By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
ROME (CNS) -- Laypeople are called not simply to help their priests run their parishes, but to share fully in the responsibility of building up the church, Pope Benedict XVI told delegates to the annual convention of the Diocese of Rome.
"This will require a change of mentality, especially regarding laypeople -- to move from considering them to be the clergy's collaborators to recognizing them as truly sharing responsibility for the existence and action of the church," the pope said May 26 during an evening talk at the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
The pope's speech about the identity of the church and the role of its members launched a three-day meeting by diocesan delegates to assess pastoral services and come up with ideas for strengthening the participation of Catholics in the life of their parishes and the diocese.
The first step, the pope said, should be to improve education efforts so that people would understand what the Second Vatican Council meant when it described the church as "the people of God" and the "body of Christ."
"The people of God" was an Old Testament phrase referring to the fact that God established a special relationship with a particular people, the people of Israel, so that he could enter human history and reach all people with his love and salvation, the pope said.
The goal of a universal outreach was fulfilled through Jesus' death and resurrection, he said.
"Christ brought down the wall of separation and unites all of us into one body. In the body of Christ, we become one people, the people of God," the pope said.
"He brought down the wall of distinctions among peoples, races and cultures; we are all united in Christ," he added.
Pope Benedict said that, despite the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, too many people continue "to identify the church as the hierarchy" or, having rejected that vision in an exaggerated way, they see the church simply as a collection of people.
"The church, which has its origins in the triune God, is a mystery of communion. As a communion, the church is not only a spiritual reality, but lives in history -- in flesh and blood, so to speak," the pope said.
"The people of God means all of us -- from the pope to the baby most recently baptized," he said.
While faith requires a personal relationship with God, he said, that relationship is lived out in a community in which each person has rights and obligations to the whole.
Pope Benedict urged the diocesan delegates to find ways to help people understand that they belong to a community and that their parish isn't there simply for them to stop by to receive the sacraments when they feel the need.
Being a Christian means sharing the Gospel with others, particularly through acts of charity, he said.
"Do not forget the witness of charity, which unites hearts and opens them to belonging to the church," he said.
"To live charity is a primary form of mission," the pope said. "The word proclaimed becomes visible when it is incarnated in acts of solidarity and sharing and in gestures that concretely demonstrate the face of Christ, the true friend of humanity."
The pope prayed that the charity carried out predominantly by laypeople in Rome's parishes would continue to increase "so that those who live in suffering would feel the church near to them and experience the love of the Father, who is rich in mercy."
laying down their lives for the flock entrusted to them
to the eschatological future in the here and now,
through a close relationship with the Blessed Virgin Mary
the Body of Christ in the Holy Eucharist?