Bishops should build “bonds of fraternal love and mutual concern” with their priests so that “any tensions that may arise” will quickly be overcome, Pope Benedict XVI told a delegation of Indian bishops visiting him at the Vatican on June 17.
“You are to be supportive of your priests, your closest collaborators, and to be attentive to their needs and aspirations, showing solicitude for their spiritual, intellectual and material well-being,” the Pope said.
There are an estimated 20,000 priests spread throughout India’s 164 dioceses. That makes the Indian bishops conference the fourth largest in the world. In fact, their visits to meet the Pope every five years – called “ad limina” visits – have to be staggered over four different sessions, with today’s visit being the last of the four groups.
Pope Benedict reminded the group of bishops present today of the obedience promised to them by their priests upon ordination.
“They, as sons and co-workers, are called in turn to respect your authority, working cheerfully, humbly and with complete dedication to the good of the Church, but always under your direction,” he said.
But the Pope also reminded them of a bishop’s duty of acting as a “pastor and father” for their priests.
“The bonds of fraternal love and mutual concern which you foster with your priests will become the basis for overcoming any tensions that may arise, and will promote those conditions which are most propitious for the service of the people of God, edifying them spiritually.”
The greatest beneficiary of the witness of mutual love between priest and bishop, Pope Benedict suggested, is the laity.
“They look to you and your priests for a model of holiness, friendship and harmony that speaks to their hearts and teaches by example how to live the new commandment of love.”
India is the second most populous country in the world, with over 1.18 billion people. The country’s inhabitants are 80 percent Hindu, while Catholics comprised only 2 percent. The Pope will issue a response to all the Indian bishops’ ad limina visits, this coming September.