Pope's Address to 66th Assembly of Italian Bishops' Conference

“The need of a new humanism is cried out by a society deprived of hope, shaken in many of its fundamental certainties, impoverished by a crisis that, more than economic, is cultural, moral and spiritual.”

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Pope Francis opened the 66th Assembly of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) on May 19th. The meeting in the Vatican’s Synod Hall lasts until Thursday, May 22.

After the initial prayer, Pope Francis delivered the following address in Italian which we translate below.

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“I have always been affected by the way this dialogue between Jesus and Peter ends: “Follow me!” (John 21:19) — the last word. Peter had gone through so many states of mind in that moment: shame, because he remembered the three times he had denied Jesus, and then some embarrassment, he did not know how to respond, and then peace; he was at peace with that “Follow me!” But then, the tempter came again, the temptation of curiosity: “Lord, what about this man [the Apostle John]? What will happen to him?” “What is that to you? You, follow me.” I would like to leave this message, except … I felt it while I listened to this: “What is that to you. You, follow me.” That follow Jesus: this is what is important! It is more important for us. I have always been affected by this …

I thank you for this invitation; I thank the President for his words. I thank the members of the Presidency … Of the members of the Presidency, a newspaper said: “This is a man of the Pope, that isn’t a man of the Pope, this is a man of the Pope …” But the Presidency, from five to six, are all men of the Pope! To speak with this “political” language … However, we must speak with the language of communion. But the press sometimes invents many things, no?

In preparing myself for this appointment of grace, I returned several times to the words of the Apostle, which express what I have – what we all have – in our heart: “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:11-12).

I have lived this year seeking to place myself on the path of each one of you: in personal meetings, in audiences as well as in visits in the territory; I have heard and shared the account of hopes, exhaustion and pastoral concerns. Participants of the same table, we have been encouraged by rediscovering in the broken bread the perfume of an encounter, the ultimate reason of our going to the city of men, with a happy face and the willingness to be a presence and Gospel of life.

At this moment, united to my gratitude for your generous service, I would like to offer you some reflections with which to revisit the ministry, so that it is ever more conformed to the will of Him who has placed us in the leadership of his Church.

The faithful people look to us. The people look at us! I remember a film: “The Children Look to Us”; it was beautiful. The people look to us. They look to us to be helped to receive the singularity of their daily living in the context of God’s providential plan. Ours is an exacting mission: it calls for knowing the Lord, to the point of dwelling in Him and, at the same time, to dwell in the life of our particular Churches, in order to know their faces, their needs and their capacity. If the synthesis of this twofold exigency is entrusted to the responsibility of each one, some features are, nevertheless, common, and today I would like to point out three, which contribute to delineate our profile of Pastors of a Church that is, first of all, community of the Risen One, hence his Body and, at the end, anticipation and promise of the Kingdom.

In this way I also intend to come to meet – at least indirectly – all those who wonder what the expectations are of the Bishop of Rome in regard to the Italian Episcopate.

Pastors of a Church which is community of the Risen One.

Let us ask ourselves, therefore: Who is Jesus Christ for me? How has he marked the truth of my story? What does my life say of Him?

The faith, brothers, is the living memory of an encounter, nourished by the fire of the Word that molds the ministry and anoints the whole of our people. The faith is the seal placed on the heart. Without this custody, without assiduous prayer, the Pastor is exposed to the danger of being ashamed of the Gospel, ending up by diluting the scandal of the cross in worldly wisdom.

The temptations that seek to obscure the primacy of God and of his Christ, are “legions” in the life of the Pastor: they go from lukewarmness, which falls into mediocrity, to seeking a quiet living, which seeks to avoid renunciations and sacrifice. Pastoral haste is a temptation, like its half-sister sloth which leads to intolerance, as if everything was only a weight. A temptation is the presumption of one who deceives himself of being able to count only on his own strengths, on the abundance of resources and structures, on organizational structures that he knows how to put in the field. A Temptation is to settle oneself in sadness, which while it extinguishes every expectation and creativity, leaves one dissatisfied and therefore incapable of entering in the lived experience of our people and of understanding it in the light of the Easter morning.

