In Uruguay, Laity Are Becoming Fishers of Men
Bishop Tells of Country's Shortage of Priests
KOENIGSTEIN, Germany, FEB. 5, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Lay catechists are taking the lead to spread the Gospel in Uruguay, where only 5% of the population regularly attend Mass, says a bishop.
Bishop Luis del Castillo Estrada of the Diocese of Melo, citing the shortage of priests, explained that lay catechists are at the forefront of a plan to revitalize the faith in the South American country. Three-quarters of its 3.4 million people are baptized.
In an interview with the Germany-based charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop del Castillo pointed out that the Church faces a difficult mission in Uruguay, which has a long history of anti-clericalism.
The 75-year-old bishop explained how the lay faithful are increasingly taking their place alongside the clergy in developing programs of outreach and evangelization.
The prelate added that the role of lay leaders is becoming crucial. He said that in his diocese, in the northeast part of the country, just 18 priests, most of them foreign missionaries, serve 135,000 people.
Lay Catholics in rural areas are leading Liturgy of the Word prayer services, training catechists, producing religious education material and even appearing on the radio.
Describing those returning to the Church as "recovered Christians," the bishop continued: "We encourage them to be missionaries and to accompany the priests in their visits to rural areas."
Bishop del Castillo said these are "small steps in the right direction. … We are still fishers of men but unfortunately we cannot cast our nets in the hope of getting a big catch. We also go to people one by one."
Baptism is still popular so the bishop encourages lay people to catechize new parents, giving them leaflets, booklets, pictures and postcards for use with their children.
"After they have had their children baptized, parents are reluctant to come to church," the prelate explained. "We want to teach parents the faith so that their homes can become domestic churches."