What of the 99%?

Last month the Australian Cardijn Institute published its submission to the Second Assembly of the Synod on Synodality focusing on the mission and vocation of lay people.

As a participant in the process of drafting that document, I’m taking the opportunity of sharing it here.

It is also available for download by clicking here.

What of the 99%? – A contribution to the Synod on Synodality 

The Australian Cardijn Institute (ACI) is committed to the synodal process and offers the following statement for consideration by participants in the forthcoming second session of the Synod on Synodality. 

We recognise the need for a coordinated and strategic approach to a formation program for the laity that focuses on its unique role as leaven in the world. Drawing on the teaching about the vocation and mission of the laity in the Church and in the world, found in Lumen GentiumGaudium et Spes and Apostolicam Actuositatem and given voice during two ACI webinars conducted in February and March, 2024 ( 

Lay People: Their Mission and Vocation ; 

Promoting the Mission & Vocation of Lay People }, we call on the universal Church to prioritise a revitalisation of the lay apostolate and formation for the lay apostolate. 

The formation of the laity in the Australian Church: remembering the past, disquiet about the future 

The laity are the 99% of the Church. When older members of the laity gathered online recently to reflect on their formation as Christians, many recalled with gratitude the influence of their parents in their formation as followers of Christ. They acknowledged their parents’ Christian discipleship through faithfulness to life in the Church, through openness and conversation, and through action in the world. The example of faith in action, which they witnessed and in which they participated through their families, shaped them as responsible members of Australian society and prepared them for offering leadership in faith in various capacities in their parishes and dioceses and in the world. 

A significant aspect of this experience was the presence and influence of the Young Christian Workers movement (YCW) and the Young Christian Students movement (YCS). The focus on faith in action in the world, which characterised their experiences of these movements, is worthy of continued reflection and support. 

While this gathering of older members of the Church reflected on their experiences of being formed through participation in the liturgy, it was the memory of listening to homilies structured around See, Judge and Act that they appreciated; they also expressed disappointment that younger priests seem to be unaware of the method; equally, the concern

about the lack of formation of priests from overseas who struggle to adjust to cultural differences that confront them in the parishes they serve. Appreciation was expressed for the efforts of those “missionary” priests who are able to bridge the divide between cultures and to unite people in their congregations. 

Their recollections of lay ministry highlighted the shift from attention to the formation of leaders for the transformation of the world to the formation of leaders to assist with the ongoing formation of people for the Church. Nowhere is this more evident than in the attention given to forms of youth ministry that encourage piety at the expense of developing in youth the knowledge and skills needed to help transform the world. Some voiced disquiet at the local Church’s failure to address the needs of the majority of youth who appear to be apathetic towards the Church and dismissive of its efforts to draw them into its life. 

Action in the world that stems from the idealism of youth happens without the involvement of the Church. Those who expressed this view did so because they have witnessed the Church not listening to the young, particularly those who have walked away from the Church because of its irrelevance in their experience of life and culture. 

2 Cardinal Cardijn, Vatican II and the lay apostolate 

In his first written intervention at the Second Vatican Council, Bishop Joseph Cardijn offered the following definition of the lay vocation or mission, which he characterised as ”the lay apostolate specific to lay people”:. 


is the lay (secular) life of lay people, the problems of that life, at every level: local, regional, national and international; 

is the divine value of this life to implement the work of God and Christ, in order to transform life and the world; 

is a transformation that must take place with, by and in Christ and the 

Church, with the resources of the Church (prayer, sacraments, etc.) but which are incarnated in the affairs of the world, the institutions of the world, in view of the inseparable goals that are the happiness of humanity and the glory of God.” 

In a similar vein, Lumen Gentium n31 tells us that by baptism, lay people,

”in their own way share the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ, and to the best of their ability carry on the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.” 

But “what specifically characterises the laity,” it continues, “is their secular nature. Lay people 

“live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven.They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer.” 

In this light, Lumen Gentium n33 defines the lay apostolate as “a participation in the salvific mission of the Church itself.” The document continues: “Through their baptism and confirmation all are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself.” 

Hence, lay people “are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth” and to act as “a witness and a living instrument of the mission of the Church itself,…” (Lumen Gentium n33). Reinforcing this, Gaudium et Spes n43 insists that “secular duties and activities belong properly although not exclusively to laypeople.” 

The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem) n1 explains this further, noting that modern conditions require no less zeal from lay people than at the very beginning of the Church. 

With a constantly increasing population, continual progress in science and technology, and closer interpersonal relationships, the areas for the lay apostolate have been immensely widened particularly in fields that have been for the most part open to the laity alone… This apostolate becomes more imperative in view of the fact that many areas of human life have become increasingly autonomous.

3 The Work of the Synod 

As members of ACI have read and reflected on the documents of the Australian Plenary Council and the Synod on Synodality, they have observed that very little that speaks to this particular lay mission and vocation. There are, however, a few examples. For instance; Decree six of the Plenary Council on Formation for Leadership for Mission and Ministry says that 

“the apostolate of the laity, along with new ecclesial realities, acting as “leaven in the world,” (Lumen Gentium n31) is (to be) promoted, encouraged and supported;” 

While encouraged by references such as this, ACI is profoundly concerned at the paucity of such references in the many volumes comprising the eight themes of the Plenary Council and the twenty chapters of the Synthesis Report from last year’s Synod Assembly. It is evident that the focus on the particular mission and vocation of lay people is significantly underrepresented among the pages and pages of discussion of Church matters and approaches to ministry. 

ACI applauds and affirms the important achievements of the Australian Plenary Council and the Synod, including for instance, the recognition of First Nations people in the Plenary Council documents and the emphasis on Ecology in both the Australian and the Vatican statements. These are important concerns and of course, they must be included. Likewise, ACI acknowledges the importance of the efforts made in the formation of lay people to serve in ministries such as Lector and Minister of Holy Communion, as well as the formation in leadership and governance which is critical if lay people are to be effective in Parish Councils and Boards. 

ACI recognises and supports the need for such concerns to feature prominently in the Synod discussions. At the same time, however, ACI calls upon delegates and contributors to reinstate, in a clear and unequivocal way, the focus of the mission and vocation of lay people as a leaven in the world, working to transform it in the light of the Gospel. 

ACI calls upon delegates and contributors to the Synod to recognise that the Church is comprised, more than 99%, of lay people, and that the mission and vocation of lay people is lived out, more than 99%, in the secular world. 

ACI calls upon delegates and contributors to the Synod to ensure that the formation of lay people for their mission and vocation in the world is appropriately prioritised in Synod discussions.

ACI calls upon delegates and contributors to the Synod to ensure that a systematic and well-resourced approach to formation for the lay apostolate is adopted. 

ACI asserts that the See, Judge and Act method, developed through the Young Christian Workers (YCW), the Young Christian Students (YCS) and other Jocist-influenced lay movements, should be adopted for the formation of lay people to be like a leaven in the world. 

ACI calls for the establishment of a ‘Dicastery’ with the singular purpose of promoting the formation of lay people to effectively carry out their mission and vocation in the world. 

The Australian Cardijn Institute, May 2024


ACI submission to the Synod on Synodality