Excerpts from remarks yesterday to Pope John Paul II by Donna Hanson, bishop's secretary for social services in the diocese of Spokane:

We American Catholic laity, 98 percent of the Catholic Church in the United States, welcome you, to our land of rich diversity . . . . In this assembly of 3,000 are people from virtually every profession, culture and ethnic {origin} in the United States . . . . {But} unity, not division, is our goal; service, not power, is our mission.

. . . When I come to my church, I cannot discard my cultural experiences. Though I know the church is not a democracy ruled by popular vote, I expect to be treated as a mature, educated and responsible adult. Not to question, not to challenge, not to have authorities involve me in a process of understanding is to deny my dignity as a person and the rights granted to me both by church and society.

. . . The diversity in our culture is mirrored in our families . . . {where} we struggle with the tension between Gospel values and excesses of our society . . . . In our parish communities, we are also experiencing significant change. The lay members of our church are now among the best educated and the most highly theologically trained in the world. Yet we hunger for spiritual formation and education. We long for structures in which to truly share responsibility . . . . Today our parishes are in transition. Many parishes do not have a resident pastor . . . . Lay ministers are involved as never before, but acceptance by both clergy and the people of God has not been fully realized.

But how does all of this come together for us here today? First, I ask that you allow me to walk with you . . . Let me walk with you as you preserve orthodox teachings and challenge the world with Gospel values.

. . . . Please let me know that you are willing to walk with me. Accustomed as I am to dialogue, consultation and collaboration, I do not always feel that I am heard. In my cultural experience, questioning is generally not rebellion nor dissent. It is rather a desire to participate and is a sign of both love and maturity.

Excerpts from the pope's reply:

It is within the everyday world that you the laity must bear witness to God's kingdom . . . . You are called . . . to engage in secular professions and occupations, to live in those ordinary circumstances of family life and society from which is woven the very web of your existence. You are called . . . to exercise your proper functions according to the spirit of the Gospel and to work for the sanctification of the world from within . . . . It is for you as lay people to direct all temporal affairs to the praise of the creator and redeemer.

. . . Of supreme importance in the mission of the church is the role that the laity fulfill in the Christian family . . . . At the same time we must recognize the difficult situation of so many people with regard to family living . . . . There are the single-parent families and those who have no natural family; there are the elderly and the widowed. And there are those separated and divorced Catholics who, despite their loneliness and pain, are striving to preserve their fidelity and to face their responsibilities with loving generosity. All of these people share deeply in the church's mission by faith, hope and charity.

. . . Although, in fidelity to Christ and to his teaching on Christian marriage, the church reaffirms her practice of not admitting to eucharistic communion those divorced persons who have remarried outside the church, nevertheless, she assures these Catholics, too, of her deep love. She prays for them and encourages them to persevere in prayer, to listen to the word of God and to attend the eucharistic sacrifice, hoping that they will "undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage."

. . . I wish to express the deep gratitude of the church for all the contributions made by women over the centuries to the life of the church and of society . . . . Special mention must of course be made of their contribution, in partnership with their husbands, in begetting life and in educating their children. . . . . The church is convinced, however, that all the special gifts of women are needed in an ever-increasing measure in her life, and for this reason hopes for their fuller participation in her activities. Precisely because of their equal dignity and responsibility, the access of women to public functions must be ensured. Regardless of the role they perform, the church proclaims the dignity of women as women -- a dignity equal to men's dignity and revealed as such in the {biblical} account of creation . . . .

As lay men and women . . . you must live in the conviction that there can be no separation between your faith and your life, and that apart from Christ you can do nothing . . . . Every age poses new challenges and new temptations for the people of God on their pilgrimage, and our own is no exception . . . . All these attitudes {secularism, relativism, consumerism, hedonism} can influence our sense of good and evil at the very moment when social and scientific progress requires strong ethical guidance . . . .

It is precisely in this society that lay men and women . . . are called to live the beatitudes, to become leaven, salt and light for the world, and sometimes a "sign of contradiction" that challenges and transforms that world according to the mind of Christ. No one is called to impose religious beliefs on others but to give the strong example of a life of justice and service, resplendent with the virtues of faith, hope and charity . . . . It is up to you the Catholic laity to incarnate without ceasing the Gospel in society -- in American society.