1971: The vocation proper to the laity

Extracts from Pope Paul VI’s Message to the First Pan-African and Malagasy Meeting of the Laity, 11 August 1971

You all remember the conciliar text which is, so to speak, the charter of the lay apostolate in the “missionary activity of the Church”. It will suffice to remind you of the opening sentences:

“The Church has not been truly established, and is not yet fully alive, nor is it a perfect sign of Christ among men, unless there exists a laity worthy of the name working along with the hierarchy. For the Gospel cannot be deeply imprinted on the talents, life, and work of any people without the active presence of lay persons” (Ad gentes divinitus, 21).

This expresses the scope of the research which you are undertaking. Dear sons and daughters, may you be able to approach, in a spirit of founders and witnesses, and in the light of Christ’s Gospel, the theme proposed to you by your worthy Preparatory Committee: “The layman’s part in the growth of the Church and the full development of Africa”.

The choice of this theme is of itself highly significant. It invites you to make a joint study in depth of the vocation proper to the laity. It is a vocation to “seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God” (Lumen gentium, 31).

You are committed to the growth of the Church because you are members of the People of God; you are committed to the development of Africa because you are members of the earthly city. This double commitment must be one single thing for Christians, who reject any arbitrary dichotomy between their life and their faith and who strive to “collaborate in the temporal earthly progress of men as well as in their eternal destiny, in the harmony of a unified thought and life” (The Missionary Role of the Laity. Document of the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples).

As you can see, it is above all through the medium of your awareness as lay people that the false dilemma “Development or Evangelization” can be resolved, a dilemma that We rejected last year on the occasion of the World Mission Day.

This being so, what are you, dear sons and daughters, to do for ensuring through your Christian activity the simultaneous realization of the progress of Africa and the progress of the Church?

What are you to do to ensure that, while you cooperate in the development of your countries with your brothers and sisters of other beliefs and ideologies, with full respect for their consciences, the witness of the Gospel may be borne?

Have no doubt that this will be “by giving your apostolate an Africanized form”, to use the
expression recently used in Rome by Archbishop Gantin, echoing our own conviction: “By now you Africans are missionaries to yourselves” (Talk at the Symposium of Bishops of Africa, at Kampala).

You will keep this constantly in mind as you take up, in your work of group discussion, the various objects of your study: the economic, social and political evolution of your regions, the family, education and training, the laity in the life of the Church and, finally, the action to be undertaken.

But to give the lay apostolate its African character you will not for all that hesitate to draw from the Church’s experience what has universal value and what reflects the great missionary teachings of the Old and New Testaments. It is fitting to make special mention of the deeply evangelical insight of the late Cardinal Cardijn, which has made it possible for a genuine body of lay people to spring up and develop in very many countries, in the most widely differing social contexts. From that insight the Council’s reflections upon the vocation of the laity benefitted greatly.


Pope Paul VI, Message to the First Pan-African and Malagasy Meeting of the Laity (Vatican.va)