Bishops are called to be prophets, witnesses and servants of hope in the world, says the new Vatican document on the role of bishops. "Pastores gregis" addresses all aspects of the ministry of bishops, including their teaching, collegiality and spirituality, and recalls the great importance of the ministry of bishops in the lives of the people of God and the Church.
The 192-page document was signed and issued by the pope yesterday on the occasion of his 25th-anniversary. The apostolic exhortation emerged from the 10th Synod of Bishops that was held in 2001, from Sept. 27 to Oct. 30.
The document, directed to the Church's 4,695 bishops and written under the theme "The Bishop: Minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World", reiterates the need for priests to remain celibate.
In it, the pope reaffirms the bishops' authority on moral issues and emphasizes the bishop's role as a teacher of the faith, underlining the need for clear teachings of the faith, "particularly in this time marked by religious indifference and ignorance."
He calls on bishops to act quickly to deal with "grave lapses" in the moral behavior of clergy - referring to sex-abuse scandals.
He also says the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks against the United States have created "grave new situations of uncertainty and fear, both for human civilization and the peaceful coexistence of nations."
The pope said the world is becoming increasingly divided between the powerful and the poor, and more must be done to help those in need. Bishops must promote the "globalization of charity," a preferential option for the poor and the common good of the international community. The bishop must also concern
himself with ethical questions regarding the environment, the humanization of health care and the promotion of a culture of life.
Bishops must be like the Good Shepherd and bear the traits of charity, patience, compassion and forgiveness and perform acts of mercy toward the poor.
The pope says the bishop is called to holiness through his ministry and must undertake a profound spiritual life based on radical service and avoid the risk of taking on a merely administrative or bureaucratic function.
"The bishops are called to be fathers, teachers, friends and brothers of every person," he continued. "They must promote the participation of all of the faithful for the edification of the Church." They must also pay particular attention to the family, to youth and to religious vocations in their dioceses.
"He will be a prophet of peace, a defender of rights for the young and the marginalized. He will have a predilection toward the multitudes of the poor who populate this world. He will sustain ecumenical dialogue and promote interreligious dialogue," the pope told an audience of cardinals and bishops yesterday morning.
The document also delves into the Trinitarian dimension of the episcopacy and the collegiality of bishops. The bishop is the image of the Father, living sign of the Son and animator of communion, spirituality and holiness in the Holy Spirit. The bishops are always in communion with their brother bishops. Episcopal conferences are important to provide community, to enhance pastoral co-operation among dioceses and to offer ongoing support and formation.