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Diego Fares, S.J.June 24, 2015
TAKE YOUR SEATS. Bishops and cardinals attend the beatification of Pope Paul VI.

At the opening of the 68th General Assembly of the Italian Episcopal Conference on May 18, Pope Francis asked bishops not to be pilots but rather true pastors. Many times, the pontiff has called for “pastoral bishops, not princes,” using images he had previously employed when governing his former diocese.

In 2006, while giving the Spiritual Exercises to the Spanish bishops, in his introductory talk about the Magnificat he spoke about “feeling like stewards, not owners, humble servants like our Lady, not princes.” And he concluded the Exercises by saying—during a meditation on “The Lord who reforms us”—that “people want a pastor, not an elitist who gets lost in the frills of fashion.”

This pastoral option is not exclusive to bishops but is for all “missionary disciples,” each in his or her own state and condition. In his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” the pope states: “Clearly Jesus does not want us to be grandees who look down upon others, but men and women of the people. This is not an idea of the pope, or one pastoral option among others; they are injunctions contained in the word of God that are so clear, direct and convincing that they need no interpretations that might diminish their power to challenge us. Let us live them sine glossa, without commentaries” (No. 271).

The image of “pastors, not princes,” which some in the media have portrayed as a reproach to bishops and priests, if properly read does not convey scorn; it is much more profound. It is part of a discernment about an epochal change; and, even more significant, it is an invitation that no bishop or priest let himself be robbed of the joy of being a shepherd. “By so doing we will know the missionary joy of sharing life with God’s faithful people as we strive to light a fire in the heart of the world” (No. 271).

Bishops Who Watch Over Their People

There is a specific charism expressed in the word bishopepiskopos in Greek—upon which Cardinal Bergoglio reflected in the 2001 synod, which was dedicated to “The bishop, servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the hope of the world.” That charism, which is also a mission of the bishop, consists in “watching over.” It is worth citing the complete text here:

The bishop is he who keeps watch; he maintains hope by looking out for his people (1 Pt 5:2). One spiritual attitude places emphasis on overseeing the flock with a “look of unity”; it is the bishop who cares for everything that maintains the cohesion of the flock. Another spiritual attitude places the emphasis on keeping watch, being attentive to danger. Both attitudes belong to the essence of the episcopal mission and they derive all their strength from the attitude I consider the most essential,that of keeping watch.

One of the most powerful images of this attitude is that of the Exodus, in which it is said that Yahweh will keep watch over his people during the night of Passover, therefore called “the nightwatch” (Ex 12:42). What I would like to underline is the peculiar depth that the act of keeping watch has, in comparison with being vigilant in a more general way or a more specific way. Vigilance refers more to the care of doctrine and customs, while keeping watch alludes rather to care that there is salt and light in our hearts.

To be vigilant speaks of being on the lookout for the approach of imminent danger, while keeping watch has more to do with patiently supporting the processes through which the Lord carries forward the salvation of his people. To be vigilant it is sufficient to be awake, astute, quick. To keep watch one needs to be meeker, more patient and more aware in giving charity. To supervise or be vigilant speaks to us of a certain necessary control. Keeping watch, on the other hand, speaks of hope, the hope of the merciful Father who keeps watch over the progress of the hearts of his children. To keep watch manifests and consolidates the parrhesia of the bishop, who displays the Hope without altering the Cross of Christ

Together with the image of Yahweh who keeps watch over the great exodus of the people of the covenant, there is another image, more familiar but equally strong: that of St. Joseph. It is he who keeps watcheven in his dreams over the Baby Jesus and his mother with the tenderness of a good and faithful servant. From Joseph’s profound keeping watch arises a silent look signifying that he is able to care for his little flock with poor means; and from the same place there arises the vigilant and astute look that succeeded in avoiding all the dangers that threatened the Baby Jesus.

The sleeping St. Joseph, to whom Pope Francis entrusts his petitions for him to “dream over,” is the image of the bishop, the pastor keeping watch over his people.

