John Paul II´s Homily at Closing of Synod of Bishops

Weakness of the Church Lies in Division, He Says

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 28, 2001 ( John Paul II gave the following homily at the Mass on Saturday in St. Peter´s Basilica that closed the Synod of Bishops. The synod, which began Sept. 30, focused on the theme “The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World.”

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1. “Proclaim His salvation to every people” (Responsorial Psalm)

These words from the Responsorial Psalm express very well the interior attitude common to us, Venerable Brothers, at the end of the Tenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The prolonged and studied approach on the theme of the episcopacy renewed in each of us the enfervored awareness of the mission entrusted to us by the Lord Jesus Christ. With apostolic fervor, on behalf of the entire Episcopal College that we represent, united next to the tomb of the Apostle Peter, we would like to re-emphasize our choral adhesion to the mandate of the Risen One: “We shall proclaim the salvation of the Lord to the peoples.”

This is almost a new beginning, on the wave of the Great Jubilee of the Year Two Thousand and at the beginning of the Third Christian Millennium. The first Reading took us back to the Jubilee atmosphere, the Messianic oracle of Isaiah echoed many times during the Holy Year. It is an announcement full of hope for all the poor and the afflicted. It is the beginning of the “year of mercy of the Lord” (Is 61:2), which found its strong expression in the Jubilee, yet transcends every calendar to extend everywhere the salvific presence of Christ and His Spirit reach.

Listening to this proclamation once again, we have confirmed ourselves in the conviction expressed at the end of the Great Jubilee: to leave more fully open the living door which is Christ for the new generations of the new millennium (cf. Novo millennio ineunte, 59). In fact, Christ is the hope of the world. The task of the Church and, in a particular way, of the Apostles and their successors, is to spread His Gospel to the ends of the world.

2. The exhortation by the Apostle Peter to the “elders,” heard during the second Reading, like the evangelical pericope, now being proclaimed, use the symbolism of the shepherd and the flock, presenting the ministry of Christ and the Apostles in a pastoral “key.” “Give a shepherd´s care to the flock of God that is entrusted to you,” Peter wrote, in remembrance of the mandate he received from Christ: “Feed my lambs … Feed my sheep” (Jn 21:15,16,17). More significant yet, is the self-revelation of the Son of God: “I am the Good Shepherd” (Jn 10:11), with the sacrificial connotations: “I lay down my life for my sheep” (cf. Jn 10:15).

Because of this Peter defines himself as a “witness to the sufferings of Christ, and as one who is to have a share in the glory that is to be revealed” (1 Pet 5:1). The Shepherd is, in the Church, first of all the bearer of this Paschal and eschatological witness, which finds its acme in the celebration of the Eucharist, the memorial to the death of the Lord and pre-announcing his glorious return. The celebration of the Eucharist is, therefore, the pastoral action par excellence: the “Do this in memory of me” includes, not only the ritual repetition of the Last Supper, but also, in consequence of this, the availability to offer oneself for the flock, following the example He gave during His life and above all in His death.

3. The image of the Good Shepherd has been evoked many times during these weeks in the interventions in the Synodal Hall. In effect, it is the “icon” that inspired many holy Bishops throughout the centuries and which, better than any other, depicts the duties and the lifestyle of the successors of the Apostles. In this perspective, we can but observe how the Synodal Assembly, which we are ending today, ideally goes back to the entire Magisterium that the Church left us during its history. For example, it should suffice to think back to the Council of Trent, separated from us by approximately four and a half centuries. Among the reasons that Council had such an enormous innovating influence in the path of the People of God, surely there was the re-proposal of the cura animarum as the first and primary duty of the Bishops, committed to stable residence with their flock and to form valid collaborators in the pastoral ministry through the creation of seminaries.

Four hundred years later, Vatican Council II once again took up and developed the lesson of the Tridentine, opening it towards the horizons of new evangelization. At the dawn of the Third Millennium, the ideal figure of the Bishop, the Church continues to count upon, is that of the Shepherd who, configured to Christ in the sanctity of life, spends himself generously for the Church entrusted to him, at the same time bearing the solicitude for all the Churches spread throughout the earth, in the heart (cf. 2 Cor 11:28).

