633 mentions the pastoral anulum and baculum for the bishop. The celibacy rule for priests was issued, for the first time, by the Iberian Council of Elvira (= Granada) in 306 AD.

The concept of the layperson began to be used from the 3rd century onwards in opposition to that of the clergy (the layperson is he/she who is not a cleric, who does not belong to the priestly order). The negative aspects were soon accentuated (the layperson was the ono who belonged to the plebs and was uncultured).

Eventually, three orders were established in the Church: priestly, monastic, and lay. The progressive clericalisation of the Church and the increasing ‘sacerdotalisation’ of ministers was accompanied by a simultaneous loss of the leading role of the laity and the Christian community in general.

Ordained ministers assumed more and more functions and marginalised the laity from teaching, catechesis, and preaching. Furthermore, there was a tendency to limit the prophetic ministry of the laity in favour of clerics. Many charismatic offices previously exercised by the laity became minor orders of the clergy. The Church gradually formed itself around the clergy-laity binomial.

Starting with the Gregorian reform in the 11th century, there was an increasing tendency for the laity to take care of secular matters and the clergy to take care of the internal life of the Church. This led to the identification of the concept of Church with that of clergy.

The history of the term laicus, in the course of the Middle Ages, shows an interesting development. Initially, laicus has a positive value and refers simply to the people of God; later a clear negative meaning becomes prevalent: from the 11th to the 13th century. In this period laicus is defined according to a double negative sense: as the non-clerical and the not-monk, and as “idiota et illitteratus”, that is, the Christian without learning. Even Saint Francis of Assisi used to speak of himself in this manner: “Ego Franciscus, idiota et illitteratus”.

Monastic movement

The monastic movement – the locus of religious life – also indirectly contributed to a devaluation of the laity. Monasticism arose as a lay movement, and this characteristic remained in the West until the 9th century when it became clericised, while in the East it is unchanged to this day. It is a charismatic and prophetic movement that eschews priestly dignities and initially sought to live evangelical radicalism. However, later evolution led it to clericalise and seclude itself from the laity as a distinct form of life.

Gradually, a distinction was made between the evangelical counsels of the religious and the commandments of the Decalogue pertaining to the laity. Thus, a dualism of Christians was created depending on whether or not they aspired to evangelical perfection. The increasing valuation of religious vows as a consecration to God led to undervaluing the baptismal consecration, and some religious changed their baptismal name by entering a religious order. Thus, what had begun as an evangelical and charismatic lay movement became a separate state of life, closer to the clergy than to the laity.

Second Vatican Council

With the Second Vatican Council, a constant revalorisation of the laity took place, both on a theological level and in ecclesial practice. This innovative movement began even before the Council. Its most direct antecedents were in the apostolic movements of Catholic Action and in the appreciation of the missionary vocation of the laity. Later, with Paul VI, we see a promotion of lay ministries in the internal and external life of the Church. Especially the Churches of the Third World were those that most valued the lay movement. This was made possible by the conjuncture of a shortage of priestly vocations and a less clerical theological and ecclesial conception than that of the old Christendom. Obstacles and reminders of the clerical conception persisted, however.

From a theological point of view, the Second Vatican Council emphasised the priestly function of the laity (LG 34) with an existential priesthood that leads to consecrating all activities to God. It is the priesthood that comes from the sacrifice of Christ, priest, and victim, who makes his own life an offering to God and eliminates the difference between worship and daily life. This is the most original and most specific aspect of the Christian priesthood. The priestly ministry is in this sphere. One must live all human realities priestly, operating in the world as vicars of Christ.

The Council also deals with the prophetic function of the laity (LG 35): they must bear witness to hope and evangelise society. This requires discernment of spirits and an experiential magisterium, based on the power of the Spirit. The adulthood of the laity passes through participation in the mission and internal life of the Church (LG 33). The laity have the right to publicly express their opinion on matters concerning the Christian life (LG 37). These conciliar pronouncements are among the great tasks of the post-conciliar period.

A place in the building of the Kingdom is recognised for the laity (LG 36) and a leading role in a pilgrim Church that must observe the signs of the times. Today, the great tasks of the Kingdom of God are those of solidarity with the poor and the struggle for the establishment of a more just world, as well as the evangelisation of a consumerist and secularised society that is increasingly losing its relationship with God. The present moment presents both a challenge and an opportunity for Christians. Their response largely depends on the laity. It can be said that they are the future of the Church: those who must witness to the transcendent God in the immanence of history.