Brothers, if we distance ourselves from Jesus Christ, if our encounter with him loses its freshness, we end up by touching with our hand only the sterility of our words and our initiatives. Because pastoral plans are useful, but our trust is placed elsewhere: in the Spirit of the Lord that – in the measure of our docility – continually widens the horizons of the mission.

To avoid running aground on the rocks, our spiritual life cannot be reduced to some religious moments. In the succession of days and seasons, in coming close to the ages and events, we train ourselves to consider ourselves looking at Him who does not pass away: spirituality is the return to the essential, to that good which no one can take away from us, the only truly necessary thing. Even in moments of aridity, when the pastoral situations become difficult and one has the impression of being left alone, it is the greatest mantle of consolation of every bitterness; it is measure of liberty, of the judgment of so-called “common sense”; it is the source of joy, which makes us receive everything from the hand of God, to the point of contemplating His presence in everything and everyone.

Therefore, let us not tire of seeking the Lord – of letting ourselves be sought by Him –, of taking care of our relation with Him in silence and prayerful listening. Let us keep our gaze fixed on Him, center of time and of history; let us make room for his presence in us: He is the principle and foundation that envelops our weaknesses with mercy, transfiguring and renewing everything; He is that which is most precious that we are called to offer our people, grieved to let it fall into the hands of a society of indifference, if not of despair. Every man lives of Him, even if he ignores it. In Him, Man of the Beatitudes – the Gospel page that daily comes into my meditation – passes the lofty measure of sanctity if we intend to follow him; we are not given any other way. Going on the way with him, we discover ourselves a people, to the point of recognizing with wonder and gratitude that everything is grace, even the efforts and contradictions of human living, if they are lived with a heart open to the Lord, with the patience of the artisan and with the heart of the repentant sinner.

Thus the memory of the faith is company, ecclesial belonging: this is the second feature of our profile.

Pastors of a Church that is Body of the Lord

Let’s try, again, to ask ourselves: what image do I have of the Church, of my ecclesial community? Do I feel a son of her, as well as Pastor? Do I know how to thank God, or do I remember above all the delays, the defects and what is lacking? How willing am I to suffer for her?

Brothers, the Church – in the treasure of her living Tra
dition, which in the end shines in the holy witness of John XXIII and John Paul II – is the other grace of which we should feel profoundly debtors. After all, if we have entered in the Mystery of the Crucified one, if we have encountered the Risen One, it is in virtue of his Body, which as such can only be one. Unity is a gift and responsibility: being a sacrament, it configures our mission. It requires a heart stripped of every worldly interest, far from vanity and discord; a welcoming heart, capable of feeling with others and also of considering them more worthy than oneself. This is how the Apostle counsels us.

In this perspective the words sound every more timely with which, exactly fifty years ago, the Venerable Pope Paul VI  — whom we will have the joy of proclaiming blessed this coming October 19, at the conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family — addressed in fact the members of the Italian Episcopal Conference and posed as a “vital question for the Church” the service of unity: “The moment has arrived (and should we be grieved by this) to give ourselves and to imprint on Italian ecclesiastical life a strong and renewed spirit of unity.” You will be given this address today. It is a gem. It is as if it had been pronounced yesterday, so it is.

We are convinced: the lack or in any case the poverty of communion constitutes the greatest scandal, the heresy that disfigures the Lord’s face and lacerates his Church. Nothing justifies division. Better to yield, better to renounce, willing sometimes also to bear oneself the trial of an injustice rather than rend the tunic and scandalize the holy people of God.

Therefore, as Pastors, we must flee from the temptation that otherwise disfigures us: the personal management of time, almost being able to exercise a wellbeing and doing without that of our communities; the gossip, the half-truths that become lies, the litany of lamentations that betrays profound delusions; the hardness of one who judges without being involved and the laxity of those who comply without taking charge of the other. Again, being gnawed by jealousy, blindness induced by envy, ambition that generates currents, factions, sectarianism: how empty is the sky of the one obsessed with himself … And , then, the withdrawal that seeks in forms of the past the lost securities; and the pretense of those who would like to defend unity, denying the diversities, thus humiliating the gifts with which God continues to render his Church young and beautiful …

In regard to these temptations, the ecclesial experience constitutes in fact the most effective antidote. It stems from the one Eucharist, whose force of cohesion generates fraternity, the possibility of accepting one another, of forgiving one another and walking together; the Eucharist, of which the capacity is born to makes one’s own an attitude of sincere gratitude and of preserving peace even in the most difficult moments: that peace which does not allow oneself to be overwhelmed by conflicts – which then, reveal themselves sometimes as crucible that purifies – and also not to lull oneself in the dream of beginning again always elsewhere.

