Francis' Address to Bishops' Congregation

«Where can we find such men? … I am sure that they are there, since the Lord does not abandon his Church»

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Here is a translation of the full address given by Pope Francis last Thursday to the Congregation for Bishops.

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The Essential Mission of the Congregation

In the celebration of the ordination of a Bishop the Church gathered together, after the invocation of the Holy Spirit, asks for the present candidate to be ordained. He who presides then asks: “Do you have the mandate?” …  Echoing in this question is what the Lord did: “He called to him the twelve, and began to send them out two by two …” (Mark 6:7). In fact, the question could also be expressed thus: “Are you certain that his name was pronounced by the Lord? Are you certain that it was the Lord who numbered him among those called to be with Him in a singular way and to entrust to him the mission that is not his, but that was entrusted to the Lord by the Father?”

This Congregation exists to help write this mandate, which then resonates in many Churches and brings joy and hope to the Holy People of God. This Congregation exists to ensure that the name chosen has first of all been pronounced by the Lord. See the great mission entrusted to the Congregation for Bishops, its most exacting task: to identify those that the Holy Spirit Himself chooses to lead His Church.

From the lips of the Church will come in every time and in every place the question: give us a Bishop! The Holy People of God continue to speak: we need someone who looks after us from on high; we need someone who looks upon us with the breadth of the heart of God; we do not need a manager, a company administrator, and much less one who is at the level of our smallness or little pretensions. We need someone who knows how to raise himself to the height of God’s gaze above us to guide us towards Him. Only in God’s gaze is there a future for us. We need someone who, knowing the breadth of God’s field more than his own narrow garden, guarantees to us that what our hearts aspire is not a vain promise.

People go through laboriously the plain of the everyday, and are in need of being guided by someone who is capable of seeing things from on high. Therefore, we must never lose sight of the needs of the particular Churches for whom we must always provide. There does not exist a standard Pastor for all Churches. Christ knows the singularity of the Pastor that every Church requires, to respond to her needs and help her to realize her potential. Our challenge is to enter into Christ’s view, taking into account the singularity of the particular Churches.

God’s Horizon Determines the Mission of the Congregation

To choose such ministers we too need to elevate ourselves, to rise to the “upper level.” We can do no less than go up, we cannot be content with low measures. We must rise above and overcome any eventual preferences, sympathies, provenances or tendencies to arrive at God’s broad horizon and to find these bearers of His gaze from on high. We do not need men conditioned by fear from below, but Pastors endowed with parresia, capable of ensuring that in the world there is a Sacrament of unity (Constitution Lumen Gentium, 1), and therefore that humanity is not destined to abandonment and helplessness.

It is this great objective, delineated by the Spirit, which determines the way in which this generous and exacting task is carried out, for which I am immensely grateful to each one of you, beginning with the Cardinal Prefect Marc Ouellet and embracing all of you, Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops Members. I would like to address a special word of gratitude, for the generosity of their work, to the Officials of the Dicastery, who silently and patiently contribute to the success of the service of providing the Church with Pastors of which she is in need.

In approving the appointment of each Bishop, I would like to be able to feel the authority of your discernment and the greatness of the horizons according to which you arrive at your counsel. Therefore, the spirit that presides over your work cannot be other than that humble, silent and laborious process carried out by the light that comes from above. Professionalism, service and holiness of life: if we turn away from these three virtues we fall from the greatness to which we are called.

The Apostolic Church as Wellspring

Where, then, can we find this light? The height of the Church is always found in the depths of her foundations. In the Apostolic Church there is what is high and profound. The future of the Church always lives in her origins.

Therefore, Iinvite you to remember and to “visit” the Apostolic Church to seek there some criteria. We know that the College of Bishops, which the Bishops enter by the Sacrament, succeeds the Apostolic College. The world needs to know that this sequence is uninterrupted.  At least in the Church, this link with the divine arche has not been broken. People already know through suffering the experience of the many ruptures: they need to find that there remains in the Church the grace of her origins.

The Bishop as Witness of the Risen Christ

Let us consider, therefore, the moment in which the Apostolic Church must recompose the College of the Twelve after the betrayal of Judas. Without the Twelve, the fullness of the Spirit cannot descend. We must find a successor among those who have followed from the beginning the journey of Jesus and who now can be, “along with the Twelve,” a “witness of the Resurrection” (cf. Acts 1:21-22.) We must choose from the followers of Jesus those who will be witnesses of the Risen Christ.