Fixed points throughout the centuries

Some features of Church ministries remain unaltered along the centuries:

  1. First of all, the ministries were and are born – and must continue to be present – for the edification of the community. They are never ends in themselves, as is they were a sort of power a person has or does not have (potestas): they exist “for” the Church.
  2. A second aspect is fundamental: each ministry is of divine origin, be it a permanent charism or a momentary one. It is God – not the community – who, through the Holy Spirit, stirs up both the first and the second “in the Church”, since he wants that his Church may grow and develop. The divine root of each ministry reminds us of the fact that the community is not an association which elects its ministers, but an organic and spiritual reality which receives them as “gifts of God”.
  3. A third aspect concern love: who can, legitimately (or deservedly), propose themselves or be recognised as worthy to assume a ministry in the Church? Which is the principle criterion of discernment to recognise the divine origin of a person’s ministry? According to the testimony of the first century, the fundamental criterion is “love for the Christian community”, shaped on the model of Jesus, who offers his own life for his own. In other words, the one who loves more is worthy to receive a ministry. It is very demanding, but profoundly “evangelical”, since it calls us to take up Jesus’ style of life to the very end.

Comboni and African Lay People (in Writings)

  1. Importance of Lay people in the mission
    The ALP are indispensable for the existence of a mission; 3409; They are the most efficacious means for evangelisation: 2472; One of the first concern of missionaries is to prepare ALP as collaborators for faith and civilisation in Central Africa; without them ,the work of the mission is sterile; 1219, 3293.
  2. African girls and boys in the Mazza Institute (see “Religious institutes”)
  3. ALP in the Plan
    The education of young Africans in the institutes envisaged in the Plan looks towards apostolic work: 826-27, 2772-75; Preparation of an African élite in Universities and Technical colleges: 838, 2783
  4. ALP in Cairo, Egypt
    Institutes for African boys and girls in Upper Nile: aims and advantages: 1302, 1307, 1381, 1390
    Aims in Cairo: formation of ALP that will then form an auxiliary force for missionaries in Central Africa: 1219, 1579, 2012, 2452
    Scientific and religious training for African girls in preparation for their activities in the mission: 2244, 2528; The missionary spirit and good attitudes that animate them: 1552, 1931, 2211
    Apostolic effectiveness of the ALP in Cairo: 1528, 1574, 1579-87, 2902-04, 3361
    The “first flower”: 1574, 1582-86
    Biographical notes on African girls in Cairo: 1823-40
    ALP run a school for Egyptian girls: 1927, 2249 2899-900
  5. ALP in the Vicariate of Central Africa
    ALP in the Vicariate: 2937, 3171, 3335, 3361
    Before Comboni there were in the Vicariae no ALP, apostles of faith and civilisation: 2871-72, 3409
    Comboni asks for Arabs lay people to teach agriculture in the missions he is about to found: 2618
    African women teachers and African experts in arts and crafts ready for the Vicariate: 2877, 3054, 3224
    ALP are an essential element for the reopening of the Vicariate: 2929; Among the first concerns of the Vicariate is the training of ALP as evangelisers: 3293
    Comboni would rather the African women teachers taught catechism rather than ordinary school subjects: 3614
    Advantages of training ALP for the African apostolate at El-Obeid rather than Cairo: 3563-64

Brief concluding remarks

All Christians, whether clerics or lay people, today must be ‘missionary disciples’, as Pope Francis has emphasised since the beginning of his pontificate.

Today we speak of a ‘change of epoch’ and it is essential to reflect on the need to strive for the essential, that is, what is truly indispensable.

This turning point in the formation of Christians must involve everyone as “the people of God”. It is not a question of all becoming priests or choosing another vocation of consecration. There is a ‘more basic’ vocation that is the foundation of everything: to follow Jesus, to become disciples, and to become so more and more, ever more deeply, throughout life.

Obviously, the first fundamental orientation in this journey of (young) missionary disciples is and remains the Gospel. We could refer to the figure of St Francis of Assisi. In a difficult time for the Church and society, he started a revolution that has been going on for eight centuries and has borne countless fruits. His secret was the return to the life of the Gospel ‘sine glossa’, that is, without filters and reductions, without accommodations and abstract spiritualisms.

Pope Francis invites us to such a revolution: to a “reform of our lives and of the Church in the light of the Gospel”. In this sense, the apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium (“The joy that flows from the Gospel”) is the journey that the Holy Father proposes to us, to the point of inviting us “to carry always a small Gospel in our pockets and to read a passage from it every day”.

There is a lack of vocations in the Church... But the (young) laity are the future, the hope of the Church and of humanity; and not a ‘future’ future, but a future that is already present. In a synodal Church, all the baptised walk together and, like missionary disciples, carry forward the proclamation and witness of the Gospel.

But one must be in love with Christ. One must become a protagonist in the missionary life of the Church. Christ is the centre of history, and falling in love with Christ is the centre of Christianity. Christ makes the difference: he is decisive in people’s lives.

Fr. Franco Moretti, mccj