On Saturday, Pope Francis received the Bishops of Mozambique who were in Rome for their “ad Limina Apostolorum” visit.
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Dear Brothers in the Episcopate!
You are welcome ad limina Apostolorum, the purpose of the visit undertaken by you these days, so that with your dioceses in your heart, you also celebrate and strengthen the bonds between you and the Church of Rome that presides in charity. We are one people, with only one soul, convoked by the Lord who loves and sustains us. I receive and greet you with fraternal joy, extending my greetings to Cardinals Alexandre and Julio, to the Bishops Emeritus, to the diocesan and missionary clergy, to the consecrated men and women, and to all the lay faithful of Mozambique, namely to the catechists and leaders of the small Christian communities. I thank D. Lucio Muandula for the words he addressed to me in the name of the whole Episcopal Conference, sharing the joys and hopes, the difficulties and anxieties of your people. I express to you my gratitude for the generous pastoral work you carry out in your diocesan communities and I assure you of my constant union and spiritual solidarity. For my part, I ask that you not forget to pray for me, so that I will be able to help the Church in what the Lord wants me to help her.
“Do you love me?” – He asked Peter, question that continues to resound in the heart of his Successors. And, to my affirmative response, he asks me: “Feed my sheep” (cf. John 21:15-17). And the same – I am sure – happened with you. The Lord made himself a beggar of love and he questions us on the only truly essential question to feed his sheep, his Church. Jesus is the supreme Pastor of the Church and it is in his name and by his mandate that we have the task to look after his flock with full availability to the total gift of our life. Let us put aside all possible importance and false presumptions, and bend down to “wash the feet” of all those the Lord entrusted to us.
In your pastoral solicitude, reserve a particular place, a very particular place, for your priests. God commands us to love our neighbor, and the first neighbors of the Bishop are his priests, indispensable collaborators, whose advice and help you seek, whom you look after as fathers, brothers and friends. The time spent with them is never lost. Among your first duties is the spiritual care of the presbytery, but do not forget the human needs of each priest, especially in the most delicate and important moments of their ministry and their life.
The fruitfulness of our mission, dear Brothers in the priesthood, is not assured by the number of collaborators, or by the prestige of the institution, or by the quantity of resources available. What counts is to be permeated by the love of Christ, to allow oneself to be led by the Holy Spirit and to graft one’s existence onto the tree of life, which is the Cross of the Lord. And it is from the Cross, supreme act of mercy and love, that one is reborn as a “new creature” (Galatians 6:15). The beloved priest is alter Christus! We know of Saint Paul, unsurpassable model of Christian missionary, that he sought to be conformed to Jesus in his death to take part in his resurrection (cf. Philippians 3:10-11). In his ministry he experienced suffering, weakness and defeat, but also joy and consolation. The Paschal Mystery is the beating heart of the mission of the Church. If you remain in this mystery, you will be sheltered both from a worldly and triumphalist vision of the mission as well as from discouragement that can arise in view of trials and failures.
But today do these missionaries still exist with the qualities of Paul, men and women that clasp the Cross of Christ, are espoused to Christ, despoiled of everything to embrace the All? Yes, and we rejoice with such men and women totally consecrated to Christ, immolated and identified with Christ, being able to affirm: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). In this Year of Consecrated Life, may thanksgiving and praise be raised by your religious communities for the testimony of faith and service that the men and women Religious offer in the different sectors of ecclesial and social life, namely in the care and solicitude for the poor and all the human, material, moral and spiritual miseries. I am thinking of the great quantity of community schools, run by the different Religious Families, as well as the different centers of hospitality, orphanages, family-homes where so many abandoned children and youths live and grow; I also wish to point out the heroic dedication of so many nurses and doctors, nuns and priests. Dear Brother Bishops, show yourselves grateful for the presence and service that the consecrated women and men carry out in Mozambique, the just diocesan insertion of Religious Communities is important: they are not merely reserve material for the dioceses, but charisms that enrich them. Meanwhile this cannot be left to chance or improvisation; it calls for the commitment of the different strengths and experiences in a common project, so that they are not dispersed in many secondary or superfluous things, but are concentrated on the fundamental reality which is the encounter with Christ, with his mercy, with his love, and to love brothers as He loved us.
