Bernardo M. Villegas
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Awakening of the Catholic Laity

           Since the end of the Second Vatican Council about fifty years ago, there has been a great awakening among the Catholic laity that it is their main responsibility, not the clergy, to sanctify temporal realities.  I have personally witnessed the transformation of many Catholic laymen from a "sacristan" mentality, when they thought of themselves only as assistants to Bishops and priests, to being at the vanguard of sanctifying all honest secular realities.  Laymen are at the forefront of pro-life movements; the strengthening of the family as the pillar of society; the carrying out of myriad corporal and spiritual works of mercy; the restructuring of the economy according to the social doctrine of the Church; the fight against corruption, pornography and other social ills; and the setting up of schools that are faithful to the Teaching Authority of the Church.  Of course, there is no room for complacency.  Much more will have to be done, considering the dechristianization of society as a result of the consumerist and materialistic environment that is engulfing the whole world.  There is also the great heresy of "relativism" which denies the existence of absolute truths.

          Almost fifty years ago, the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity clearly stated that "The laity must take up the renewal of the temporal order as their own special obligation.  Led by the light of the Gospel and the mind of the Church and motivated by Christian charity, they must act directly and in a definite way in the temporal sphere. As citizens they must cooperate with other citizens with their own particular skill and on their own responsibility.  Everywhere and in all things they must seek the justice of God's kingdom.  The temporal order must be renewed in such a way that, without detriment to its own proper laws, it may be brought into conformity with the higher principles of the Christian life and adapted to the shifting circumstance of time, place and peoples.  Preeminent among the works of this type of apostolate is that of Christian social action which the sacred synod desires to see extended to the whole temporal sphere, including culture."

          Among the Catholic laity in the Philippines who have taken to heart this leading role of lay people in the evangelization of society are faithful of the Prelature of Opus Dei, which this year is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary of existence in the Philippines.  Over the last fifty years, I have personally witnessed how the members of Opus Dei, especially the vast majority of them who are married, respond to the stirring exhortation of the Founder of Opus Dei, St. Josemaria Escriva, in a homily he delivered just three years after the start of the apostolic activities in the Philippines, at the campus of the University of Navarre:  "I have taught this constantly using words from holy Scripture.  The world is not evil, because it has come from God's hands, because it is His creation, because:  'Yahweh looked upon it and saw that it was good...We ourselves, mankind, make it evil and ugly with our sins and infidelities.  Have no doubt:  any kind of evasion of the honest realities of daily life is for you, men and women of the world, something opposed to the will of God."  I still remember how the first Filipinos to be in touch with the apostolic activities of Opus Dei marvel at those "revolutionary" words uttered by St. Josemaria in the same homily when he talked about "Christian materialism":  "There is no other way,  either we learn to find out Lord in ordinary, everyday life, or else we shall never find Him.  That is why I can tell you that our age needs to give back to matter and to the most trivial occurrences and situations their noble and original meaning.  It needs to restore them to the service of the Kingdom of God, to spiritualize them, turning them into a means and an occasion for a continuous meeting with Jesus Christ.  Authentic Christianity, which professes the resurrection of all flesh, has always quite logically opposed 'dis-incarnation', without fear of being judged materialistic.  We can, therefore, rightfully speak of a Christian materialism, which is boldly opposed to that materialism which is blind to the spirit."

          Over the last fifty years, the faithful of the Prelature of Opus Dei have been cooperating with many others, some of whom are not even Christians, to undertake the task of bringing Christ to the top of every honest human activity, especially in undertakings to address the needs of the poor, such as technical schools like Dualtech, Punlaan, Amihan in the Metro Manila area and CITE and Banilad  in Metro Cebu.  These technical schools cater to the children of the poorest households, giving them the skills to be gainfully employed in factories, hotels, households and other employers.  There are also family farm schools all over the Archipelago training the youth in farm entrepreneurship.  Encouraged by the Prelate of Opus Dei, Bishop Javier Echevarria, members of Opus Dei, in tandem with many other lay people, have contributed to bringing the Christian ideals to such strategic areas as culture, fashion, and legislation, giving the greatest importance to strengthening the family, imparting Christian education and defending life. Very much in keeping with the wishes of Pope Francis in the Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, a good number of the faithful of the Prelature of Opus Dei have opted to practise their respective professions or occupations in many countries in the Asian region, such as   Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and South Korea in order to help in the evangelization of these countries or territories in which the vast majority of the populations still do not know Christ.  From almost the beginning of the start of apostolic activities in the Philippines, the members already were very conscious of the vision of St. Josemaria that the Philippines will be at the vanguard of the Christian apostolate in the whole of Asia.  For comments, my email address is