Blessing His People

Downward and outward toward all—with two simple pastoral, not princely, movements, the newly elected Pope Francis placed himself within the great tradition of the church and Vatican II and generated a new spiritual dynamism among God’s faithful people.

The council tells us that just as Christ “emptied himself” and was sent to “bring the good news to the poor,” the church is also called to follow the same path, and therefore it “encompasses with love all who are afflicted with human suffering and in the poor and afflicted sees the image of its poor and suffering Founder” (“Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” No. 8). When Pope Francis bowed his head to receive the blessing of his people, and each time that he gets into the popemobile and travels around the plaza until reaching its edges, or when he chooses borderlands to make his visits, his movements make us not only see but experience an image of how a bishop can be in the midst of his people. This role does not seek to “replace” that of other bishops or popes but rather asks to be viewed and accepted with the attitude of “friendship and closeness” of one who knows how to discover “the harmony of Spirit in the diversity of charisms,” as Francis himself asked of “his presbyters”—the cardinals—two days after his election.

Besides his actions, his teaching too expresses a lowering of self and an inclusion of those who are at opposite poles of spiritual worldliness. These things are not unique to him; they are what the council sought when it said simply, “Thus, the church, although it needs human resources to carry out its mission, is not set up to seek earthly glory, but to proclaim, even by its own example, humility and self-sacrifice” (“Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” No. 8).

And while it is true that the public and the media make harsh judgments when they see some prelate with haughty attitudes, it is also true that there is a great deal of sympathy for any pastor—priest or bishop—when he humbles himself and embraces all. The people of God feel that it is Christ who is pastoring through his pastors. As St. Augustine said: “Perish the thought that there are no more good shepherds. Perish the thought that divine mercy has ceased to create them and invest them with their mission. Truly, if there are good sheep then there must be also good shepherds; the shepherds arise in the midst of good sheep. Nonetheless, good shepherds do not raise their voices, the friends of the Bridegroom are overjoyed when they hear the Bridegroom’s voice (Jn 3:29). The good shepherds are all in unity; they are one. In those who pastor it is Christ who is pastoring.”

At the end of his address to the Congregation for Bishops in 2014, Pope Francis asked, speaking of bishops who are kerygmatic, prayerful and pastoral:

Where can we find such men? It is not easy. Do they exist? How do we select them?... I am sure they are there, for the Lord does not abandon his church. Perhaps it is we who do not wander enough through the fields looking for them. Perhaps we need Samuel’s instruction: ‘We will not sit down until he comes here’ (cf. 1 Sm 16:11-13). It is this holy restlessness that I would have this congregation live.

Focused on Essentials

What should be the characteristics of the bishop that the pope proposes as the one the Lorduses today to sanctify, teach and shepherd his people? Francis reminded the bishops of the Italian Episcopal Conference that the spirituality of the bishop is a return to what is essential, to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, who says, “Follow me,” and who makes them pastors of a church that is above all “a community of the risen One.” The pope had already said this several months before, during a meeting of the General Congregation for Bishops: “The witnesses of the risen One had to be selected from among those who followed Jesus. From this comes the essential criterion for sketching the profile of the bishops we want to have.”

And these are the two characteristics of the “witnessing bishop” that the pope mentions: that he “knows how to make everything that happened to Jesus contemporary”; and that he “does not stand alone as a witness but stands together with the church.” The pope had highlighted precisely this for the Assembly of the Italian Episcopal Conference: the “ecclesiastic relevance” of “pastors of a church that is the body of the Lord.”

In order to better capture these characteristics, we must look at Francis, but not because all bishops need to be like the pope in their style. On the contrary, he encourages a diversity of charisms: “There is no standard pastor for all the churches. Christ knows the unique qualities of the pastor each church requires, so that he can respond to its needs and help it realize its full potential. Our challenge is to enter into Christ’s perspective, keeping in mind the uniqueness of the particular churches.” Making the risen Jesus Christ present requires that each person take his or her place in that person’s unique reality, to be authentic, faithful to what is essential and to harmonize each one’s personal witness with that of other believers.

