Vatican City, 24 May 2013 (VIS) – Yesterday afternoon in St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Francis presided at the profession of faith with all the Italian episcopacy gathered for their 65th general assembly. It was the first time that the Holy Father met with all the representatives of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), whom he greeted personally, one by one.
“The consequence of loving the Lord,” the Pope said to the bishops, “is giving everything—absolutely everything, even up to our very lives—for him. This is what must distinguish our pastoral ministry: it is the litmus test that says how deeply we have embraced the gift received in responding to Jesus' call and how connected we are to the persons and the communities that have been entrusted to us. We are not the expression of an organizational structure or need. Even with the service of our authority we are called to be marked by the presence of the Risen Lord, to build the community, therefore, in fraternal charity. This shouldn't be overlooked, however: even the greatest love, in fact, when it is not continuously nourished, grows weak and dies.”
“Lack of vigilance—we know—makes the shepherd lukewarm, makes him distracted, forgetful, and even impatient. It seduces him with the prospect of career, the lure of money, and compromises with the spirit of the world. It makes him lazy, transforming him into a functionary, a cleric more worried about self, about organization and structures than the true good of the People of God. It runs the risk then, as did the Apostle Peter, of denying the Lord, even though formally presenting itself as and speaking in his name. It obscures the holiness of the hierarchical Mother Church, making it less fruitful.”
“Who are we, brothers, before God? What are our trials?... As it did for Peter, Jesus' insistent and heartfelt question can leave us sorrowful and more aware of the weakness of our freedom, beset as it is by thousands of internal and external constraints, which often arouse confusion, frustration, even disbelief. These are certainly not the feelings or the attitudes that the Lord means to awaken. Instead, the Enemy, the Devil, takes advantage of them to isolate us in bitterness, in complaint, and in discouragement. … Jesus, the Good Shepherd, neither humiliates nor abandons us to remorse. In him, the Father's tenderness speaks to us, comforting and restoring us. He leads us from the disintegration of shame—because it is truly shame that breaks us down—to the fabric of trust, restoring courage, entrusting us again with responsibility, and delivering us to the mission.”
"This is why," the Bishop of Rome concluded, "being Shepherds also means being ready to walk amidst the flock: capable of hearing the silent story of those who suffer and of sustaining the steps of those who are afraid of not making it; careful to lift up, to reassure, and to inspire hope. Through sharing with the poor our faith comes out strengthened. Let us, therefore, set aside every type of arrogance in order to bow before those whom the Lord has entrusted to our care. Among these, a special place, a very special place, let us keep for our priests. Especially for them our hearts, our hands, and our doors must stay open at all times. They are the first faithful that we bishops have: our priests.”