Francis receives 74 new bishops from mission territories and defines the contours of the episcopal ministry: “Do not be lone voices outside the choir or leaders of personal battles”. Watch over young people and families and those who guide seminaries
Fathers and not masters, humble and not social climbers, men of communion and not “lone voice outside the choir” or “leaders of personal battles”. But above all shepherds free from any form of “clericalism”, i.e. that “anomalous way of understanding authority in the Church, very common in many communities where there have been examples of abuse of power, abuse of conscience and sexual abuse”. With the new bishops of the Mission territories, received in audience on the occasion of the seminar promoted in Rome by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Pope Francis defines the contours of the episcopal ministry. A ministry that “gives the shivers, so great is the mystery that it carries within itself”.
To the 74 bishops from 34 nations on four continents, the Pope repeats the words he wrote in his Letter to the People of God of 20 August last to reiterate – at a time when the storm over historical-and-present cases of abuse is shaking the Church to the core – a forthright “No” to “clericalism”. “Saying no to abuse – whether of power, conscience, or any kind of abuse – means to strongly say “No” to any form of clericalism,” the Pontiff says, for “it generates a division in the ecclesial body that fuels and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we denounce today”.
Clericalism “corrodes communion” which is instead one of the essential features of the bishop’s role. “Do not feel like lords of the flock – you are not the masters of the flock – even if others act so or if certain customs of the place foster this kind of attitude”, in fact Francis emphasizes. “May the people of God, for whom and to whom you are ordained, feel that you are fathers, not masters but caring fathers: no one should show any attitude of subjection towards you”.
“It is true that in this historical situation in which “certain tendencies of “leaderism” seem to have accentuated”. Showing you are “strong men, who keep their distance and command over others, might seem convenient and fascinating”, but – the Pope says – “it is not evangelical”. And “it often causes irreparable damage to the flock”. “Bishops are called to be much more than that: “Men poor in material possession yet rich in relationships, never harsh and grumpy, but friendly, patient, simple and open”.
It is a nature that comes from an awareness that, in turn, comes from a reflection: “Who is the bishop?”. “Let us ask ourselves about our identity as pastors in order to be more aware of it, even though we know that there is no standard model that applies to all places”, the Pope says. The bishop is modeled after Jesus Christ, thus “prone to give his life to the sheep, in particular to the weakest and most endangered” and nurture “compassion” for “those who, for one reason or the other, have been pushed aside”.
The bishop, says the Pope, “cannot have all the gifts, all the charisms – some believe they do… poor them! – He is called to have the charism of the whole, that is to say, to keep people together, to cement communion. The Church needs union, not lone voices outside the choir or leaders of personal battles.The pastor gathers: he is bishop for his faithful, and Christian with his faithful. He doesn’t make the headlines, he doesn’t seek consent from the world, he isn’t interested in protecting his good name, but he loves to weave communion by personally involving himself and acting humbly. He doesn’t miss this lack of protagonism, but lives rooted in the territory, rejecting the temptation to move away from the Diocese frequently – the temptation of the “airport bishops” – and fleeing the search for personal glories”.
He is a pastor who, therefore, “does not grow tired of listening”, “does not rely on strategic projects”, but “loves to speak through the faith of the simple. He becomes one with his people and above all with his presbytery, always ready to receive and encourage his priests. He encourages by setting an example, rather than by words, of genuine priestly fraternity, showing priests that we are pastors for the flock, not for prestige or career related reasons, which is so bad”. Francis’ words are almost a plea: “Do not be social climbers, please, do not be ambitious: feed the flock of God not as masters of the people entrusted to you, but as role models of the flock”.
The first step is prayer, which for the bishop “is not devotion, but a necessity”: it is from there that the bishop draws “strength” and “trust”, as well as “the courage to discuss with God for his flock”. Praying is for him an opportunity to share with the Lord the cross, which is not only the one worn on the chest, that’s “easy” to wear, but that “much heavier” one that God asks to place “on our shoulders and heart”.
In this way the bishop, insists the Pontiff, becomes a “man of proclamation”: “He does not live in the office, like a company manager, but among the people, on the streets of the world”; “he does not like comfort, he does not love a quiet life and does not spare his energy, he does not feel like a prince, he does his best for others, abandoning himself to the fidelity of God”. The “style” of his proclamation is made of humility and witness, he is free from whatever “temptation of power, of gratification, of worldliness”. “Worldliness… Beware of worldliness”, Francis warns, “there is always the risk of ending up caring more for the form rather than the substance, of becoming actors rather than witnesses”.
In this wake, Bergoglio asked the bishops of the Mission territories to especially “have at heart” some realities. First of all, families: “Promote paths of preparation for marriage and accompaniment for families” and “defend the life of the conceived as that of the elderly, support parents and grandparents in their mission,” the Pontiff encourages. Then about the seminars: “Be at home there. Carefully check that they are guided by men of God, by capable and mature educators, who – with the help of the best human sciences – can guarantee the formation of healthy, open, authentic and sincere human profiles”.
The young: they are “the future of the Church” and “of society”, “a better world depends on them”. Therefore “even when they seem infected by the viruses of consumerism and hedonism, let us never put them in quarantine; let us look for them, let us feel their hearts begging for life and imploring freedom”. Finally, the poor: “To love them means to fight against all poverty, spiritual and material. Dedicate time and energy to the least, without fear of getting your hands dirty.
The Pope’s speech concludes with a final, important, recommendation: “Please be wary of the lukewarmness that leads to mediocrity and sloth, that “démon de midi”. Be wary of that. Be wary of the tranquility that dodges sacrifice; of the pastoral haste that leads to intolerance; of the abundance of goods that disfigures the Gospel. Do not forget that the devil enters through the pockets!”.