I am happy to meet with you now personally, because in truth I must say that in some way I already know you. Not long ago you were presented to me by the Congregation of Bishops or that for the Eastern Churches. You are the fruit of assiduous work and the tireless prayer of the Church that, when she must choose her Pastors, wishes to actualize that whole night passed by the Lord on the mountain, in the presence of his Father, before calling those who he wished to be with him and to be sent out into the world.
Therefore, in the persons of the Lord Cardinals Ouellet and Sandri, I thank all those who have contributed to prepare your choice as Bishops and spent themselves to organize this day of meeting, surely fecund, in which one feels the joy of being Bishops, not isolated but in communion, of the co-responsibility of the episcopal ministry and of solicitude for the entire Church of God.
I know your curriculum and I harbour great hopes in your potentialities. Now I can finally associate the first knowledge from the papers to the faces, and after having heard talk of you, I can personally hear the heart of each and set my gaze on each one to discern the many pastoral hopes that Christ and his Church place in you. It is good to see the mystery of each one mirrored in the face and to be able to read what Christ has written to you. It is consoling to be able to see that God does not let His Bride lack Pastors in keeping with his heart.
Dear Brothers, our meeting is held at the beginning of your episcopal journey. The wonder aroused by your selection has now passed; the first fears have been overcome, when your name was pronounced by the Lord; even the emotions lived in the consecration are now gradually deposited in the memory and the weight of the responsibility adapts itself, in some way, to your fragile shoulders. The oil of the Spirit poured on your head still perfumes and, at the same time, is descending on the body of the Churches entrusted to you by the Lord. You have already experienced that the Gospel opened on your head has become a house where one can dwell with the Word of God; and the ring on your right hand, which sometimes is too tight or sometimes risks slipping, possesses nevertheless the strength to unite your life to Christ and to his Bride.
In meeting you for the first time, I ask you never to take for granted the mystery invested in you, of not losing your wonder in face of God’s plan or the fear of walking in conscience in His presence and in the presence of the Church, which is His, first of all. In some part of yourselves, it is necessary to protect this received gift, avoiding its being strained, impeding its being rendered vain.
Now allow me to speak to you with simplicity about some topics that I take to heart. I feel a duty to remind the Pastors of the Church of the indispensable link between the stable presence of the Bishop and the growth of the flock. Every authentic reform of the Church of Christ begins from the presence, that of Christ which is never lacking, but also that of the Pastor who rules in the name of Christ. And this is not a pious recommendation. When the Pastor hides or is not available, at stake is the pastoral care and the salvation of souls. (Decree De reformation of the Council of Trent IX). The Council of Trent said this, with so much reason.
In fact, in the Pastors that Christ gives to the Church, He himself loves his Bride and gives his life for her (cf. Ephesians 5:25-27). Love renders similar those who share it, therefore, everything that is good in the Church comes from Christ, but it is also true that the humanity glorified by the Bridegroom has not scorned our traits. They say that after years of intense communion of life and of fidelity, in human couples also the traits of the physiognomy of the spouses are communicated gradually to one another and both end by being similar.
You have been bound, by a ring of fidelity, to the Church that has been entrusted to you or that you are called to serve. The love for the Bride of Christ allows you gradually to imprint traits of yourselves in her face and at the same time to bear in yourselves traits of her physiognomy. Therefore, intimacy, assiduousness, constancy and patience are useful.
Of no use are Bishops content just on the surface; one must dig in depth to retrace what the Spirit continues to inspire in your Bride. Please, do not be Bishops with an expiration date, who always need to change their address, as medicines that lose their capacity to cure, or like those insipid foods that are to be thrown out because they are now useless (cf. Matthew 5:13). It is important not to block the healing force that flows from within of the gift you have received, and this defends you from the temptation to come and go without a goal, because “no wind is favourable to one who does not know where he is going.” And we have learned where we are going: we are always going to Jesus. We are seeking to know “where he dwells,” because his answer given to the first is never exhausted`; “Come and see” (John 1:38-39).