To speak of the essential, it may be meaningful to reread, two years on, the first mentions that Francis made of the “bishop.” He made multiple such mentions in his first blessing “urbi et orbi.” Regarding the duty of the conclave, he said it was “to give Rome a bishop.” He was thankful for the welcome of the “diocesan community of Rome,” which he said “has its bishop.” He expressed his desire to “offer a prayer for our bishop emeritus, Benedict XVI.” He outlined his mission in terms of process: “Now we take up this journey, bishop and people.” And he valued “the prayer of the people asking blessing for their bishop.”

The other mention was in his homily during the Mass “For the Church” (“Pro Ecclesia”) with the cardinals. There, the pope included all pastors as disciples of the crucified Christ: “When we journey without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly: we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.” As the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” says, the church “presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God, announcing the cross and death of the Lord until he comes (see 1 Cor 11:26)” (No. 8; see Nos. 3, 5, 42).

Also significant was the way he described the figure of Benedict XVI the following day in his address to the cardinals: “The Petrine ministry, lived with total dedication, found in him a wise and humble exponent, his gaze always firmly on Christ, the risen Christ, present and alive in the Eucharist.”

Lowering oneself, being inclusive and centered: these are three movements around the crucified and risen Christ with which the the pope invites the bishops to live their role and take their place as shepherds of the people of God.

A Vatican II Bishop: Anointed to Anoint

In his first Chrism Mass as bishop of Rome, Pope Francis situated pastors within the fundamental tension that makes them what they are: they are anointed to anoint the faithful people of God whom they serve. As Vatican II says, “That duty, which the Lord committed to the shepherds of his people, is a true service, which in sacred literature is significantly called diakonia, or ministry” (“Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” No. 24). The pope noted, “A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed: this is a clear proof.” In this being for his people is concentrated the entire spirit of the council, which the pope does not say “should be lived” but rather “is being lived” together with all the bishops, priests and laypersons who are joyful as missionary disciples when going out on mission with him.

The relational and dynamic nature of the anointing is reflected in the simple and clear phrases of his first speeches. “Bishop and people...let us begin a common journey” in which “the entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One (cf. 1 Jn 2:20, 27), cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole people’s supernatural discernment in matters of faith when ‘from the bishops down to the last of the lay faithful’ they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals” (“Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” No. 12).

The phrase “common journey” translates the Greek word for synod and expresses the synodal spirit of Vatican II: “From the very first centuries of the church bishops...pooled their abilities and their wills for the common good and for the welfare of the individual churches. Thus came into being synods...and plenary councils.... This sacred ecumenical synod earnestly desires that the venerable institution of synods and councils flourish with fresh vigor” (“The Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church,” No. 36).

Among the places where Pope Francis echoes Pope Benedict XVI, one gem is the words that Benedict spoke to the Argentine bishops in 2009, when he spoke of “the holy oil of the priestly anointing,” which makes the pastor be as Christ “in the midst of the people.” On that occasion, Pope Benedict reminded the bishops and their priests that they “must always act among his faithful as the servant” (“Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” No. 27), without seeking “honors,” caring for the “faithful” with “tenderness and mercy.”

This image of the bishop that Pope Benedict presented to the Argentine bishops is the one that Pope Francis is proposing to all bishops, so that they may live it fully in this moment in history.

The Pastoral Image of the Bishop

In this spirit, it is possible to sum up Pope Francis’ view of the bishop in a single, thoroughly pastoral image: that of “the shepherd with the odor of sheep.” This is not so much an idiosyncratic expression as one that unifies the other images the pope gives us. The figure of the shepherd with the smell of sheep and the smile of a father attracts and leads to many other images that form a constellation, as if it were a great pastoral star.

In what sense is this pastoral perspective a key to the image of a bishop? Cardinal Bergoglio said in 2009:

In the language of the council and of Aparecida, “pastoral” is not in contrast to “doctrinal,” but rather includes it. Neither is pastoral a mere “contingent practical application of theology.” On the contrary, Revelation itself—and therefore all of theology—is pastoral, in the sense that it is the word of salvation, the word of God for the life of the world. As Crispino Valenziano says, “It is not about adjusting the pastoral to doctrine, but rather it is about not ruining doctrine’s constitutive pastoral seal of origin. The “anthropological turn” that one must follow in theology is without doubt and clearly something that goes in parallel with “pastoral” doctrine: people receive revelation and salvation by perceiving the knowledge that God has of our nature and his shepherd’s self-giving toward each of his little sheep.


