'Making the Laity Feel at Home'

Archbishop J. Francis Stafford, 64, has been ordinary of Denver since 1986. Previously he was bishop of Memphis, Tenn. (1982-83) and auxiliary bishop of Baltimore (1976-82). Since 1990, he has been a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and of the ad hoc committee of bishops of the Congregation for Bishops. He has been particularly active in the field of ecumenical affairs and interreligious dialogue, acting as co-chairman of the Oriental Orthodox-Catholic Consulation (1977-85; Catholic co-chairman of the U.S. Roman Catholic-Lutheran Dialogue (1984-present); chairman of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. Last August, the archbishop was appointed president of the Pontifical for the Laity. He is scheduled to move to Rome later this fall. His recently spoke with the Register.

Register: What does the move from Denver to the Pontifical Council for the Laity mean for you personally? How do you see this move in terms of your own particular vocation and apostolate?

Archbishop Stafford: The ministry in Rome will be fundamentally the same as my ministry here. It is a ministry that is the same for every priest and every bishop; a ministry of intercession, of mediation, of prayer to God on behalf of all mankind. That is fundamentally what we are called to do through the celebration of the Eucharist and the Liturgy of Hours.

Specifically in Rome, I will be called to serve the primacy of the pope, the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. That primacy was defined beautifully by Ignatius of Antioch as the residing hope of the Church in charity.

My personal challenges are basically those of multi-cultural riches of our Church. The task will be to become more familiar with the various languages and cultures in which the Catholic Church has become incarnate.

Pope John Paul II has said that the spiritual movements are one of the great signs of hope forthe Church. What positive contributions are the various renewal movements making? What problems do they present?

The lay movements serve the entire Church by assisting the laity in feeling at home in the Church. To be at home in the Church of Jesus Christ means to be at home with a unique world view that respects the transcendence of the human person. By that the Church means that the laity and the clergy are called to make a personal, solitary commitment within the Church to the mystery of Christ and the mystery of his Church. That entails not simply committing one's thoughts to be in line with the Church, but really that one's actions are to be directly arising from the Church and its life.

The challenge presented by the movements is the specific lay vocation election within the Church. The laity are called to be sacraments which give concrete expression to the reality which they bear, the fundamental reality of life, that we are called to eternal life in Christ. The laity do that by being at the crossroads of where the supernatural structures of the Church, that is the sacraments, meet the world. The challenge of the laity and the clergy is to assist in identifying that unique, peculiar, privileged, place in which the Gospel meets the culture. It is in the heart of the lay man and woman.

In Europe, many Catholics seem to relate to the Church primarily through the various international spiritual movements. In the United States, the focus tends to be on the parish. Is that a cultural difference, or a potential conflict?

First, is the statement true? The Neo-Catechumenal Way is a movement which depends upon a parochial rootedness, and of course, the Neo-Catechumenal is one of the great spiritual fruits of the Second Vatican Council. It is rooted in the rediscovery of the revolution that is called for through baptism.

Secondly, the parish life in the United States and North America has always been the focus of Church life, and the assimilation of the Catholic immigrant to American culture. That role was not appropriate for the European scene.

Whether the parish as we know it in the United States will continue to sustain its traditional pattern and form is problematic. My judgment is that the international spiritual movements will assist the parishes and assist the Catholics of the United States in making the transition in the role of the parishes—now basically assimilative to American culture—to a new and different role. That role is basically the evangelization of culture today. That is a more demanding, aggressive role than the assimilative role of the past.

Some of the charismatic renewal communities have had difficult relationships with local bishops. What's the right balance between the community's integrity as a lay association and the bishop's over-sight?

The charismatic renewal is another fruit of the Second Vatican Council and must be judged as very positive for the Catholic Church. It is especially important from the rediscovery within the Church of Her own book, that is the Bible. Every bishop rejoices in the recovery by the laity of its heritage. Every lay person has a right to that recovery.

