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Laity lags behind in Myanmar

Old and entrenched mindsets have to change to bring laypeople's roles in step with Vatican II

A church in Mandalay A church in Mandalay
  • Myo Myo, Mandalay
  • Myanmar
  • May 25, 2011
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It’s time for laypeople to play a greater role, but progress towards this has been very slow in Myanmar considering the greater prominence the Second Vatican Council gave to laypeople five decades ago.

As one elderly man joked, “Vatican II will reach Myanmar even if it has to come on foot.”

This slow pace stems mainly from the clergy’s hesitation in sharing “delegation,” too much respect being shown by parishioners, their reliance on the clergy and lack of awareness of Vatican II.

Pope Benedict XVI said that "laypeople are called not simply to help their priests run their parishes, but to share fully in the responsibility of building up the Church."

"This will require a change of mentality, especially among laypeople -- to move from considering themselves to be the clergy's collaborators to recognizing themselves as truly sharing responsibility for the existence and action of the Church," the pope added.

It shows that real encouragement and cooperation by Church leaders is necessary to ignite laypeople's motivation and commitment to serve in carrying out Christ's mission in this world.

The pope’s words are very encouraging for laypeople but the Catholic Church in Myanmar has a long way to go in increasing the laity’s participation and share of responsibilities.

During a conversation with a priest from Mandalay Archdiocese, he told me that mutual understanding, trust and respect are necessary between the clergy and laypeople.

"The clergy need to trust the laypeople and the laypeople to trust the clergy," he added.

But why did the local Church fail to implement the lay apostolate what the Vatican II talked about?

Laypeople should ask themselves: "Are we ready to embrace a greater role, aware of what Vatican II encouraged, and are we trustworthy enough?”

The clergy also needs to consider how they will delegate tasks to laypeople and how to build mutual trust, respect and cooperation.

Unfortunately, most of the clergy argue that laypeople can’t be trusted, especially in ‘financial’ matters.

A former vice-president of the laity commission in Myanmar however, disagrees, saying it simply depends to whom the clergy delegate tasks and how they go about it.

This might also be just an excuse by the clergy because they might not fully understand Vatican II with regard to laypeople and so are reluctant to share their responsibilities and let laypeople handle parish management.

Another point is that if laypeople are not ready, the clergy should train them to take responsibility and lead other parishioners.

In fact, the more responsibilities the clergy hand out, the more they can focus on improving their spiritual duties as well as the spirituality of their parishioners.

If the current mindset continues, it will be a big challenge to involve laypeople more fully and bring the Church in Myanmar in step with Vatican II, which marks its 50th anniversary next year.

The number of clergymen in Myanmar is around 800 and the number of Catholics total around 600,000.

With the laity being in the vast majority, the clergy’s cooperation and collaboration with these people in the long term will be essential in carrying out the Church’s mission in Myanmar.

So at present we can only dream of seeing full laity participation coming true.

Myo Myo cannot use his real name because of the possibility of retribution

Related Links

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