Vatican City, Sep 19, 2013 / 06:32 am
Pope Francis spoke today to new bishops gathered from across the globe, encouraging them to tend their flocks – and to welcome, journey and remain with the members of their dioceses.
"I've served three bishops in the diocese of Tyler and I'm the fourth bishop of the diocese," said Bishop Joseph E. Strickland of Texas during the annual New Bishop's Conference in Rome.
"It really is a reminder of what that commitment is, a reminder that it really is all about Christ. He's the continuity of the church," Bishop Strickland told CNA. "Bishops come and go, priests come and go, popes come and go, but Christ remains."
The conference, which was held this year from Sept. 10 -19, is designed to provide formation and orientation for men who have been elevated to the episcopate each year.
The new bishops present participated in a private audience Thursday with Pope Francis marking the end of the event. Quoting the Vatican II document "Lumen Gentium," the Pope reminded them that "the Bishop is a man of communion and unity, the 'visible principle and foundation of unity.'"
The pontiff pressed the bishops to ask themselves during their daily work, "how to live the spirit of collegiality and collaboration in the Episcopate" and how "to be builders of communion and unity in the Church the Lord has entrusted" to them.
Pope Francis then offered some reflections on the first letter of Saint Peter, in which the apostle encourages the early Christians to tend the flock of God in their care willingly and eagerly, saying that the words of St. Peter "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."
If they "welcome with magnanimity" and with an open door, those who are in their care, said the Pope, "will experience the paternity of God and understand how the Church is a good mother that always loves and welcomes them."
The Holy Father also imparted to the new bishop's the necessity to journey with one's flock, a journey which cannot be completed without affection for his priests and his presence among his people.
Taking to heart the Pope's message, Bishop John T. Folda of Fargo, N.D., who was appointed April 8 at the beginning of Pope Francis' pontificate, said that one of the things he's enjoyed the most since his appointment has been "the opportunity to get around the state and to visit the different parishes, especially to get to know the priests of the diocese."
The priests of the diocese are the ones "who obviously I work very closely, and they're my closest collaborators," Folda told CNA, "so I've really made a point to try to get to know them as much as possible."
Pope Francis then called for Bishops to serve with humility, which he described as an austerity and focus on what is essential, saying that pastors must not have "the psychology of Princes."
He warned 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 longing for a bigger or better diocese as a kind of "spiritual adultery." He cautioned the bishops not to fall into the "spirit of careerism," which he referred to as "a cancer."
The pontiff ended his address by encouraging those present to "remain with their flocks," which referred to as "stability." This stability, he said, "has two precise aspects – 'to remain' in the diocese, and 'to remain' in this diocese, without seeking change or promotion."
In a time when travel has become increasingly easier, "the ancient law of residence hasn't passed out of fashion," said the Pope, citing that residence in one's diocese is not only functional, but has deep theological roots.
"Avoid the scandal of being 'airport bishops!'" he said, "Be welcoming Pastors, 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!"
In attendance at the conference were new bishops from around the world who have been appointed since September of last year, including bishops from Canada, Ireland, Germany, England, the United States, South America and the Middle East.