Pope Outlines for Bishops His Vision of What It Means to Be a Pastor

Tells Italian Prelates: Be Tireless Caregivers and Courageous Teachers

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Pope Francis addressed the opening session of the annual Plenary Assembly of the Italian Bishops’ Conference or CEI, on Monday evening, inaugurating the 66th assembly of Italian bishops. The focus of his remarks to the bishops was the essence of what it means to be a pastor.

Francis structured his discourse in three points. Starting with the first, he began, “The people look to us,” saying, “They look to us for help in grasping the singularity of their daily lives in God’s providential plan.” He added that “faith is the living memory of an encounter nurtured by the fire of the Word that shapes the ministry and anoints the people.»

For this reason, he warned, “Without constant prayer, the Pastor is exposed to the danger of being ashamed of the Gospel, and ends up defusing the scandal of the Cross in worldly ‘wisdom.’”

“The temptations, which aim to obscure the primacy of God and His Christ, are legion in the life of the Pastor,” he said, noting they range from lukewarmness, which «leads to mediocrity” to “sloth” which «leads to intolerance, almost as if everything were a burden.»

In order to “enter into the lives of our people and understand them in the light of Easter morning,” the temptation to grow accustomed to sadness, which “cancels out every expectation and creativity,” must be avoided, the Pope said, as it leaves us “unsatisfied” and “incapable” of doing so.

To combat these temptations, Pope Francis urged the Italian bishops never to cease to seek the Lord, because “He is the principle and foundation that envelops our weaknesses with mercy, transforming and renewing everything.»

“If we want to follow him, there is no other path,” he said, adding otherwise we leave our people at the mercy of a society of indifference and desperation.

When following him, however, we can recognize that, “All is grace, even the difficulties and contradictions of human life, if these are lived with a heart open to the Lord.”

Church

Proceeding to the second aspect of pastors of the Church as the body of the Lord, he remarked that the Church is the “other grace for which we must feel profoundly indebted.” Its unity is a “gift and responsibility” and its sacrament «shapes our mission.”

“As pastors, we must seek refuge from temptations that otherwise disfigure us,» the Pontiff said, adding to protect themselves from “the claims of those who wish to defend unity by denying diversity, thus humiliating the gifts with which God continues to keep His Church young and beautiful.”

“In relation to these temptations, ecclesial experience is the most effective antidote. It emanates from the sole Eucharist, whose cohesive strength generates fraternity, the ability to accept, forgive and walk together,” he said.

The Holy Father urged the bishops to love people and communities with “generous and total dedication” and to trust that “the holy people of God has the pulse to find the right roads.”

Family

In relation to the third point of pastors of a Church that anticipates and promises the Kingdom, he commented that “serving the Kingdom means living a life decentred from oneself, striving for the encounter that is the path for truly rediscovering what we are: proclaimers of the truth of Christ and His mercy.”

“With this clarity,” he added, “may your proclamation be cadenced by the eloquence of gestures.” Francis said to do so “among the ‘places’ in which your presence seems to me to be most necessary and meaningful.”

He noted the first and foremost of these places is the family, saying “Nowadays, the domestic community is strongly penalised by a culture that privileges individual rights and transmits a logic of the temporary.”

The Pontiff encouraged them to promote the lives of the unborn child and the elderly as well as to “tend with compassion the emotionally wounded and whose plans for life are compromised.” He also said, “Another space that the bishops must not desert is the ‘waiting room’ crowded with the unemployed,” as it is an “historic emergency, that appeals to the social responsibility of all: as Church.”

“Let us not give in to catastrophism and resignation, instead supporting with every form of creative solidarity the efforts of those who, without work, feel deprived even of their dignity,” said the Pope.

He concluded, promising prayers for the bishops of Italy, and asking them to pray for him as he continues to prepare for his voyage to the Holy Land, scheduled for this weekend, May 24-26.

Conference participants will discuss proposals to amend the «Statute and Regulation of the Italian Episcopal Conference» and the “Guide to proclamation and catechesis in Italy,” and will also consider the theme “Christian education and missionary in the light of the Apostolic exhortation ‘Evangelii Gaudium.’” (D.C.L.)

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