Pope Francis met November 29, 2017, with Myanmar’s Catholic bishops in the Archbishopric of Yangon.
His address to the group focused on three themes:
- The first, The Gospel we preach is above all a message of healing, reconciliation, and peace.
- My second word for you this evening is A good Pastor should have the odor of the sheep, but also the odor of God, don’t forget!
- My third word for you is The Church in Myanmar witnesses the Gospel daily through its educational and charitable works, its defense of human rights, its support of democratic principles.
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Here is a ZENIT translation of the address the Pope gave in the course of the meeting with the Bishops.
Eminence, Dear Brother Bishops,
It’s been a full day for all of us, but of great joy! We celebrated the Eucharist this morning together with faithful from all parts of the country and, in the afternoon, we met with the leader of the majority Buddhist community. I would like our meeting this evening to be a moment of serene gratitude for these blessings and of tranquil reflection on the joys and challenges of your ministry as Pastors of Christ’s flock in this country. I thank Monsignor Felix [Lian Khen Thang] for the words of greeting he addressed to me in your name. I embrace you all, in the Lord, with great affection.
I would like to group my thoughts around three words: healing, accompaniment, and prophecy.
The first, healing. The Gospel we preach is above all a message of healing, reconciliation, and peace. Through the Blood of Christ on the cross, God has reconciled the world to Himself and has invited us to be messengers of that healing grace — grace of healing. Here in Myanmar, this message has a particular resonance, given that the country is committed to overcome profoundly rooted divisions and to build national unity. Your flocks bear the signs of this conflict and have generated courageous witnesses of the faith and of ancient traditions. For you, therefore, the preaching of the Gospel must not only be a source of consolation and strength but also a call to foster unity, charity, and healing in the life of the people. The unity we share and celebrate is born in diversity — don’t forget this, it’s born of diversity. It values the differences between persons as a source of mutual enrichment and growth; it invites to rediscover one another together, in a culture of encounter and solidarity.
May you be able to experience constantly in your ministry the guidance and help of the Lord in the commitment to foster healing and communion at every level of the life of the Church, so that the holy People of God, your flock, through its example of forgiveness and reconciling love, may be salt and light for hearts that aspire to that peace that the world cannot give. The Catholic community in Myanmar can be proud of its prophetic witness of the love of God and of neighbor, which is expressed in commitment to the poor, to those that are deprived of rights and above all in these times, to the many displaced that, so to speak, lie wounded on the roadsides. I ask you to transmit my gratitude to all those that, as the Good Samaritan, do their utmost with generosity to bring to them and to their neighbor who is in need the balsam of healing, without taking account of their religion or ethnic group.
Your healing ministry finds a particular expression in the commitment to the ecumenical dialogue and inter-religious collaboration. I pray so that your continuing efforts to build bridges of dialogue and to unite yourselves to followers of other religions in weaving relations of peace will produce abundant fruits for reconciliation in the life of the country. The Conference of inter-religious peace, held at Yangon last spring, was an important witness before the world of the determination of religions to live in peace and to reject every act of violence and hatred perpetrated in the name of religion.
And in this healing remember that the Church is a “field hospital.” Heal, heal wounds, heal souls, heal. This is your first mission, to heal, to heal the wounds.
My second word for you this evening is accompaniment. A good Pastor should have the odor of the sheep, but also the odor of God, don’t forget! – Also the odor of God. In our days we are called to be a “Church that goes forth” to bring the light of Christ to every periphery (Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 20). In as much as Bishops, your lives and your ministry are called to be conformed to this spirit of missionary involvement, especially through regular pastoral visits to the parishes and the communities that make up your local Churches. This is a privileged means to accompany, as loving Fathers, your priests in the daily commitment to make the flock grow in holiness, fidelity and a spirit of service. I have spoken about accompanying the priests: be close to the priests, don’t forget that the closest neighbor of a Bishop is the priest. May every priest not only know but feel that he has a Father in the Bishop.
By the grace of God, the Church in Myanmar has inherited a solid faith and fervent missionary breath from the work of those that brought the Gospel to this land. On these stable foundations, and in communion with the Presbyters and the Religious, continue to permeate the laity in the spirit of an authentic missionary discipleship and to seek a wise inculturation of the evangelical message in daily life and in the traditions of your local communities. In this connection, the contribution of the catechists is essential. Their formative enrichment must remain a priority for you. And, don’t forget that the catechists are the pillars of evangelization in every parish.
Above all, I would like to ask you for a special commitment to accompanying young people. Take care of their formation in healthy moral principles, which will guide them in facing the challenges of a world menaced by ideological and cultural colonizations. The next Synod of Bishops will not only be concerned with these aspects, but it will challenge young people directly, listening to their stories and involving them in the common discernment on how better to proclaim the Gospel in the coming years. One of the great blessings of the Church in Myanmar is her youth and, in particular, the number of seminarians and young Religious. We thank God for this. In the spirit of the Synod, involve them, please, and support them in their journey of faith, because, through their idealism and enthusiasm, they are called to be joyful and convincing evangelizers of their contemporaries.
My third word for you is prophecy. The Church in Myanmar witnesses the Gospel daily through its educational and charitable works, its defense of human rights, its support of democratic principles. May you be able to put the Catholic community in conditions to continue to have a constructive role in the life of the society, making your voice heard in questions of national interest, insisting particularly on respect of the dignity and the rights of all, in a special way of the poorest and most vulnerable. I am confident that the quinquennial pastoral strategy, which the Church has developed in the larger context of the construction of the State, will bear abundant fruit not only for the future of the local communities but also for the entire country. I’m referring especially to the need to protect the environment and to ensure a correct use of the country’s rich natural resources for the benefit of future generations. The custody of the divine gift of Creation cannot be separated from a healthy human and social ecology. In fact, “the authentic care of our relations with nature is inseparable from fraternity, from justice and from fidelity in our dealings with others” (Encyclical Laudato Si’, 70).
Dear Brother Bishops, I thank God for this moment of communion and I pray that our being together will reinforce you in the commitment to be faithful Pastors and servants of the flock that Christ has entrusted to you. I know that your ministry is challenging and that, together with your priests, often tiring under “the burden of the day and the scorching heat” (Matthew 20:12). I exhort you to keep the balance in physical as well as spiritual health and to give thought, in a paternal way, to the health of your priests.
And, speaking of spiritual health, remember the first task of the Bishop. When the first Christians received the laments of the Hellenists because their widows and children were being neglected, the Apostles gathered and “invented” the deacons. And Peter announced this news and announced also the task of the Bishops saying: “we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Cf. Acts 6:1-6). Prayer is the Bishop’s first task. Each one of you must ask himself in the evening, in the examination of conscience: “How many hours did I pray today?”
Dear brothers, I exhort you to keep a balance in your physical and spiritual health. Above all, I encourage you to grow every day in prayer and in the experience of God’s reconciling love, because it is at the base of your priestly identity, the guarantee of the solidity of your preaching and the source of pastoral charity with which you lead the people of God on path of holiness and truth. I invoke the Lord’s grace upon you with great affection, on the priests, the Religious, and all the laity of your local Churches. I ask you, please, not to forget to pray for me.
And now I invite you to pray, all together, you in Burmese, I in Spanish, the Hail Mary to Our Lady.
[Hail Mary] May Almighty God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit bless you.
© Libreria Editrice Vatican
[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]