The bishops’ oversight is particularly a call to the charismatic communities to live within the tradition of the Church and of its spiritual legacies, the legacies of the great founders of religious orders and congregations. The bishop has the duty and right to intervene when the lay association moves outside of the rich tradition of the Church's spiritual life.

Will the World Youth Day phenomenon be part of your work at the Pontifical Council for the Laity?

World Youth Day in Denver in 1993 was a revolutionary experience for me personally and for many of the Catholic bishops. We rediscovered the beauty of the faith of our youth adults and young people. Our task beyond World Youth Day is to establish a means of welcoming structures within our parishes, calling young people to a deeper joy in their faith in Jesus Christ.

Our future plans after World Youth Day 93 are essentially related to the capacity of the Church to create welcoming communities in our parishes. Of course, the immediate task for the Council of the Laity is to work cooperatively with Cardinal Lustiger, the archbishop of Paris, in implementing World Youth Day 97.

Some commentators feel that the apostolate of the laity as envisioned by Vatican II has yet to be really implemented. Often clergy want to be involved in secular society, while lay people want to do spiritual ministry in the parish. How do we bring about a genuine spiritual renewal of the laity and a clarification of respective roles of laity, clergy and religious?

The role of the laity is to give sincere and truthful witness to the mystery of Jesus Christ in the world; to witness their Catholic faiths without deceit. To do this, they must not be not afraid of the blood of Christ, which means they are not afraid of suffering, because suffering has been transformed by Christ's love. We need more men and women who will give witness that they are not afraid of the blood of Christ.

Is the Pontifical Council getting involved in the celebration of the third millennium?

I can't be very specific at this time. I can project some hopes that are very personal. My hope would be that the council would bring together laity from various cultures, from differing perspectives to speak of the presence of Christ in flesh in those cultures. For example, as we move toward the new millennium, I would personally like to see a convocation of laity from North America in dialogue with the laity of the South America and Central America. The agenda of the dialogue would be on economic and social justice in light of the encyclicals of Pope John Paul II, especially Centesimus Annus and Sollicitudo Rei Socialis.

It would also be my personal hope that the Council for the Laity would continue to call laity from Eastern Europe. This experience under communist totalitarian regimes requires a very different response than the laity of Western Europe, whose freedom has been diminished by the capitalist environment that overwhelms people's desire for the transcendent.

What do you feel that you've been able to accomplish in Denver? What developments are you most proud of? Is there anything left undone?

The Gospel has been proclaimed in its purity, and that is the Gospel that Paul defines as the Word of the Cross. The Gospel of the cross is wisdom, the wisdom to those who believe. I sense that there has been an increasing awareness on the part of many of our people, that the glory of God has been revealed in the redemptive love of the crucified one. That is the proclamation that the Holy Father gave in 1993 in Denver, and that is the proclamation that we are attempting to teach though the increased engagement of our young people in Catholic schools.

I'm also pleased to discover that in Denver, over the past year or so, there has been for the first time in a generation an increase in Mass attendance. Many are finding that God's absolute unique love is for them revealed in the sacrifice of Christ which we offer in the Eucharist.

In terms of having left undone, we are always on the move to the fulfillment of the Kingdom. We are always in the process of filling up what is lacking in the response to Christ and His cross. So the new archbishop together with the leadership of our Church will need to continue to proclaim the centrality of the Paschal Mystery for the lives of our people. And thus, we must realize a deeper rootedness of our faith in the culture of the Rocky Mountain area.

What's your take on Cardinal Bernardin's “common ground" proposal? Isn't it unusual for so many bishops to comment publicly—in some cases negatively—on a fellow bishop's initiative?

I've reflected upon Cardinal Bernardin's common ground proposal and prayed over it. At this time, the only comment that I wish to make is that it is singular that he has circumvented the collegial process and the bishops’ conference. I don't recall an initiative on the part of any local ordinary with such national implications, with such implications for each of the dioceses in the United States, that has been undertaken outside of the collegial structures of our conference. I regret that the conference structure was ignored.

— Greg Kail