The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) reemphasized the role of laypeople in the Catholic Church to overcome the misconception that members of the clergy are the only important element in the church. The laity, or laypeople, are all those baptized Christians who have not been ordained into the threefold orders of the clergy. These orders are those of bishop, priest, and deacon. The role of the clergy is to administer the sacraments of the church. The role of the laity is to transform the world through the power of Christ that is communicated by these sacraments.

Since the Second Vatican Council lay communities have been formed, mostly in Europe, with special missions or goals. Some of them have moved on to other parts of the world. These laypeople carry on their ordinary lives in family and work but meet regularly for prayer and fellowship. These communities have distinctive orientations. The Focolare movement, for example, which began in Italy under the guidance of Chiara Lubich (1920-2008), is inspired by the Gospel, but its orientation is to promote unity among all peoples, Christians and non-Christians. Begun in Trent during the intense hatreds fostered by World War II, it aimed at promoting love and unity in the midst of anger and hatred. It has developed a spirituality promoting unity and has spread to other countries, first in Europe and then throughout the world.

The Catholic Church also has significant lay movements that challenge the current teachings of the church on issues such as the ordination of women, the celibacy of priests, and contraception. For example, in many parts of Europe the "We are the Church" movement has challenged the church hierarchy at least to explore these issues. The Catholic Church, however, has not been very responsive to these discussions.

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