On February 27, in the Sala Bologna of the Vatican Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis presided over a meeting of the Congregation for Bishops, whose prefect is Cardinal Marc Ouellet, P.S.S., and gave an address to those present regarding the mission of this congregation and the criteria that should determine the selection of a bishop, as well as the characteristics he should embody and his task in relation to the faithful entrusted to him. The Holy Father concluded by urging greater attention in scouring the fields in search of suitable pastors for this ministry, with the certainty that Christ never abandons His Church.
Extensive extracts are published below:
1. The essential mission of the Congregation
“In celebration of the ordination of a bishop the Church gathered together, after the invocation of the Holy Spirit, asks for the presented candidate to be ordained. He who presides then asks, “Do you have the mandate?”. … This Congregation exists tohelp write this mandate, which then resonates in many Churches and brings joy and hope to the Holy People of God. This Congregation exists to ensure that the name chosen has first of all been pronounced by the Lord. … The Holy People of God continues to speak: …we need someone who looks upon us with the breadth of heart of God; we do not need a manager, a company administrator. … We need someone who knows how to raise himself to the height of God’s gaze above us in order to guide us towards Him. … We must not lose sight of the needs of the particular Churches, for whom we must always provide. There does not exist a standard Pastor for all Churches. … Our challenge is to enter into Christ’s view, taking into account the singularity of the particular Churches”.
2. God’s horizon determines the mission of the Congregation
“To choose such ministers we too need to elevate ourselves, to rise to the ‘upper level’. We must rise above and overcome any eventual preferences, sympathies, provenances or tendencies to arrive at God’s broad horizon. … We do not need men conditioned by fear from below, but Pastors endowed with parresia, capable of ensuring that in the world there is a sacrament of unity, and therefore humanity is not destined to abandonment and helplessness. … In approving the appointment of each bishop I would like to be able to feel the authority of your discernment and the greatness of the horizons according to which you arrive at your counsel. Therefore, the spirit that presides over your work cannot be other than that humble, silent and laborious process carried out by the light that comes from above. Professionalism, service and holiness of life: if we turn away from these three virtues we fall from the greatness to which we are called”.
3. The Apostolic Church as a wellspring
“The height of the Church is always found in the depths of its foundations. … The future of the Church always lives in its origins. … We know that the College of Bishops, which the bishops enter by the Sacrament, succeeds the Apostolic College. The world needs to be aware that this sequence is uninterrupted. … People already know through suffering the experience of many ruptures: they need to find that there remains in the Church the grace of her origins”.
4. The bishop as a witness to the Risen Christ
“Let us consider … the moment at which the Apostolic Church must recompose the College of the Twelve after the betrayal of Judas. Without the Twelve the fullness of the Spirit cannot descend. We must find a successor among those who have followed from the beginning the journey of Jesus and who now can be, ‘along with the Twelve’ a ‘witness of the resurrection”. We must choose from the followers of Jesus those who will be witnesses of the Risen Christ. … Also for us, this is the unifying criterion: the bishop is he who is able to make current all that befell Jesus and above all, who knows, along with the Church, how to bear witness to His Resurrection. … Not an isolated witness, but together with the Church. … I would like to emphasize that renouncement and sacrifice is inherent to the episcopal mission. The episcopate is not for oneself, it is for the Church … for others, especially for those who according to the world should be excluded. … Therefore, to identify a bishop, 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 destabilizing factor … his cultural preparation must enable him to enter into dialogue with men and their cultures; his orthodoxy and faithfulness to the complete Truth held by the Church makes him a pillar and a point of reference … his transparency and detachment when managing community assets must confer authority and merit the esteem of all”.
“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.
5. The sovereignty of God, responsible for the decision.
“Let us return to the apostolic text. After the tiring task of discernment, the Apostles pray … We cannot elude that ‘Show us, Lord.’ The decisions can not be conditioned by our claims, for any groups, cliques or hegemonies. To guarantee this sovereignty two attitudes are fundamental: conscience before God, and collegiality … Not discretion, but the discernment of all. No one can have everything on hand, each person must humbly and honestly add his tile to a mosaic which belongs to God”.
6. “Kerygmatic” bishops
“Since faith comes from proclamation we need kerygmatic bishops. … Men who are guardians of doctrine, not so as to measure how far the world is from doctrinal truth, but in order to fascinate the world … with the beauty of love, 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 men as they know that the weeds will never fill the field”.
7. Praying bishops
“I have spoken of kerygmatic bishops; now I will move on to the other trait typical of the bishop: he must be a man of prayer. The same parresia he must have in the proclamation of the Word, must be present in his prayer, in speaking with God our Lord of the good of his people, the salvation of his people. … A man who does not have the courage to argue with God on behalf of his people cannot be a bishop, nor can he who is not able to assume the mission of guiding the people of God to where He, the Lord, indicates. … And this also applies to apostolic patience … the bishop must be able to ‘go with patience’ before God … finding and letting himself be found”.
“May bishops be shepherds, close to the people; ‘fathers and brothers, may they be gentle, patient and merciful; may they love poverty, interior poverty, as freedom for the Lord, and exterior poverty, as well as simplicity and a modest lifestyle; may they not have the mindset of “princes”’. Be careful that they are not ambitious, that they are not in quest of the episcopate’, that they are espoused to the Church, without constantly seeking another; this is called adultery. May they be overseers of the flock that has been entrusted to them, to take care of everything that is needed to keep it united. … I wish to emphasize again that the Church needs genuine Pastors … look at the testament of the Apostle Paul. … He speaks directly to us. He commits the pastors of the Church ‘to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance’. Therefore, not masters of the Word, but committed to it, servants of the Word. Only in this way is it possible to edify and obtain the inheritance of the saints. To those who are plagued with questions about their legacy: ‘What is the legacy of a bishop, gold or silver?’, Paul answers, ‘Holiness’. The Church remains when God’s holiness spreads to her members. … Vatican Council II states that the ‘pastoral office or the habitual and daily care of their sheep is entrusted” completely to bishops. In our times, regularity and the everyday are often associated with routine and boredom. Therefore we often try to escape to a permanent ‘elsewhere’. Unfortunately even in the Church we are not exempt from this risk. I think that in this time of meetings and congresses the decree of the Council of Trent is very current, 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 this is not solidly anchored in itself, in Christ and His Church, the bishop will continually be at the mercy of the waves, in search of ephemeral compensations, and will offer no shelter to his flock”.
“At the end of these words, I wonder: where can we find such men? … It is not easy. … I think of the prophet Samuel in search of Saul’s successor, 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 enought 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”.