Vatican City, 19 September 2013 (VIS) – At midday, in the Sala Clementina of the Vatican Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father received in audience the recently appointed bishops who will participate in the congress organised by the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the Eastern Churches.
Francis encouraged the bishops, in the words of St. Peter, to “tend the flock of God that is in your charge”, and reminded them that “we are called and made Shepherds not by ourselves, but by the Lord, and not to serve ourselves, but rather to serve the flock entrusted to our care, to serve to the extent of offering our lives, like Christ, the Good Shepherd”.
The Pope asked what it means to “tend”, to have “ habitual and daily care” of the flock.
“Three thoughts arise from this”, he explained. First, the importance of welcoming with generosity: “Your heart must be large enough to be able to welcome all the men and women you meet during your days and whom you will seek out as you walk your parishes and your communities”.
Secondly, to accompany the flock: “to walk alongside the faithful and all those who turn to you, sharing joys and hopes, difficulties and suffering, as brothers and friends, but even more so as fathers, who are able to listen, to understand, to help and to orientate”. Francis urged the bishops not to forget the affection they hold for their priests, who are those “closest to the bishop”, who mix with the faithful, who have the “smell of their sheep”, and reminded them to be humble, austere and essential in the service of their flock. “We shepherds are not men with the psychology of princes – ambitious men, who espouse this Church while awaiting another, more beautiful and richer. But this is a scandal! Imagine that a man confesses, saying, 'I am married and I live with my wife, but I continually look at a woman who is more beautiful than her; is this a sin, Father?' The Gospel tells us that this is the sin of adultery. Is there such thing as 'spiritual adultery'? I don't know, think about it yourselves. Do not await another more beautiful, more important, richer Church. Do not fall into the trap of careerism! It is a form of cancer!”
Finally, Francis referred to the importance of staying with the flock: the stability of remaining in the diocese without seeking change or promotion. He urged the bishops as far as possible to avoid being absent from their diocese, and if unavoidable, to do so for the shortest period possible and not on a regular basis. “Espouse your community, be profoundly bonded to it! I beg you, please, to stay among your people. … Avoid the scandal of being 'airport bishops'!” Francis urged the bishops to welcome their people “with affection, with mercy, with fatherly gentleness and firmness, with humility and with discretion; know how to recognise your limits, and have a good dose of humour”.