4. The Bishop, the Good Shepherd, finds light and strength for his ministry in the Word of God, interpreted in the communion of the Church and proclaimed with “opportune and importune” (2 Tim 4:2) courageous faithfulness. Teacher of the faith, the Bishop promotes all that is good and positive in the flock entrusted to him, supporting and guiding the weak ones to the faith (cf. Rom 14:1), intervenes to unmask the falsehoods and to fight against abuses.

It is important that the Bishop be aware of the challenges that faith in Christ encounters today, because of a mentality based on human criteria that, at times, make the Law and the Plan of God relative. Above all, he must have the courage to proclaim and defend the healthy doctrine, even when this entails sufferings. In fact, the Bishop, in communion with the Apostolic College and with the Successor of Peter, have the duty of protecting the faithful from any kind of temptation, showing through the sincere return to the Gospel of Christ the true solution to the complex problems that burden humanity. The service the Bishops are called to render to their flock, will be the source of hope in the measure that they mirror an ecclesiology of communion and of mission. In the Synodal encounters during these days, the need for a spirituality of communion was underlined many times. Quoting the Instrumentum laboris, “the Church´s strength is her communion; her weakness is division and internal opposition” was repeated many times (no. 63).

Only if the deep and convinced unity of the Shepherds among themselves and with the Successor of Peter is clearly perceptible, just as the Bishops with their priests, can a credible answer be given to the challenges that come from today´s social and cultural context. Pertaining to this, dearest Brothers, Members of the Synodal Assembly, I would like to express my grateful appreciation for the witness of joyous communion in the solicitude for today´s humanity that you have given during these days.

5. I would like to ask you to bring my greetings to your faithful and, in a special way, to your priests, to whom you will devote special attention, establishing with each one of them a direct, trusting and cordial relationship. I also know that you already make efforts to do this, convinced as you are that a diocese functions well only if its clergy is joyously united, in fraternal charity, around its Bishop.

I also ask you to greet the Bishops Emeriti, conveying to them the expression of my recognition for the work done at the service of the faithful. I wanted to have their representatives at this Synodal Assembly, also to reflect on this topic, which is new in the Church, since it originates in a resolution of the Vatican Council II, for the good of the particular Churches. I trust that each Episcopal Conference will study how to attribute value to the Bishops Emeriti who are still in good health and rich in energy, entrusting them with some ecclesial service and, above all, the study of the problems for which they have experience and competence, callin
g upon those who are available to take part in one of the Episcopal Commissions, along with their younger brethren, so that they will always feel like living members of the Episcopal College.

I would also like to send particular greetings to the Bishops of continental China, whose absence at the Synod has not prevented us from feeling their spiritual closeness in memory and in prayer.

6. “When the chief Shepherd appears, you will be given the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pet 5:4). Upon the conclusion of this first Synodal Assembly of the third millennium I fondly remember the fifteen Bishops canonized during the Twentieth Century: Alessandro Maria Sauli, Bishop of Pavia; Roberto Bellarmino, Cardinal, Bishop of Capua, Doctor of the Church; Albert the Great, Bishop of Ravensburg, Doctor of the Church; John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, Martyr; Antonio Maria Claret, Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba; Vincenzo Maria Strambi, Bishop of Macerata and Tolentino; Antonio Maria Gianelli, Bishop of Bobbio; Gregorio Barbarigo, Bishop of Padua; Juan de Ribera, Archbishop of Valencia; Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh, Martyr; Giustino De Jacobis, Bishop of Nilopoli and Apostolic Vicar of Abyssinia; John Nepomucenus Neumann, Bishop of Philadelphia; Jeronimo Hermosilla, Valentino Berrio-Ochoa and six other Bishops, martyrs in Vietnam; Ezechiel Moreno y Diaz, Bishop of Pasto (Colombia); Charles Joseph Eugène de Mazenod, Bishop of Marseilles. Furthermore, in less than a month, I will have the joy of proclaiming Giuseppe Marello, Bishop of Acqui, as a saint.

From this elite circle of holy Shepherds, which could be extended to the numerous group of the beatified Bishops, there emerges, as in a mosaic, the face of Christ the Good Shepherd and Missionary of the Father. On this living icon we fix our gaze, at the beginning of the new epoch which Providence opens up to us, to be with ever growing commitment servants of the Gospel, hope of the world.

May we always be assisted in our ministry by the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the Apostles. In all times, She shines, at the horizon of the Church and of the world, as a sign of consolation and of certain hope.

[Translation of Italian original by Secretariat of Synod of Bishops]

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