A lesson from Pope Francis: Evangelizing through pastoral accompaniment

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, N.J., places ashes on the forehead of Father Bismarck Chau during Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Patrick's Pro-Cathedral in Newark March 1. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Even though it is no longer a surprise, Pope Francis still makes news with his direct pastoral ministry, as he did in May, going door-to-door to bless homes in a public housing complex in the Roman suburbs. He has made encounters like this a hallmark of his papacy and a tool for evangelization.

They should also be a model that inspires the church and other Catholic leaders to similar acts of witness and pastoral evangelization. Though local leaders may not command the universal media coverage that the pope does, moments of encounter and accompaniment can still capture attention and spark imagination. Recent examples include Cardinal Joseph Tobin, C.Ss.R., of Newark, and other clergy leaders, accompanying a man facing deportation to his hearing. Several years ago, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, O.F.M.Cap., of Boston, along with other priests and bishops, made news not by leading a protest but by celebrating Mass with a congregation on both sides of the border fence in Nogales, Ariz.

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Pastoral accompaniment is nothing new for the church; and women and men on the front lines of ministry have been doing it for years, as leaders like Norma Pimentel,M.J., and Helen Prejean,C.S.J., have shown. Pope Francis’ example demonstrates how the juxtaposition of authority with service can preach the Gospel more powerfully than any words, especially from someone in a high position. Church leaders should look for more opportunities to put this lesson into practice at the local level, and they deserve our wholehearted support as they do it.

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