Today, Pope Francis received in audience participants in a Seminar for Bishops of Mission Territories, promoted by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
Here is a translation of the Pope’s address:
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The Updating Seminar for Recently Appointed Bishops, promoted by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, offers me the happy occasion to meet and greet you one by one. I thank Cardinal Fernando Filoni for his words and for all the work he carries out with the collaborators of the Dicastery.
Coming to Rome in this Holy Year of Mercy, you are united to so many pilgrims from every part of the world: this experience does all of us so much good; it makes us feel that we are all pilgrims, pilgrims of mercy. We are all in need of Christ’s grace to be merciful as the Father. Every Bishop experiences this reality personally and, as Vicar of the “Great Shepherd of the sheep” (cf. Hebrews 13:20), he is called to manifest God’s paternity –with his life and the episcopal ministry –, the goodness, solicitude, mercy, gentleness together with the authoritativeness of Christ, who came to give His life and make of all men one family, reconciled in the Father’s love. Each one of you has been placed as Pastor in his Diocese, to govern the Church of God in the name of the Father, whose image you render present; in the name of Jesus Christ His Son, by whom you were constituted teachers, priests and guides, and in he name of the Holy Spirit, who gives life to the Church (cf. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores gregis, 7).
You come from diverse and distant places, and you belong to the great constellation of the so-called “mission territories.” Therefore, each one of you has the great privilege and at the same time the responsibility to be in the front line of evangelization. In the image of the Good Shepherd, you are sent to care for the flock and to go in search of the sheep, especially those that are far and lost; to seek again new ways for the proclamation, to go to encounter persons; to help those who have received the gift of Baptism to grow in the faith, so that believers, including the “tepid” and non-practicing ones, may discover again the joy of the faith and evangelizing fruitfulness (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 11). Therefore, I encourage you to find the sheep that do not yet belong to Christ’s sheepfold: in fact “evangelization is essentially connected with the proclamation of the Gospel to those that do not know Jesus Christ or have always rejected Him” (Ibid., 14).
In your missionary work you can make use of various collaborators. Many lay faithful, immersed in a world marked by contradictions and injustices, are willing to seek the Lord and to render Him testimony. It corresponds to the Bishop first of all to encourage, accompany and stimulate all the attempts and efforts that are already being made to keep hope and faith alive. The young Churches of which you are Pastors are characterized by the presence of a local clergy which at times is numerous, at times scarce or actually exiguous. In any case, I invite you to pay attention to the preparation of presbyters in the Seminary years, without ceasing to accompany them in permanent formation after their Ordination. Be able to offer them a concrete and tangible example. In so far as it is possible, try to take part with them in the principal formative moments, always taking care also of the personal dimension. Do not forget that the Bishop’s closest neighbor is the presbyter, if he receives a letter, he must answers it immediately, immediately! — the same day, if possible. However, that closeness must begin in the Seminary, during the formation and continued. The Bishop’s closest neighbor is the presbyter.
The dynamism of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the vocation itself and the episcopal mission, as well as the duty to follow attentively the concrete problems and questions of the society to be evangelized, ask every bishop to tend to the fullness of Christ’s maturity (cf. Ephesians 4:13). Also, through the testimony of your human, spiritual and intellectual maturity, centered on pastoral charity, may the charity of Christ and the solicitude of the Church for all men shine ever more clearly in you.
Watch carefully so that all that is put into action for evangelization and the various pastoral activities you promote is not damaged or frustrated by existing divisions or those which can be created. Divisions are the weapon that the devil has most at hand to destroy the Church from within. He has two weapons, but the main one is division, the other is money. The devil enters by the pockets and he destroys with the tongue, with gossip, which divides, and the habit of gossiping is a habit of “terrorism.” The gossiper is a “terrorist” that throws the bomb — gossip — to destroy. Please, fight against divisions, because it is one of the weapons that the devil has to destroy the local Church and the universal Church. In particular the differences, owing to the various ethnic groups present in the same territory, must not penetrate the Christian communities, to the point of prevailing over their good. There are challenges that are difficult to resolve, but with the grace of God, prayer, penance, they can <be resolved>. The Church is called to be able to put herself always above tribal-cultural connotations and the Bishop, visible principle of unity, has the task to build the particular Church incessantly in the communion of all her members.
Dear Brothers, I am sure that what you have been able to share over these days will help each one of you to carry out his ministry with enthusiasm. Take care of the people of God entrusted to you, take care of the Presbyters, and take care of the seminarians. This is your work. May Mary Our Mother protect and sustain you. On my part, I assure you of my prayer; and you also, please pray for me, I need it too!
[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]