"Pastores Gregis" Highlights Holiness

Exhortation Makes Holiness a Priority

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 16, 2003 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II’s newest apostolic exhortation could be summed up in one phrase: The Church needs bishops who are saints.

The Pope signed the document, entitled «Pastores Gregis» (Pastors of the Flock), today in Paul VI Hall, on the 25th anniversary of his pontificate. The document gathers the conclusions of the 2001 synod on the role of bishops in the Church.

In that 2001 assembly, whose theme was «The Bishop Minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World,» the prelates presented the Pope with dozens of proposals, which he considered when writing the almost 200-page postsynodal apostolic exhortation.

The result is a «pastoral rule» that the Holy Father presents to the world’s Catholic bishops, defining the figure of the bishop.

«Pastores Gregis» summarizes this rule with a phrase borrowed from St. Gregory Nazianzen (circa 330 to circa 390) addressed to bishops: «First be holy yourselves and then make others holy.»

Thus, the exhortation is «a clearer specification of the properly ‘episcopal’ character of the Bishop’s path to holiness.»

«This will always be a holiness lived with his people and for his people, in a communion which becomes a stimulus to a mutual building up in charity,» the Pope affirms in the document. «These are not secondary or marginal demands.

«It is precisely the Bishop’s own spiritual life which favors the fruitfulness of his pastoral activity. Is not the ultimate basis of all pastoral effectiveness constant meditation on the mystery of Christ, passionate contemplation of his Face, and generous imitation of the life of the Good Shepherd?» the Holy Father asks.

«If ours is indeed a time of continual movement and even at times of frenzied ‘doing for the sake of doing,’ then the Bishop must be the first to show, by the example of his own life, the need to re-establish the primacy of ‘being’ over ‘doing,'» he writes.

The introduction to the exhortation poses the question of Christian hope, particularly in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001. In fact, the episcopal assembly began 16 days after the world was shocked by the terrorist attacks.

«Whatever we may be, let not your hope be placed in us,» the Pope writes. «Hope lies in the salvation of Christ.» Therefore, the bishop becomes «the hope of the world» to the degree that he is a «servant of the Gospel.»

The text is divided in seven chapters. The first analyzes «The Mystery and Ministry of the Bishops,» emphasizing the dimension of the «good shepherd» which characterizes the bishop — image of his Master — and the collegial dimension.

In addressing «effective collegiality,» the document surmounts an individualistic conception of the episcopal ministry. It states that the bishop is never alone, as he is always in hierarchical communion with his brothers in the episcopate and with the Successor of Peter.

Stressing the importance of episcopal conferences, the patriarchal churches and their synods, «Pastores Gregis» proposes revitalizing the ecclesiastical provinces and the role of the metropolitan archbishop to promote joint pastoral work among the dioceses.

The second chapter focuses on «The Spiritual Life of the Bishop,» emphasizing the special call to holiness every prelate has received.

Chapter 3 presents the bishop as «Teacher of the Faith and Herald of the Word.» In particular, it highlights these challenges: the bishop as hearer and guardian of the Word; authentic and authoritative service of the Word; episcopal ministry for the inculturation of the Gospel; and preaching by word and example.

«Minister of the Grace of High Priesthood» is the title of Chapter 4, which emphasizes, among other things, the role of the bishop as moderator of the liturgy as a pedagogy of faith.

Chapter 5, on «The Pastoral Governance of the Bishops,» was one of the most awaited sections at the conclusion of the synod. It presents the bishop’s authority as pastoral service. Other topics include pastoral style of governance; the relation of the bishop with his presbyterate; and the formation of candidates for the priesthood.

Chapter 6 is entitled «In the Communion of the Churches» and focuses on the diocesan bishop in relation to the Church’s supreme authority. Its topics include the five-year visits to Rome; the synod of bishops; the Eastern Catholic Churches; and ecumenical dialogue.

The last chapter, «The Bishop Before the Challenges of the Present,» addresses critical issues such as the role of the bishop as promoter of justice and peace; interreligious dialogue; civil, social and economic Life; respect for the environment; and pastoral care in the health-care field.

The last synods of the world’s bishops, held after the Second Vatican Council, have sought to renew various aspects of Church life, such as the mission of the laity, priests and religious. The new document is the culmination of the ecclesial renewal launched by Pope John XXIII with the council.

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