In his address to the Congregation of Bishops Feb. 27, Pope Francis emphasized that the dicastery exists to ensure that bishop candidates are called to their ministry by Christ himself.
“This Congregation exists to ensure that the name of those chosen has first of all been pronounced by the Lord. Behold the great mission entrusted to the Congregation for Bishops, its most challenging task: to identify those whom the same Holy Spirit has given to guide the Church,” the Pope told the members of the congregation at a Feb. 27 meeting in the Sala Bologna of the Apostolic Palace, describing to them the essence of their mission.
“The holy People of God continues to speak … we need someone who looks upon us with the breadth of the heart of God; we do not need a manager, an administrator of a company, nor one who is at the level of our smallness or small pretenses.”
Describing those suitable for episcopal ministry, he said, “we need someone who knows how to raise himself to the height of God's gaze above us in order to guide us to him. We need those who, knowing the broad scope of God is more than his own narrow garden, can guarantee us that what they aspire to is our hearts, and not a vain promise.”
He emphasized the importance of keeping in mind each particular diocese’s needs when choosing bishops: “there does not exist a standard Pastor for all the Churches. Christ knows the singularity of the Shepherds which each Church needs … our challenge is to enter into the perspective of Christ, taking into account this singularity of the particular Churches.”
Pope Francis advised that the congregation themselves take care to “rise above and overcome any eventual preferences, sympathies, provenances or tendencies, to arrive at God's broad horizon,” adding that “we do not need men conditioned by fear from below,” but pastors who will speak the truth boldly.
Their work is to be marked by humility, he said, as he highlighted the virtues of “professionalism, service, and holiness of life.”
Pope Francis then noted the importance of apostolic succession and continuity, pointing out that “people already know through suffering the experience of many ruptures: they need to find that there remains indelibly in the Church the grace of her origins.”
He stressed the role of bishops as credible witnesses to the Risen Christ, saying they should be marked by “union with Christ on the cross of true giving of himself, for his Church … the courage to die, the generosity of offering their own lives and being consumed by their flock are inscribed in the ‘DNA’ of the episcopate.”
“I want to emphasize this: renunciation and sacrifice are connatural to the episcopal mission. The episcopate is not for oneself, it is for the Church, for the flock, for others, especially for those who according to the world should be excluded.”
In choosing bishops, Pope Francis said, “it is not necessary to list his human, intellectual, cultural or even pastoral skills. ... Certainly, there is a need for someone who excels; whose human integrity ensures a capacity for healthy relationships ... so as not to project his shortcomings onto others and to become a destabilising factor ... his orthodoxy and faithfulness to the complete Truth held by the Church makes him a pillar and a point of reference.”
“All these indispensable skills must be, however, in support of his central witness to the Risen Christ, and must be subordinate to this central commitment.”
He reminded the congregation that God’s sovereignty is the ultimate source of the choice of bishops, telling them, “the decisions cannot be conditioned by our claims, for any groups, cliques or hegemonies. To guarantee this sovereignty two attitudes are fundamental: conscience before God, and collegiality.”
Pope Francis said we need “kerygmatic bishops,” who proclaim the Gospel faithful to doctrine “in order to fascinate the world, to charm the world with the beauty of love, to seduce the world with the freedom offered by the Gospel.”
“The Church does not need apologists for her causes or crusaders for her battles, but humble and trusting sowers of the truth, who know that it is always given to them anew and trust in its power. Men who are patient, as they know that the weeds will never fill the field.”
“Patient men!,” he reiterated. “They say Cardinal Siri used to repeat: There are five virtues of a bishop: first patience, second patience, third patience, fourth patience, and last, patience with those who invite us to have patience.”
After his discussion of “kerygmatic bishops,” Pope Francis moved on to “praying bishops,” saying bishops must have the same freedom to boldly speak to God on behalf of his people, as he has to speak the truth of the Gospel.
“A man who does not have the courage to argue with God on behalf of his people cannot be a bishop – I say this from my heart, I am convinced – and nor can he who is not able to assume the mission of guiding the people of God to where he, the Lord, indicates.”
While speaking of bishops at prayer, he again stressed patience, telling them to endure and to persevere in speaking with God – even to the point of falling asleep: “So many times falling asleep in front of the Lord, but this is good, it’s good!”
The final aspect Pope Francis emphasized as characterizing those to be called to the episcopacy was pastorality: “May bishops be shepherds, close to the people,” adding that their legacy is in holiness.
He highlighted that the episcopal office is characterized by the “assiduous and daily” care of the faithful, and that there is within this, a temptation to be absent from one’s duties.
“I think that in this time of meetings and congresses the decree on residency (of a bishop in his diocese) of the Council of Trent is very up-to-date: and it would be good for the Congregation for Bishops to write something about this. The flock needs to find a place in the heart of its Pastor. If he is not firmly anchored within himself, in Christ and in his Church, he will be constantly buffeted by the waves in search of ephemeral compensation and will not offer any shelter to the flock.”
Concluding, Pope Francis asked, “Where can we find such men? It is not easy.”
He recommended the story of Samuel looking for a successor to Saul, “who, knowing that little David was outside in the field grazing the sheep, demands 'Send for him'. We too must search among the fields of the Church for men to present to the Lord, in order that he say 'Rise and anoint him; this is the one.' I am sure that they are there, since the Lord does not abandon his Church.”
“Perhaps we are not seeking well enough in the fields. Perhaps we need to heed Samuel's warning: 'We will not sit down until he arrives.' I would like this Congregation to live in this state of this holy restlessness.”