Your pastoral endeavor imposes on you the obligation to unite, to harmonize and rationalize the ecclesial strengths of the diocese. I know you are already doing so, but let it not be that each one is closed in in his own flock or laments what he does not have; you must act so as to imprint a renewed apostolic impulse in the Christian communities, to imprint in them an outgoing missionary dynamic to support persons – as Jesus did with the disciples of Emmaus –, arousing hope in them, clasping them to your heart and arousing in them the desire to return home, to the bosom of the family, to the Church where our sources dwell: Sacred Scripture, catechesis, the Sacraments, the community, the friendship of the Lord, Mary and the Apostles. May this “family” climate, a serene and cordial ambience among all, foster good understanding and responsible collaboration in the bosom of the Church that pilgrimages in Mozambique, inviting the Bishops to communion among themselves and to solicitude for the universal Church. This solicitude and communion is seen in the real and fecund functioning of the Episcopal Conference, in the generous collaboration between neighboring dioceses or of the same Ecclesiastical Province that agree to offer services and solutions of common interest.
Beloved Brothers in the Episcopate, go down in the midst of your faithful, also to the peripheries of your dioceses and to all the “existential peripheries” where there is suffering, isolation and human degradation. A Bishop who lives in the midst of his faithful has open ears to hear “what the Spirit says to the Churches” (Revelation 2:7) and the “voice of the sheep,” including through those diocesan organisms that have the task to counsel and help, promoting a loyal and constructive dialogue: presbyterial counsel, pastoral counsel, advice on economic affairs. One cannot think of a Bishop that does not have these diocesan organisms. This also means to be with the people. I am thinking here of your duty of residence in the diocese; solicited by the people themselves, who want to see their Bishop walk with them, to be close to them, they need this presence to live and, in a certain way, to breathe. You are spouses of your diocesan community, profoundly bound to them.
We all receive the water of Baptism, share the same Eucharist, posess the same one Holy Spirit, who reminds us what Jesus taught us. Well then! The first thing that Jesus teaches us is this: to encounter one another and, encountered, to help. The encounter with the other enlarges the heart, multiplies the capacity to love. The Pastors and faithful of Mozambique need to develop more the culture of encounter. Jesus asks you just one thing: that you go, that you attempt to encounter the neediest. How can one not think here of the victims of natural disasters? These do not cease to sow destruction, suffering and death – as unfortunately we witnessed a short time ago –, increasing the number of displaced and refugees. These persons need us to share in their pain, in their anxieties, in their problems. They need us to hear them with love; it is necessary to go to encounter them, as Jesus did.
Finally, stretching to look at the whole country, we see that the present challenges of Mozambique require that the culture of encounter be promoted in greater measure. The tensions and conflicts will undermine the social fabric, destroy families and above all the future of thousands of young people. The most effective way to oppose the mentality of arrogance and inequalities, as well as social divisions, is to invest in the field of “an education that teaches young people to think critically and offers a path of maturing in values”(Evangelii gaudium, 664). Dear Bishops, continue to support your youth, especially through the creation of areas of human and professional formation. In this connection, it is opportune to sensitize the world of leaders of society and to revive the pastoral in the Universities and schools, combining the educational task with the proclamation of the Gospel (cf. Evangelii gaudium, 132-134). The needs are so great that there is no way to satisfy them with the mere possibilities of individual initiative and of the union of individuals formed in individualism. Social problems must be answered with community networks. A joining of forces is necessary and a unity of direction: the Episcopal Conference helps with this. Mentioned among its functions is “the unitary dialogue with the political authority common to the whole territory: (Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, n. 28). In this connection, I encourage a determined implementation of good relations with the Government, not of dependence, but of collaboration—in the terms of the Agreement held on December 7, 2011 between the Holy See and the Republic of Mozambique –, being interested namely in the laws that are approved by Parliament. Beloved Bishops, do not spare efforts in support of the family and of the local community. May the family always be defended as privileged source of fraternity, respect for other and primary path of peace.
Dear Church of God that pilgrimages in the lands of Mozambique, dear Brothers in the Episcopate, Jesus does not say to you: Go! Fend for yourselves!” But yes: “Go, (…) I will be with you always to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:19.20). Here is where our strength and consolation are: when we go out to take the Gospel with true apostolic spirit, He walks with us; He precedes us. This is fundamental for us: God always precedes us. When we have to leave for an extreme periphery, perhaps we are gripped by fear, but there is no reason for it! In reality, Jesus is already there; He awaits us in the heart of that brother, in his wounded flesh, in his oppressed life, in his soul without faith. Jesus is there in that brother. He always precedes us; let us follow Him! Let us have the audacity to open new ways for the proclamation of the Gospel. I entrust to the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, your hopes and your solicitudes, the journey of your dioceses and the progress of your Homeland, while I invoke the Blessing of the Lord upon all the People of God that pilgrimages with its Pastors in the beloved Mozambican Nation.[Translation by ZENIT]