Yesterday afternoon Pope Francis inaugurated the 66th assembly of Italian bishops, in which they will discuss proposals to amend the Statute and Regulation of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), as well as the “Guide to proclamation and catechesis in Italy”. They will also consider the theme “Christian education and missionarity in the light of the Apostolic exhortation 'Evangelii gaudium'”. It is the first time that a pontiff has presided at an assembly of the CEI.
Francis structured his discourse in three points, directing it at pastors of a Church that is the community of the Resurrected, that is the body of the Lord, and that anticipates and promises the Kingdom. He began by telling the bishops: “The people look to us. They look to us for help in grasping the singularity of their daily lives in God's providential plan”; and emphasised that “faith is the living memory of an encounter nurtured by the fire of the Word that shapes the ministry and anoints the people. … Without constant prayer, the Pastor is exposed to the danger of being ashamed of the Gospel, and ends up defusing the scandal of the Cross in worldly 'wisdom'”.
“The temptations, which aim to obscure the primacy of God and His Christ, are legion in the life of the Pastor: they range from lukewarmness, which leads to mediocrity … which dodges renunciation and sacrifice; then there is the temptation to haste in pastoral ministry, along with that sloth that leads to intolerance, almost as if everything were a burden. … There is a temptation to grow accustomed to sadness, cancelling out every expectation and creativity, leaving us unsatisfied and therefore incapable of entering into the lives of our people and understanding them in the light of Easter morning”.
To combat these temptations, the Pope urges the Italian bishops never to cease to seek the Lord, because “He is the principle and foundation that envelops our weaknesses with mercy, transforming and renewing everything; we are called to offer He Who is most precious to our people, so as not to leave them at the mercy of a society of indifference, indeed desperation. … If we want to follow him, there is no other path. Following it with Him, we discover that we are a people, to the point of recognising with wonder and gratitude that all is grace, even the difficulties and contradictions of human life, if these are lived with a heart open to the Lord”.
Proceeding to speak of pastors of the Church as the body of the Lord, he remarked that the Church is the “other grace for which we must feel profoundly indebted. … Unity is a gift and responsibility, and its sacrament shapes our mission. … The lack of communion is the greatest scandal”, and “as Pastors, we must seek refuge from temptations that otherwise disfigure us; … the hardness of he who judges without being involved, and the laxity of those who acquiesce without taking responsibility for the other. … the ambition that generates 'currents', sectarianism … and then, the tendency to seek the lost security of the past, and the claims of those who wish to defend unity by denying diversity, thus humiliating the gifts with which God continues to keep His Church young and beautiful”.
“In relation to these temptations, ecclesial experience is the most effective antidote. It emanates from the sole Eucharist, whose cohesive strength generates fraternity, the ability to accept, forgive and walk together”. The Holy Father urged the bishops to love people and communities with generous and total dedication” and to trust that “the holy people of God has the pulse to find the right roads. Accompany with breadth the growth of lay coresponsibility. ... With their insight and help, you will be able to avoid remaining attached to a pastoral of conversation – indeed, generic, dispersed, fragmented and of limited influence – and will instead adopt a form of pastoral care that focuses on the essential”.
In relation to the third point, “Pastors of a Church that anticipates and promises the Kingdom”, he commented that “serving the Kingdom means living a life decentred from oneself, striving for the encounter that is the path for truly rediscovering what we are: proclaimers of the truth of Christ and His mercy. ... With this clarity, brothers, may your proclamation be cadenced by the eloquence of gestures. ... And, among the 'places' in which your presence seems to me to be most necessary and meaningful ... there is, first and foremost, the family. Nowadays, the domestic community is strongly penalised by a culture that privileges individual rights and transmits a logic of the temporary. Promote the life of the unborn child as well as that of the elderly. ... And do not forget to tend, with the compassion of the Samaritan, to those who are emotionally wounded and whose plans for life are compromised”.
Another space that the bishops must not desert is the “waiting room crowded with the unemployed ... where the drama of those who do not know how to bring bread home to the table encounters that of those who are not able to keep their businesses afloat. It is an historic emergency, that appeals to the social responsibility of all: as Church, let us not give in to catastrophism and resignation, instead supporting with every form of creative solidarity the efforts of those who, without work, feel deprived even of their dignity. ... Finally, there is the welcoming embrace to migrants: they flee intolerance, persecution, a bleak future. May no-one turn their gaze away! ... And, more generally, in the difficult situations that so many of our contemporaries, may they find you attentive and participatory, ready to re-examine the current model of development that exploits creation, sacrifices people at the altar of profit and creates new forms of marginalisation and exclusion”.
“Reach out towards whoever asks to reason for the hope that is in you; welcome their culture, offer them respectfully the memory of faith and the company of the Church, the signs of brotherhood, gratitude and solidarity, that anticipate in man's days the reflections of a Sunday without end”.