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Laity To Help Grow Eastern Catholic Churches

Choir members sing during Mass at St. Michael’s Chaldean Catholic Church in El Cajon, California, in this June 2010 file photo. The city of El Cajon is home to one of the largest populations of Chaldean refugees and immigrants in the United States. (Photo: CNS/David Maung) 

Speakers urged participants to take personal responsibility in building their individual parishes. They often cited examples from the New Testament of how St. Paul expressed joy when new leaders stepped forward to share Christian beliefs and build the early church.

Meeting during the first two days of the conference, clergy were urged to welcome and encourage a wider role for laity in their parishes, many of which count membership at 200 households or fewer. Laity over the last two days were asked to join with clergy in sharing their Catholic faith when possible and as appropriate in daily activities.

“When Paul talks about building, we hear that he’s talking about building fellowship, building community. Fellowship means a community, which is much more than just superficial interaction,” Melkite Bishop Nicholas J. Samra of Newton, Mass., said in his address to clergy.

Church leadership, he explained, must move beyond the pursuit of self-interest and extend beyond the confines of the parish. Church leadership, he said, is bound by Scripture to respond to the needs of society.

After his presentation, Bishop Samra told CNS the Eastern Catholic churches, while founded in various ethnic cultures, must welcome all newcomers if they are to follow Paul’s vision of faithful Christian communities.

“I truly believe, especially in our churches which are not as overbuilt as the Roman churches, that no parish should ever have been closed,” Bishop Samra said. “If we really live the evangelical life and accept that we’re a church, we’re not an ethnic group, that we’re ... bringing people into the body and incorporating them, churches should always be growing. Our focus is Christ and still is and we try to get that across to people.”

In two rousing presentations on developing lay leadership, Melkite Deacon Sabatino R. Carnazzo, executive director of the Institute of Catholic Culture and a member of Holy Transfiguration Melkite Catholic Parish in McLean, Va., called upon his audiences to root their ministry in the Scripture.

In his first presentation to clergy, he called upon priests and bishops to cast aside clericalism that “reduces the laity to the status of second class citizen.”

He encouraged clergy to move beyond “what they (laity) cannot do, but to ask ourselves what God wants them to do. What is the rightful activity of the people of God as leaders? What does true leadership look like in the church?”

Deacon Carnazzo then reminded laypeople to remember they are called to leadership and discipleship.

“Lay leadership is no an answer to the problems (of the church),” he said. “It is the purpose of the church in the first place.”

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Tags: Armenia United States Chaldeans Ukrainian Catholic Eastern Catholic Churches