Today, the Holy Father Francis received in audience the recently appointed Bishops taking part in the Congress organized by the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the Eastern Churches.
Here is a translation of the Pope’s address to those present.
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“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 132:1).
I think you have experienced the truth of these words in the past days here at Rome, living an experience of fraternity; fraternity fostered by friendship, of knowing one another, of being together, which happens above all by the sacramental bonds of communion of the Episcopal College and with the Bishop of Rome. May this being only “one body” guide you in your daily work and drive you to ask yourselves: how should the spirit of collegiality and collaboration in the Episcopate be lived? How can we be builders of communion and unity in the Church that the Lord has entrusted to us? The Bishop is a man of communion and unity, “visible principle and foundation of unity”! (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 23).
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, I greet you one by one, Latin and Eastern Bishops: you reflect the great richness and variety of the Church! I thank Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, for the greeting he addressed to me, also on your behalf, and for having organized these days, in which you are pilgrims to the Tomb of Peter, to reinforce communion and to pray and reflect on your ministry. With him I greet Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, and Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila.
“Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2). May these words of Saint Peter be engraved in your heart! We are called and constituted Pastors not by ourselves but by the Lord and not to serve ourselves but the flock , which has been entrusted to us, to serve it to the point of giving of our life for it as Christ, the Good Shepherd did (cf. John 10:11).
What does it mean to tend, to have “habitual and daily care of the flock” (Lumen Gentium, 27)? Three brief thoughts. To tend means: to welcome with magnanimity, to walk with the flock, to stay with the flock.
To welcome with magnanimity. May your heart be so large that you are able to welcome all men and women that you meet in the course of your days and that you will go to seek when you begin your journey in your parishes and in every community. Henceforth ask yourselves: how will those who knock on the door of my house find it? If they find it open, through your kindness, your availability, they will experience God’s paternity and they will understand that the Church is a good Mother that always welcomes and loves.
To walk with the flock. Welcome all to walk with all. The Bishop is journeying with his flock. This means to go on the way with your faithful and with all those who turn to you, sharing their joys and hopes, difficulties and sufferings, as brothers and friends, but even more as fathers, who are able to listen, to understand, to help, to guide. To walk together calls for love and ours is a service of love, amoris officium, said Saint Augustine (In Io. Ev. Tract. 123,5: PL35, 1967).
And in journeying I would like to mention affection for your priests. They are the first neighbors of a Bishop, indispensable collaborators to whom we look for counsel and help, to take care of as fathers, brothers and friends. Among the first tasks you have is the spiritual care of the presbyter, but do not forget the human need of each priest, above all in the more delicate and important moments of his ministry and life. Time spent with priests is never lost time! Receive them when they request it; do not fail to answer a telephone call; be constantly close, in continuous contact with them.
Then presence in the diocese. In the homily of the Chrism Mass of this year, I said that Pastors must have “the scent of sheep.” Be Pastors with the scent of sheep, present in the midst of your people as Jesus the Good Shepherd. Your presence is not secondary, it’s indispensable. The people themselves ask for it; they want to see their Bishop walk with them, being close to them. They need it to live and to breathe! Don’t close yourselves! Descend in the midst of your faithful, also in the fringes of your dioceses and in all those “existential fringes” where there is suffering, loneliness, human degradation. Pastoral presence means to journey with the People of God: in front, pointing out the way; in their midst, einforcing them in unity; behind, so that no one will remain behind but, above all, to follow the scent that the People of God have to find new ways. A Bishop who lives in the midst of his faithful has his ears open to hear “what the Spirit says to the Churches” (Revelation 2:7) and the “voice of the sheep,” also through those diocesan organizations that have the task of advising the Bishop, promoting a loyal and constructive dialogue. This pastoral presence will also enable you to know in depth the culture, the usages, the customs of the territory, the richness of sanctity that is present there. To be immersed in one’s flock.
And here I would like to add: may the style of service to the flock be one of humility, I would even say of austerity and of essentialness. We Pastors are not men with the “psychology of princes,” ambitious men, who are spouses of a Church, while awaiting a more beautiful, more important or richer Church. Be very careful not to fall into the spirit of careerism! It is not just with the word but also and above all with the concrete witness of life that we are teachers and educators of our people. The proclamation of the faith calls for conforming our life to what we teach. Mission and life are inseparable (cf. John Paul II, Pastores gregis, 31). It’s a question to ask oneself every day: does what I live correspond to what I teach?
The third and last element: to stay with the flock. I am referring to stability, which has two specific aspects: “to stay” in the diocese, and to stay in “this” diocese, without looking for changes or promotions. As pastors we cannot really know our flock, walk before it, in its midst and behind it , take care of it with teaching, the administration of the Sacraments and the witness of life, if we don’t stay in our diocese. Ours is a time in which one can travel, move from one point to another with ease, a time in which relations are swift, the age of the Internet. However, the ancient law of residence is not out of fashion! It is necessary for good pastoral government (Directory Apostolorum Successores, 161). There is certainly concern for the other Churches and for the universal one, which can call for being absent from the diocese, but it should be for the necessary strict time and not habitually. Look, residence isn’t requested only for a good organization, it’s not a functional element; it has a theological root! You are spouses of your community, profoundly bound to it! I ask you, please, to stay in the midst of your people. Stay, stay … Avoid the scandal of being “airport Bishops”! Be welcoming Pastors, journeying with your people, with affection, with mercy, with gentleness in your dealing with them and with paternal firmness, with humility and discretion, capable also of seeing your limitations and having a dosage of good humor. And stay with your flock!
Dear fellow Bishops, on returning to your dioceses take my greeting to all, in particular to the priests, the consecrated men and women, the seminarians, all the faithful, and those who have greater need of the Lord’s closeness. May the presence of two Syrian Bishops pu
sh us once again to pray together to God for the gift of peace. Peace for Syria, peace for the Middle East, peace for the world! Remember to pray also for me, as I do for you. To each one of you and to your communities I impart my heartfelt blessing.