Catholic World News

Be shepherds first, Pope asks US bishops

September 23, 2015

“Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor,” Pope Francis said in an address to the American bishops on September 23.

The Pope encouraged the US bishops to promote a “culture of encounter,” to engage in dialogue with all elements of society. Yet he urged them not to avoid speaking out strongly on key moral issues:

The innocent victims of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature-- at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters.

“It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent,” the Pope said.

Speaking in Italian (with simultaneous translation) to the American bishops, who were gathered in St. Matthew’s cathedral in Washington, the Holy Father began his address by underlining his role as the focus of unity in the universal Church. He went on to praise the Catholic Church in the US, acknowledging its important contributions in education, health care, and charitable works.

Pope Francis also candidly recognized the financial strength of American Catholicism, mentioning “your generous solidarity with the Apostolic See and the support you give to the spread of the Gospel in many suffering areas of our world.” He gently mentioned the “difficult moments in the recent history of the Church”—a clear reference to the sex-abuse scandal.

The Pope reminded the US bishops that he comes from “a land which is also American.” He said that “I do not feel a stranger in your midst.” And—perhaps hoping to ease fears that he has made a radical break with past papal policies—he said that he spoke “in continuity with the words of my predecessors.”

”I have not come to judge your or to lecture you,” the Pope told the American bishops. Instead, he said, he meant to offer encouragement and suggestion.

Above all, the Pope said, bishops should be shepherds of the flock. “It is not about preaching complicated doctrines,” he said, “but joyfully proclaiming Christ who died and rose for our sake.”

Enlarging on that theme, the Pope warned bishops to “flee the temptation of narcissism.” He exhorted them to base their work on prayer and fidelity to the Holy Spirit rather than relying on earthly expertise or professional authority. He observed that “we fall into hopeless decline whenever we confuse the power of strength with the strength of that powerlessness with which God has redeemed us.”

Pope Francis closed his address with two recommendations. First, he said: “Be pastors close to people, pastors who are neighbors and servants.” Second, he made a special plea for welcoming immigrants. “The Church in the United States knows like few others the hopes present in the hearts of these pilgrims,” he remarked, referring to America’s history as a “melting pot” of ethnic groups, and the important role the Church has played in assisting new arrivals. He asked today’s Catholic leaders to continue that tradition.

 


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