A Eucharistic spirituality calls for participation and collegiality, for a pastoral discernment that is nourished in dialogue, in the seeking and effort to think together: it was no accident that Paul VI, in the quoted address – after having described the Council as “a grace,” “a unique and happy occasion,” “an incomparable moment,” “summit of hierarchical and fraternal charity,” “voice of spirituality, of goodness and of peace to the whole world” adds , as the “dominant note” the “free and broad possibility of research, of discussion and of expression.” And this is important in an assembly. Each one says what he feels, frankly, to brothers; and this builds the Church, it helps, without embarrassment, to say it so …

And for the Episcopal Conference, this is the way to be a vital place of communion in the service of unity, in the appreciation of the dioceses, also of the smallest ones. Beginning with the Regional Conferences, therefore, do not tire of weaving between you relations geared to openness and mutual esteem: the strength of a network lies in relations of quality, which reduce the distances and bring territories closer with discussions, the exchange of experiences, the tension to collaboration.

Our priests, you know this well, are often tried by the exigencies of the ministry and, sometimes, discouraged by the impression of the meagerness of the results: let us educate them not to stop to calculate entrances and exists, to verify if what one believes he has given corresponds then to the harvest: more than balances, ours is the time of patience, which is the name of mature love, the truth of our humble, free and trusting giving of ourselves to the Church. Aim to ensure their closeness and comprehension, so that they can always feel at home in your heart; take care of their human, cultural, emotional and spiritual formation. The Extraordinary Assembly of this coming November, dedicated in fact to the life of presbyters, constitutes an opportunity for which to prepare with particular care.

Promote religious life: yesterday its identity was connected especially with works; today it constitutes a precious reserve of the future, on the condition that it is able to place itself as visible sign, solicitation for all to live according to the Gospel. Ask the consecrated, the men and women religious, to be joyful witnesses: Jesus cannot be proclaimed in a complaining manner; so much so that, when joy is lost, one ends by reading the reality, history and one’s own life under a distorted light.

Love persons and communities with generous and total dedication: they are your members! Listen to the flock. Entrust yourselves to its sense of faith and of the Church, which is manifested also in so many ways of popular piety. Trust that the holy people of God have the pulse to single out the right ways. Accompany with generosity the growth of lay co-responsibility; make room for the thought, plans and actions of women and young people: with their intuitions and help you will succeed in not being tied again to a pastoral of conservation , which, in fact, is generic, dispersive, fragmented and not very influencing, and assume, instead, a pastoral that pivots on the essential. As Saint Therese of the Child Jesus synthesized, with the profundity of the simple: Love Him and make Him loved.” May this also be the kernel of the Guidelines for the Proclamation and the Catechesis, which you will address over these days.

Brothers, in our context, often confused and disintegrated, the first ecclesial mission remains that of being leaven of unity, which ferments in making itself close and in the different forms of reconciliation: we will only succeed together – and this is the conclusive feature of the Pastor’s profile — to be prophecy of the Kingdom

Pastors of a Church Anticipation and Promise of the Kingdom

In this connection, let us ask ourselves: Do I have the look of God on persons and events? “I was hungry …, I was thirsty …, I was a stranger …, naked …, sick …, I was in prison” (Matthew 25:31-46): do I fear God’s judgment? Consequently, do I spend myself to scatter with generosity of heart the seed of the good grain in the field of the world?

Here also, temptations appear that, combined with those on which we already reflected, obstruct the growth of the Kingdom, God’s plan for the human family. They are expressed in the distinctions we sometimes accept to make between “ours” and “others”; in the shutting-in on himself of one who is convinced that he has enough with his own problems, without having to be concerned also with the injustice which is the cause of the suffering of others; in the sterile expectation of the one who does not come out of his own enclosure and does not go across the Square, but remains seated at the fo
ot of the bell tower, letting the world go on its way.

