Pope to New Bishops: Tend the Flock of God

2013-09-19 Vatican Radio

In his address to the new Bishops, Pope Francis said the worldwide episcopate forms a “unique body” that gives direction to the Bishops in their daily work and presses them to ask themselves “how to live the spirit of collegiality and collaboration in the Episcopate? how to be builders of communion an unity in the Church the Lord has entrusted” to them. He reminded them that “the Bishop is a man of communion and unity, the ‘visible principle and foundation of unity’ (Lumen gentium, 27).”
The Holy Father offered some reflections on a passage from the first Letter of Saint Peter: “Tend the flock of God in your midst, [overseeing] not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock (1 Pt 5,2-3).” These words, he said, “are carved on the heart! They call you and establish you as Pastors not from yourselves, but from the Lord; and not to serve yourselves, but to serve the flock entrusted to you, to serve it even to the point of giving your life, like Christ, the Good Shepherd.”
But, he asked, what does it mean to tend the flock, to have “habitual and daily care of the flock” (Lumen gentium, 27)?” To tend the flock, Pope Francis said, means: to welcome with magnanimity, to journey with the flock, to remain with the flock.
1. To welcome with magnanimity: “When someone knocks at the door of your house,” the Pope asked, “what do they find?” If the door is open, he continued, “they will experience the paternity of God and understand how the Church is a good mother that always loves and welcomes them.”
2. To journey with the flock: Pope Francis explained that Bishops must be welcoming to everyone in order to journey with everyone. The Bishop, he said, journeys with and among his flock. He focused especially on three points with regard to this journey.
First, the Pope said, a bishop must have affection for their priests. Priests are the people closest to the Bishop. “Time spent with your priests is never lost!” he said. “Receive them when they call on you, do not let a phone call go unanswered, always be close to them, in continual contact with them.” In off-the-cuff remarks he insisted that if a priest calls his Bishop, the Bishop should respond the same day, or at most the next day, and that the Bishop should always find a way to make time for priests who want to see him.
The second point is presence in the diocese. Reminding the Bishops of his call that Pastors must have “the odour of the sheep,” the Pope told the Bishops their presence among their people “is not secondary, it is indispensable!” He called on them, to “go down into the midst of your faithful, even to the edges of your dioceses and into all those ‘existential peripheries’ where there is suffering, solitude, loss of human dignity.”
His third point referred to the “style” of service. He called for Bishops to serve with humility, which he described as a certain austerity and a focus on what is essential. We Pastors, he said, must not have “the psychology of Princes.” He complained of “ambitious men, men that are married to this Church, but hoping for a more beautiful or a richer [Church]. This is a scandal!” he said, describing the desire for a bigger or better diocese as a kind of “spiritual adultery.” He warned the Bishops not to fall into the “spirit of careerism,” which he called “a cancer.”
Pope Francis spoke finally about a third element of tending the flock: remaining with the flock. “I refer to stability,” he said, “which has two precise aspects – ‘to remain’ in the diocese, and ‘to remain’ in this diocese, without seeking change or promotion.” In an age when travelling has become very easy, the Holy Father said “the ancient law of residence hasn’t passed out of fashion.” Residence in the diocese is not only functional, he insisted, but has deep theological roots. “Avoid the scandal of being ‘airport bishops!’” he said.
“Be welcoming Pastors,” he concluded, “journeying with your people, with affection, with mercy, with sweetness of expression and paternal firmness, with humility and discretion, being able to see your own limitations, and with a good sense of humor . . . and remain with your flock!”
As he concluded his address, Pope Francis asked the Bishops to greet their communities on his behalf, “especially the priests, men and women religious, the seminarians, all the faithful, and those most in need of the nearness of the Lord.” With two Syrian Bishops in attendance, the Holy Father once more prayed for the gift of peace: “Peace for Syria, peace for the Middle East, peace for the world!”
At the end of his talk, the Pope asked the assembled Bishops “Remember to pray for me, as I do for you.” He concluded by invoking the Apostolic Blessing “from the heart” upon each of the new Bishops and upon their communities.