Vatican City, 3 March 2014 (VIS) – This morning the Holy Father received in audience the prelates of the Spanish Episcopal Conference at the end of their “ad limina” visit, and delivered an address in which, among other things, he praised their intention to “faithfully serve the People of God in pilgrimage in Spain, where the Word of God is well rooted, and which has brought fruits of harmony, culture and holiness”, a fact that is particularly emphasised by the celebration of the upcoming fifth centenary of the birth of St. Teresa of Jesus, first doctor of the Church”.
“Now that you are suffering the ordeal of the indifference of many baptised persons and must face today's worldly culture, which closes God into the sphere of private life and excludes Him from the public sphere, you must not forget your history. … Let us always entrust ourselves to Him and seek to sow the seed in the hearts of those entrusted to our pastoral care”, writes the Holy Father.
“The bishops have been entrusted with the task of making these seeds germinate with the courageous and true proclamation of the Gospel, taking great care of their growth by example, education and closeness, to harmonise the 'vineyard of the Lord' from which no-one is excluded”, he continues. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, do not spare any effort in opening new ways to the Gospel, to reach the hearts of all people so that they may discover what already resides therein: Christ as a friend and brother. … It will not be difficult to find these paths if we follow the footsteps of the Lord, who 'came not to be served but to serve', who knew how to respect God's time with humility, to patiently await the process of maturation of each person, without fear of taking the first step towards encounter. He teaches us to listen to all, heart to heart, with tenderness and mercy, and to seek what truly unites and serves in mutual edification”.
In this search, it is important for the bishop not to feel alone, or to think he is alone; that he is aware that the flock entrusted to him 'has a nose' for matters of God. … Likewise in the present moment, in which the mediations of faith are increasingly scarce and there is no lack of difficulties in its transmission, it is necessary to place your Churches in a true state of permanent mission, to call to those who have drifted and to strengthen faith, especially in children. … Faith is not a mere cultural inheritance, but rather a gift, a gift born of the personal encounter with Jesus and the free and joyful acceptance of the new life He offers us. … Awaken and arouse sincere faith, promote preparation for marriage and the accompanying of families, whose vocation is to be the native place for coexistence in love, the original cell of society, transmitter of life and domestic church where faith is forged and lived out. An evangelised family is a valuable agent of evangelisation”.
Pope Francis also refers to the publication last year of the document “Priestly vocations for the 21st century”, as a sign of the particular Churches' interest in the pastoral of vocations. “It is an aspect that a bishop should keep in his heart as an absolute priority, in prayer, in the selection of candidates and the preparation of teams of good formators and competent teachers”, he states.
“Love and service to the poor is a sign of the Kingdom of God that Jesus came to bring”, he emphasises. “I know that in recent years, your Caritas and other charitable works of the Church have earned great recognition, among believers and unbelievers. This brings me much pleasure, and I pray that this may be a way of approaching the source of charity – Christ, who 'went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed', and His Church, who is a mother and can never forget the most disadvantaged among her children”.
The Pope concludes by encouraging the bishops to place themselves “at the forefront of the spiritual and missionary renewal of your particular Churches, as brethren and pastors of the faithful, and also of those who are not, or who have forgotten. To this end, frank and fraternal collaboration within the Episcopal Conference will be of great help, as will mutual support and care in the search for the most suitable approaches to take”.