Why Should We Care About Lay Leadership?

June 21, 2013

Catholic Extension was honored to receive the Guadalupe Award on June 15th from the Tepeyac Institute in El Paso, Texas, in recognition for its twenty-five year relationship with this extraordinary center for lay formation.  Over those two and half decades, Catholic Extension has invested over $800,000 in the Tepeyac Institute, and the results have been astonishing.


Lay leaders taking intensive courses on a Saturday afternoon at Tepeyac Institute, in El Paso, TX.

Since it was founded in 1988, Tepeyac has trained over 20,000 lay leaders to serve in the Diocese of El Paso, and the number continues to grow as approximately 1,300 complete courses at Tepeyac annually.  That is an absolutely remarkable achievement!  

The formation of lay leaders plays a very key role in Catholic Extension’s mission to strengthen the Church in the United States.  Recently someone asked me the question, “Why are lay leaders so important and why do we need them when we have priests?”

For me, the answer is very simple: Having lay leaders means that the Church can be everywhere and the Church can go wherever, be it to the furthers edges of west Texas or even to the furthest edges of the world.  That is the true gift of lay leadership.
 
Our Pope Francis has spoken extensively about the need to bring the presence of Christ to those on the margins.  About a month ago, I was thinking about the Pope’s message as I was visiting the Diocese of Stockton, California.  It was there that I met a group of lay catechists who are teaching the Catholic faith to migrant people, both to children & adults.


A lay catechist offers first communion prep class to migrant children under the camp’s trees.

There was no chapel or meeting space for them to gather, so the catechists offered classes under the trees in the migrant camp.  I listened in on one of the sessions, in which the catechist was teaching the people how to pray and encouraging them to get in the habit of prayer.  After class I got to meet one of the catechists.  The director of the program told me, “I want you to get to know this catechist, so that you see what we can achieve as a Church when we have lay leaders like her.”  Because with lay leaders, the Gospel can reach the most obscure places, we can reach the poorest and most isolated people, and we can bring hope to the most marginalized people.  

There is a wonderful expression in Spanish that is used to describe people like the catechists in Stockton.  They are known simply as gente puente (literally translated as “bridge people”).  They are individuals who bridge social, economic, and cultural gaps that can impede the Catholic faith from being shared.  “Bridge people,” figure out ways to overcome these gaps so that no one is denied the gift of faith.
 
Lay leaders in the Church are natural bridge builders between different cultures and socio-economic groups that may be represented in their diocese.  They are bridges between the “Parish Church” and the “Domestic Church” in our homes.  And, they build bridges between the Church and the secular world.

We need more lay leaders like the people of the Tepeyac Institute and the catechists in Stockton who commit themselves to personally delivering the gift of faith.   May the rest of us be encouraged by their example to “step up” and serve like they have, in order to bridge the most fundamental gap: between those who have received the gift of faith, and those that still hunger for it.


A Toast to the more than 20,000 leaders that have been prepared by Tepeyac:

May the mother of our Church, the patroness of the Americas, the protector of this Institute,
Our Lady of Guadalupe, continue sharing with all of you the light of her son Christ.

Congratulations on all that you have achieved in the last 25 years,
may the next twenty-five years be just as magnificent. Cheers!

- Joe Boland, Vice President of Mission, Catholic Extension

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