Here is a translation of the address Pope Francis gave Monday to bishops from Spain who were in Rome for their ad limina visits.
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I am grateful for the words addressed to me on behalf of all by the President of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, which express your firm resolution to serve faithfully the People of God pilgrimaging in Spain, where the Word of God took root very quickly, and which has borne fruits of concord, culture and holiness. You wish to highlight it in a particular way with the celebration of the now approaching fifth Centenary of the birth of Saint Teresa of Jesus, the first woman doctor of the Church.
Now that you are suffering the harsh experience of the indifference of many of the baptized and you have to face a worldly culture, which relegates God to private life and excludes Him from the public realm, it is worthwhile not to forget your history. From it we learn that divine grace is never extinguished, and that the Holy Spirit continues working with generosity in the present reality. Let us always trust Him and all that He sows in the hearts of those entrusted to our pastoral care (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 68).
Bishops are entrusted with the task to make these seeds germinate with the courageous and truthful proclamation of the Gospel, to take care of its growth diligently with example, education and closeness, to harmonize them in the ensemble of the “Lord’s vineyard,” from which no one can be excluded. Therefore, dear brothers, do not spare efforts to open new ways to the Gospel, which reach everyone’s heart, so that they discover what already nests in their interior: Christ as friend and brother.
It will not be difficult to find these ways if we follow in the Lord’s footsteps, who “did not come to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45); who was able to respect with humility the times of God and, with patience, the process of maturation of each person, without fear of taking the first step to go to his encounter. He teaches us to listen to all heart to heart, with tenderness and mercy, and to seek what truly unites and serves for mutual edification.
In this search, it is important that the Bishop not feel alone, or believe that he is alone. He must be conscious that the flock that has been entrusted to him has an instinct for the things of God, especially his more direct collaborators, the priests, because of their close contact with the faithful, with their daily needs and anxieties, also consecrated persons, because of their rich spiritual experience and their missionary and apostolic dedication in numerous fields. And the laity, who from the most varied conditions of life and their respective competencies carry forward the testimony and mission of the Church (cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution Lumen Gentium, 33).
Likewise, the present moment, in which the mediations of faith are increasingly scarce and there is no lack of difficulties for its transmission, it is imperative to put your Churches in a true state of permanent mission, to call those who are estranged and to strengthen the faith, especially in the children. To do so, do not fail to pay particular attention to the process of initiation to the Christian life. The faith is not a mere cultural heritage but a gift, a gift that is born from the personal encounter with Jesus and the free and joyful acceptance of the new life it offers us. This calls for incessant proclamation and constant animation, so that the believer is coherent with his condition of being a child of God, which he received in Baptism.
To awaken and enliven a sincere faith, fosters the preparation for marriage and the support of families, whose vocation is to be the native place of coexistence in love, original cell of society, transmitter of life and domestic Church, where the faith is forged and lived. An evangelized family is a valuable agent of evangelization, especially radiating the wonder that God has worked in it. Moreover, being by nature the ambit of generosity, it will promote the birth of vocations to the following of the Lord in the priesthood or consecrated life.
Last year you published the document “Priestly Vocations for the 21stCentury,” thus pointing out the interest of your particular Churches in the vocational ministry. It is an aspect that a Bishop must bear in his heart as an absolute priority, taking it to prayer, insisting on the selection of candidates and preparing teams of good formators and competent professors.
Finally, I would like to stress that love and service of the poor is a sign of the Kingdom of God that Jesus came to bring (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 48). I know well that, in these last years, your Caritas in fact — and also other charitable works of the Church – have merited great recognition from believers and non-believers. I am very pleased and I ask the Lord that this be a motive of rapprochement to the source of charity, to Christ who went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed (Acts 10:38); and also his Church, which is a Mother and can never forget her more underprivileged children. I invite you, therefore, to manifest appreciation and to show yourselves close to all those who put their talents and hands at the service of the “program of the Good Samaritan, the program of Jesus” (Benedict XVI, Encyclical Deus caritas est, 31b).
Dear brothers, now that you are gathered in the Visit ad limina to manifest your bonds of communion with the Bishop of Rome (cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution Lumen Gentium , 22) I want to thank you from my heart for your service to the holy faithful people of God. Continue to go forward with hope. Put yourselves at the front of the spiritual and missionary renewal of your particular Churches, as brothers and pastors of your faithful, and also of those who are not, or have forgotten it. Of great help to do so is frank and fraternal collaboration in the heart of the Episcopal Conference, as well as mutual and solicitous support in the pursuit of the most appropriate ways of acting.
I ask you, please, to take to our beloved children in Spain a special greeting from the Pope, who entrusts them to the maternal care of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, implores them to pray for him and imparts his Blessing to them.[Original text: Spanish] [Translation by ZENIT]