From here derives the essential criterion to sketch the face of the Bishops we wish to have. Who is a witness of the Risen Christ? It is he who has followed Jesus from the beginning and is constituted with the Apostles a witness of his Resurrection. Also for us, this is the unifying criterion: the Bishop is he who is able to make current all that befell Jesus and above all, who knows, along with the Church, how to bear witness to His Resurrection. The Bishop is first of all a martyr of the Risen One. Not an isolated witness, but together with the Church. His life and his ministry must render the Resurrection credible. Uniting himself to Christ on the cross of the true giving of himself, he makes flow for the Church herself the life that does not die.  The courage to die, the generosity of offering his own life and of consuming himself for the flock is inscribed in the DNA of the Episcopate. I would like to emphasize that renouncement and sacrifice is inherent in the episcopal mission. The Episcopate is not for oneself, it is for the Church, for the flock, for others, especially for those who according to the world should be excluded.

Therefore, to identify a Bishop, it is not necessary to list his human, intellectual, cultural or even pastoral skills. The profile of a Bishop is not the algebraic sum of his virtues. Certainly there is a need for someone who excels; whose human integrity ensures a capacity for healthy, balanced relationships, so as not to project his shortcomings onto others and to become a destabilizing factor; his Christian solidity is essential to promote fraternity and communion; his upright behavior attests to the lofty measure of the disciples of the Lord; his cultural preparation must enable him to enter into dialogue with men and their cultures; his orthodoxy and faithfulness to the complete Truth held by the Church makes him a pillar and a point of reference; his interior and exterior discipline enables him to be self-possessed and opens room for the welcome and guidance of others; his capacity to govern with paternal firmness ensures confidence in the authority which helps to grow; his transparency and detachment when managing community assets must confer authority and merit the esteem of all.

All these indispensable skills must be, however, in support of his centr
al witness to the Risen Christ, and must be subordinate to this central commitment. It is the Spirit of the Risen Christ that makes his witnesses, that integrates and elevates the qualities and the values that edify the Bishop.

5.     The Sovereignty of God, Responsible for the Decision

Let us return to the apostolic text. After the tiring task of discernment, the Apostles pray: “Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these  … thou hast chosen” (Acts 1:24) and “they cast lots” (Acts 1:26). We learn the climate of our work and the true Author of our choices. We cannot elude that “show us, Lord.” It is always indispensable to ensure the sovereignty of God. The decisions cannot be conditioned by our claims for any groups, cliques or hegemonies. To guarantee this sovereignty two attitudes are fundamental: conscience before God, and collegiality. And this guarantees.

From the first steps of our complex work (from the Nunciatures to the work of the Officials, Members and Superiors), these two attitudes are indispensable: the conscience before God and the collegial commitment. Not discretion, but the discernment of all. No one can have everything on hand; each person must humbly and honestly add his tile to a mosaic which belongs to God. Such a fundamental vision drives us to abandon the small coasting of our boats to follow the route of the great ship of the Church of God, her universal horizon of salvation, her firm compass in the Word and in the Ministry, the certainty of the breath of the Spirit that pushes her and the safety of the port that awaits her.

6.     “Kerygmatic” Bishops

Acts 6:1-7 teaches another criterion: the Apostles impose their hand upon those who must serve the tables because they cannot “give up preaching the Word of God.” Since faith comes from proclamation we need kerygmatic Bishops, men who render accessible that “for you” of which Saint Paul speaks. Men who are guardians of doctrine, not so as to measure how far the world is from doctrinal truth, but in order to fascinate the world, to enchant it with the beauty of love, with the freedom offered by the Gospel. The Church does not need apologists for her causes or crusades for her battles, but humble and trusting sowers of the truth, who know that it is always given to them anew and trust in its power; men who are patient because they know that the darnel will never fill the field. The human heart is made for the seed; it was the enemy who in a hidden way flung the bad seed. The time of the darnel, however, is already irrevocably fixed.

I would like to underline this well: patient men! They say that Cardinal Siri used to repeat: “Five are the virtues of a Bishop: first patience, second patience, third patience, fourth patience and last patience with those who invite us to have patience.” Hence it is necessary to commit oneself to the preparation of the earth, to the abundance of the sowing. To act like confident sowers, avoiding the fear of the one who deludes himself that the harvest depends only on himself, or the desperate attitude of the schoolboys who, having neglected to do the tasks, cry out that now there is nothing more to do.

