VATICAN CITY, OCT. 16, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Smiling and visibly improved in health, John Paul II began the celebration of his 25th anniversary with his own gift to the Church: an apostolic exhortation on the figure of the bishop.
Seated on a mobile chair in Paul VI Hall, the Pope signed the postsynodal apostolic exhortation “Pastores Gregis.” The document gathers the conclusions of the 2001 synod dedicated to the mission of the bishop.
Accompanying the Pope were 149 cardinals, seven patriarchs of Eastern churches, 109 presidents (non-cardinals) of episcopal conferences, 28 cardinals-designate and various Roman Curia officials. Nine thousand pilgrims filled the auditorium.
Next to the Pope were cardinals who were especially helpful in the writing of the document and organization of the synod: Jan Pieter Schotte, secretary-general of the synod; Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops; Bernard Agré, archbishop of Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Ivan Dias, archbishop of Bombay, India; Edward Egan, archbishop of New York; and Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires.
After the signing of the exhortation and the singing of the Alma Redemptoris Mater, performed by the Choir of the Sistine Chapel, the audience broke out in applause and many waved handkerchiefs.
John Paul II interrupted his address to explain that this apostolic exhortation reminds the bishop that “he is called to be father, teacher, friend and brother to all human beings, following the example of Christ.”
“By being faithful in this way, he will attain holiness, a holiness that must grow not together with the ministry but through the ministry,” he said, stressing one of the principal topics of the document.
To avoid further fatigue, the Pope read only the first and last paragraphs of his prepared address. Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, substitute for general affairs of the Vatican Secretariat of State, read the rest.
The bishop “will be a prophet of justice and peace, defender of the rights of little ones and of the marginalized,” the address written by John Paul II said. “He will proclaim to all the Gospel of life, truth and love. He will regard with predilection the multitude of poor who people the earth.”
“The Pope is with all of you,” he told the world’s bishops.
At the end of the address, while the choir sang the Cantate Domino, the Pope handed a copy of the apostolic exhortation to the cardinals present, to the general relators, and to five bishops representing the five continents.
The Our Father and blessing put the final touch on the ceremony.
Later in the day the Holy Father presided at a Thanksgiving Mass for his election as Successor of Peter.