To dwell fully in your Churches it is necessary to dwell always in Him and not flee from Him: to dwell in his Word, in his Eucharist, in the “things of his Father” (cf. Luke 2:49), and above all in his cross. Not to pause on passing, but to stay for a long time! As the lamp of the Tabernacle of your majestic Cathedrals or humble Chapels stays inextinguishable, so may the flock not fail to find in your look the flame of the Risen One. Therefore, you must not be spent or pessimistic Bishops who, leaning only on themselves surrender to the darkness of the world or are resigned in face of the apparent defeat of the good, who now cry in vain that the fort is assailed. Your vocation is not to be guardians of a failed mass, but custodians of the Evangelii gaudium; hence, you cannot be deprived of the only richness that we truly have to give and that the world cannot give itself: the joy of the love of God.
I pray you, moreover, not to allow yourselves to be deceived by the temptation to change the people. Love the people that God has given you, even when they have “committed great sins,” without tiring of “going up to the Lord” to obtain forgiveness and a new beginning, even at the price of seeing many of your false images of the divine face cancelled or the fantasies that you nourished about the way of arousing their communion with God (cf. Es 32:30-31). Learn the humble but irresistible power of vicarious substitution, which is the only root of redemption.
Also the mission, rendered so urgent, is born from that “seeing where the Lord dwells and staying with him” (Cf. John 1:39). Only one who encounters, stays and dwells acquires the fascination and the authoritativeness to lead the world to Christ (cf. John 1:40-42). I think of so many people to be led to Him -- of your priests, in primis. There are so many that no longer seek where He dwells, or who dwell in other existential latitudes, some in the dregs of society. Others, forgetful of episcopal paternity or perhaps tired of seeking it in vain, now live as if they were no longer fathers or deceive themselves about not needing fathers. I exhort you to cultivate in yourselves, Fathers and Pastors, an interior time in which you can find room for your priests: receive them, welcome them, listen to them, guide them. I would like you to be traceable Bishops not for the quantity of the means of communication of which you dispose, but for the interior room that you offer to receive persons and their concrete needs, giving them the wholeness and breadth of the teaching of the Church, and not a catalogue of regrets. And may the reception be for all without discrimination, offering the firmness of authority that makes for growth and the sweetness of paternity that generates. And, please, do not fall into the temptation of sacrificing your liberty by surrounding yourselves with cliques, groups or choruses of consensus, because on the lips of the Bishop, the Church and the world have the right to find always the Gospel that renders one free.
Then there is the People of God entrusted to you. When, at the moment of your consecration, the name of your Church was proclaimed, the face reflected of those that God was giving you. These people need your patience to take care of them, to make them grow. I know well how our time has been rendered a desert. It is useful, therefore, to imitate Moses’ patience in guiding your people, without fear of dying as exiles, but consuming up to your last energy not for yourselves but to make those that you guide enter into God. Nothing is more important than to introduce persons into God! I recommend to you especially the young and the elderly: the former because they are our wings, and the latter because they are our roots. Wings and roots without which we do not know who we are and much less where we must go.
At the end of our meeting, allow the Successor of Peter to look at you profoundly from the height of the Mystery that unites us irrevocably. Today, seeing you in your different physiognomies, which mirror the inexhaustible richness of the Church spread throughout the earth, the Bishop of Rome embraces the Catholica. It is not necessary to recall the individual and tragic situations of our days. How much therefore, I would like to have resound in our midst, in every Church, a message of encouragement. On returning to your homes, wherever they are, please take the greeting and affection of the Pope and assure the people that they are always in his heart.
I see in you the watchmen capable of awakening your Churches, rising up before dawn or in the middle of the night to reawaken faith, hope and charity, without letting yourselves doze off or be conformed with the nostalgic lament of a fecund past but now fading. Dig now into your sources, with the courage to remove the incrustations that have covered the beauty and vigor of your pilgrim and missionary ancestors who implanted Churches and created civilization.
I see in you men capable of cultivating and maturing God’s fields, in which young sowers await hands ready to water daily to expect generous harvests.
I see in you, finally, Pastors able to recompose unity, of weaving nets, of re-sewing, of overcoming fragmentation. Dialogue with respect with the great traditions in which you are immersed, without fear of getting lost or without need to defend your borders, because the identity of the Church is defined by the love of Christ that knows no borders. Guarding jealously the passion for truth, do not waste energies to oppose or collide but to build and to love.
So, watchmen, men capable of taking care of God’s fields, pastors who walk ahead, in the midst and behind the flock, I give you leave, I embrace you, wishing you fecundity, patience, humility and much prayer. Thank you.
[Original text: Italian]
[Translation by ZENIT]