VATICAN CITY, NOV. 15, 2010 (Zenit.org).- A bishops' conference is a useful tool, but should never substitute the role of the bishop or act as an intermediary between a bishop and the Roman Pontiff, Benedict XVI says.
The Pope clarified this Monday when he addressed the bishops of the central west region of Brazil, in Rome for their five-yearly "ad limina" visit. This is the last group of Brazilian prelates to make the visit; because of the size of the Catholic community in Brazil, the bishops are divided in regions. The various groups have been making their "ad limina" visits over the last 14 months.
The Holy Father explained to the prelates that episcopal conferences were created as a "concrete application of the collegial affection of the bishops in hierarchical communion with the Successor of Peter."
Its mission, he said, is "to be an instrument of affective and effective communion among all the members, and of efficient collaboration with the pastor of each particular Church in the threefold function of teaching, sanctifying and governing the sheep of his flock."
Likewise, it is "one of the forms, found under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which makes possible the joint and harmonious exercise of some pastoral functions for the good of the faithful and of all the citizens of a specific territory," the Pontiff continued.
However, he alerted, though it must promote "the union of efforts and intentions of the bishops, becoming an instrument for them to share their toil," it must "avoid placing itself as a parallel or substitute of the ministry of each of the bishops," or "constitute itself as an intermediary between the bishop and the See of Peter."
Benedict XVI said it is important to remember that the advisers and structures of the episcopal conference exist for "the service of the bishops, not to substitute them."
It is a manifestation of the "pastoral solicitude of the bishops," he said, "whose primary concern must be the salvation of souls."
The Holy Father affirmed that the essential mission of every episcopal conference is helping the bishops have greater communication and communion in tasks that affect them all.
"In the faithful exercise of the doctrinal function that corresponds to you, when you come together in your assemblies, dear bishops, you must above all study the most effective means to have the universal magisterium reach opportunely the people entrusted to you," he said.
Some topics today call for a joint action from the bishops, the Holy Father suggested, pointing specifically to issues such as the promotion and protection of faith and morals, the translation of liturgical books, the promotion and formation of vocations, the elaboration of subsidies for catechesis, the tasks related to ecumenism, and the relationship with civil authorities.
Other topics to be addressed jointly are "the defense of human life, from conception to natural death, the sanctity of the family and of marriage between man and woman, the right of parents to educate their children, religious liberty, the other human rights, peace and social justice," he continued.
The Pope told the Brazilian bishops that today's secularized society demands of Christians a "renewed testimony of life."
In this way, he said, "the proclamation of the Gospel is received for what it is: The Good News of the salvific action of God who comes to meet man."