7.     Praying Bishops

The same text of Acts 6:1-7 refers to prayer as one of two essential tasks of the Bishop:

“Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word” (vv. 3-4). I have spoken of kerygmatic Bishops: now I will move on to the other trait typical of the Bishop: he must be a man of prayer, The same parrhesia he must have in the proclamation of the Word, must be present in his prayer, in speaking with God our Lord of the good of his people, the salvation of his people. Courageous in the prayer of intercession as Abraham, who negotiated with God the salvation of that people (cf. Genesis 18:22-23); as Moses when he felt impotent to lead the people (Numbers 11:10-15), when the Lord was annoyed with His people (cf. Numbers 14:10-19), or when He tells him that he is about to destroy the people and promises him to make him the head of another people. The courage to say no, I do not negotiate my people, before Him! (cf. Exodus 32:11-14.30-32). A man who does not have the courage to argue with God on behalf of his people cannot be a Bishop – I say this from my heart, I am convinced of it — nor can he who is unable to assume the mission of guiding the people of God to where He, the Lord, indicates (cf. Exodus 32:33-34).

And this also applies to apostolic patience: the same hypomone which he must exercise in the preaching of the Word (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:4) he must have in his prayer. The Bishop must be able to go with patience before God, looking and letting himself be looked at, seeking and letting himself be sought, finding and letting himself be found, patiently before the Lord. Many times falling asleep before the Lord, but this is good, it does good!

In prayer parrhesia and hypomone forge the heart of the Bishop and accompany him in the parrhesia and in the hypomone that he must have in the proclamation of the Word in the kerygma. I understand this when I read verse 4 of chapter 6 of the Acts of the Apostles.

8.     Bishop-Pastors

In the words I addressed to the Papal Representatives, I sketched the profile of candidates to the Episcopate thus: May Bishops be shepherds, close to the people; “fathers and brothers, may they be gentle, patient, merciful; may they love poverty, interior poverty, as freedom for the Lord, and exterior poverty, as well as simplicity and a modest lifestyle; may they not have the mindset of ‘princes.’” Be careful that they are not ambitious, that they are not in quest of the Episcopate, that they are espoused to the Church, without constantly seeking another; this is called adultery. May they be overseers of the flock that has been entrusted to them, to take care of everything that is needed to keep it united; … capable of ‘watching over the flock” (June 21, 2013). I wish to emphasize again that the Church needs genuine Pastors. Look at the testament of the Apostle Paul (cf. Acts 20:17-38). It is the only address pronounced by the Apostle in the Book of the Acts that is directed to Christians. He does not speak to his Pharisee adversaries, or to the wise Greeks, but to his own. He speaks directly to us. He commits the pastors of the Church “to the Word of grace that has the power to build you up and give you an inheritance.” Therefore, not masters of the Word, but committed to it, servants of the Word. Only in this way is it possible to edify and obtain the inheritance of the Saints. To those who are plagued with questions about their legacy: ‘What is the legacy of a Bishop, gold or silver?’ Paul answers, ‘Holiness.’ The Church remains when God’s holiness spreads to her members. When from the depth of her heart, which is the Most Holy Trinity, this holiness gushes and reaches the whole Body. It is necessary that the anointing from on high run down to the hem of the mantle. A Bishop can never give up the anxiety for the oil of the Spirit of holiness to reach the last strip of the garment of his Church.

Vatican Council II states that the ‘pastoral office or the habitual and daily care of their sheep is entrusted’ completely to Bishops’ (Lumen Gentium, 27). We should reflect longer on these two qualifications of the care of the flock: habitual and daily. In our times, regularity and the everyday are often associated with routine and boredom. Therefore we often try to escape to a permanent “elsewhere.” This is a temptation of Pastors, of all Pastors. Spiritual fathers shoul
d explain this well, so that we understand it and do not fall. Unfortunately even in the Church we are not exempt from this risk. Therefore it is important to confirm that the mission of the Bishop exacts the habitual and daily. I think that in this time of meetings and congresses the decree of the Council of Trent is very current, and it would be good for the Congregation for Bishops to write something about this. The flock needs to find a place in the heart of its Pastor. If this is not solidly anchored in himself, in Christ and His Church, the Bishop will continually be at the mercy of the waves, in search of ephemeral compensations, and will offer no shelter to his flock.


At the end of these words, I wonder: where can we find such men? It is not easy. Are there any? How should they be selected? I think of the prophet Samuel in search of Saul’s successor (cf. 1 Samuel 16:11-13), who asks the elderly Jesse: “Are all your sons here?” and, hearing that little David was outside in the field grazing the sheep, demands ‘Send for him.’ We too must search among the fields of the Church for men to present to the Lord, in order that He say: “Arise, anoint him; for this is he!” I am sure that they are there, since the Lord does not abandon his Church. Perhaps we are not seeking well enough in the fields. Perhaps we need to heed Samuel’s warning: “We will not sit down till he comes here.” I would like this Congregation to live in this state of holy restlessness.

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
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