Very different is the breath that animates the Church. She is continually converted by the Kingdom she proclaims and of which she is the anticipation and promise: Kingdom that is and that comes, without anyone being able to presume to describe it in an exhaustive way; Kingdom which remains other, much greater than our schemes and reasoning, or which – perhaps more simply – is so small, humble and hidden in the nature of humanity, so that it displays its strength according to the criteria of God, revealed in the cross of his Son.

To serve the Kingdom entails living de-centered in regard to oneself, stretched  out to the encounter which is then the way to truly rediscover what we are: heralds of the truth of Christ and of his mercy. Truth and mercy: let us never separate them! “Charity in truth – Pope Benedict XVI reminded us – is the main propulsive force for the true development of every person and of the whole of humanity” (Encyclical Caritas in veritate, 1). Without truth, love ends up as an empty box, which each one fills at his own discretion: and “a Christianity of charity without truth can easily be exchanged for a reserve of good sentiments, useful for social coexistence, but marginal,” which as such do not affect projects and processes of construction of human development (Ibid., 4).

With this clarity, brothers, may your proclamation then be cadenced with the eloquence of gestures. I recommend to you: the eloquence of gestures.

As Pastors, be simple in your style of life, detached, poor and merciful, to walk quickly and not put anything between you and others.

Be free interiorly, to be able to be closer to people, careful to learn their language, to approach each one with charity, flanking people throughout the nights of their loneliness, of their anxieties and of their failures: ¨support them in order to warm their heart and thus incite them to undertake a path of meaning, which restores dignity, hope and fecundity to life.

Among the “places” in which your presence seems in the main to be necessary and significant — and in respect to which an excess of prudence would condemn to irrelevance – there is, first of all, the family. Today the domestic community is strongly penalized by a culture that privileges individual rights and transmits a logic of the provisional. Make yourselves convinced voices of what is the first cell of every society; witness to its centrality and beauty. Promote the life of the conceived as well as that of the elderly. Support parents in the difficult and exciting educational path. And do not neglect to bend over, with the compassion of the Samarian, one who is wounded in his affections and sees his own plan of life compromised.

Another area which today it is not given to us to abandon is the waiting room crowded with the unemployed: unemployed, redundant workers, the precarious, where the drama of one who does not know how to bring bread home meets with that of one who does not know how to take his business forward. It is an historic emergency, which interpellates the social responsibility of all: as Church, let us help not to yield to catastrophism and to resignation, supporting with every form of creative solidarity the effort of all those who, even with work, feel deprived of their dignity.

In fine, the lifeboat that must be lowered is the welcoming embrace of migrants: they are fleeing from intolerance, from persecution, from the lack of a future. No one must turn his gaze elsewhere. Charity, which is witnessed by the generosity of many people, is our way of living and interpreting life: in the strength if this dynamism, the Gospel will continue to spread by attraction.

More in general, may the difficult situations being lived by so many of our contemporaries find us attentive and participants, ready to discuss again a model of development that  exploits creation, sacrifices persons on the altar of profit and creates new forms of marginalization and exclusion. The need of a new humanism is cried out by a society deprived of hope, shaken in many of its fundamental certainties, impoverished by a crisis that, more than economic, is cultural, moral and spiritual.

Considering this scenario, may community discernment be the soul of the course of preparation to the National Ecclesial Congress of Florence in the forthcoming year: please help not to stop on the plane, though noble, of ideas, but put on glasses capable of picking up and understanding the reality and, therefore, ways to govern it, looking to render the community of men more just and fraternal.

Go forth to meet anyone who asks the reason for the hope that is in you: receive the culture, give them with respect the memory of  the faith and the company of the Church, hence the signs of fraternity, of gratitude and of solidarity, which anticipate in man’s days the reflections of the Sunday without  setting.

I support you with my prayer and my closeness. And you, pray for me, especially on the eve of this trip that sees me a pilgrim to Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, 50 years from the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras: I take with me your participant and solidaristic closeness to the Mother Church and to the population that inhabits the blessed land in which Our Lord lived, died and resurrected. Thank you.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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