Trying to Fill the Role of Supermen

Bishops Point Out the Need for Their Ongoing Formation

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 3, 2001 ( Bishops sometimes feel pressured to perform their pastoral tasks like supermen — and without the benefit of ongoing formation.

«Honestly, we must admit that we are not always sufficiently well prepared for our missionary task,» Cardinal Johannes Adrianus Simonis, archbishop of Utrecht and president of the Dutch bishops´ conference, said in his address to the underway Synod of Bishops.

His observation is shared by many bishops worldwide who, despite their stellar backgrounds in parish, academic and missionary life, might find themselves overwhelmed by the enormity of their episcopal work.

For this reason, bishops are addressing the synod assembly about the need for ongoing formation — that is, integral training — after episcopal ordination.

Cardinal Jan P. Schotte, the synod´s secretary-general, mentioned the topic in his first address. He said he was grateful for the first-ever meeting of young bishops for this purpose, last June and July at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum. The Vatican Congregation for Bishops organized the meeting.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that many people, including non-Christians, expect bishops to have great communication abilities, leadership, and the gift of the human touch — in addition to being experts in canon law, bioethics, social justice, theology and philosophy. They also expect them to carry on an intense rhythm of work.

In his address to the synod, Bishop Carlos Aguiar Retes of Texcoco, Mexico, noted the challenges facing his brother prelates.

«We are living a change in times where traditional references — cultural, moral and religious — for social dynamism frequently remain banished, put aside, or even rejected,» he said.

In face of this situation, «we must humbly accept that bishops need permanent formation in order to revive the gift of God that was entrusted to us in episcopal ordination,» he added.

Dutch Cardinal Simonis recalled: «I was young and inexperienced when, 30 years ago, I began as a bishop. Thinking back, I understand how important formation is, but, also, how difficult it is to find a place for it in an already full agenda.»

The cardinal listed four key areas of permanent formation for bishops, according to this text released by the synod secretariat:

«1. The development of a spirituality of attention and marvel. The bishop must be open to the signs of hope in the world. The Spirit of God acts therein, even in the persons still searching.

«2. Acquiring the necessary abilities to bear witness in these times. The bishop must be well informed of the developments of society. He must also learn how to find the right words and use the right tone, starting from an authentic faith. This way the bishop acquires great respect when intervening in public life.

«3. Keeping up with the developments of theological sciences. These are on motion in such a way that it would be irresponsible of the bishops not keeping up with them.

«4. Learn to collaborate. Collaboration with his priests and deacons, and certainly with lay women and men, is an enrichment for the bishop and is, at the same time, a continuous learning process.»

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