This integration of doctrinal and pastoral (which led to the use of the term constitution, which means a document containing permanent doctrine, not only for the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” but also for the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”), is reflected very clearly in the “Decree on Priestly Formation.” The decree insists on the importance of forming pastors of souls, pastors who, joined to the only Good and Beautiful Pastor (beautiful in that he leads by attracting, not imposing), “care for their sheep” (Jn 21:15-17). In fact, “the image of the Good Shepherd is the analogatum princeps of all formation. In talking about the pastoral end as the ultimate end, both the council as well as Aparecida are understanding pastoral in an eminent sense, not in terms of how it is different from other aspects of formation but in terms of how it includes them all. It includes them in the charity of the Good Shepherd, given that charity “is the form of all of the virtues,” as St. Thomas says, following St. Ambrose.

Pope Francis is following Benedict XVI when he talks of the threefold mission of the church and the bishops. Benedict specified the threefold office in an enriching manner, placing the accents in a new way: “The church’s deepest nature is expressed in her threefold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia) and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose one another and are inseparable.”

We see how, when talking about teaching, Benedict uses the expression kerygma-martyria, the same expression that Francis uses when expressing his desire for kerygmatic bishops and witnesses to the risen Christ. When discussing the mission to lead, Benedict specifies by using diakonia, the service of charity, which Francis also prioritizes. This was an aspect that was “outsourced,” we could say, as an episcopal task, even though it is just as essential as the other tasks. Benedict said, “For the church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity that could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.” The judgment of Benedict XVI, in writing his encyclicals, was that the world needed to be spoken to about charity. And that charity has “the smell of sheep.”

‘A Father’s Smile’

Pope Francis has no trouble speaking about “the sins of the pastors,” including himself and the Roman Curia, to a world like ours, in which the sense of sin has been diminished. But if we look closely, his most emblematic saying on pastors, the one that struck deepest into people’s hearts, curiously did not address ethics, which are imposed, but rather addressed aesthetics, which attract irresistibly. His signature phrase was: “I want shepherds with the smell of sheep...and a father’s smile,” as he added last Holy Thursday.

That is the image of the bishop that Francis has in his heart. And it is the same for priests, cardinals and the pope himself. Shepherds do not merely want to wear the wool of their sheep; they are passionate about serving them. As we see, it is about more than the role of bishop; it is about a smell. This smell, like all strong odors, clearly evokes many images, but the main one, the one that should be “read without gloss” (“The Joy of the Gospel,” No. 271), the one that needs to be “smelled,” is without a doubt that of pastors who shepherd their sheep and not themselves.

With the image of the “pastor with the smell of sheep,” the parable of the Good Shepherd, so often heard but so rarely lived out, enters our noses with the force of a brisk wind that wakes us from the daydream of ideologies and routines and puts us back on the path with evangelical fervor. The smell of sheep gets on a pastor when he is among his people. There is no way to create it in a laboratory. And it does not rub off on a pastor as he shepherds his people; rather it is his own sheep smell, which reminds him that he comes from the same community of the faithful that he is pastoring.

The “sheep smell” brings together the Bergoglian themes of anointing, keeping watch and caring for, discernment, attempting to feed the flock with healthy doctrine and to defend it from its enemies, and the wolves who are dressed in sheep’s clothing but cannot get rid of their “wolf smell.” Thus, the spiritual sense of smell allows the bishop to discover and reject the temptation of spiritual worldliness, with its sophisticated perfumes, and provides him with a criterion for “olfactory discernment,”to maintain the sense of belonging to the flock from which he was removed and to be recognized by the sheep so that they do not get lost.

Bishops Who Pray With Their People

According to the thinking of the current pope, a pastor’s personal prayer and liturgical prayer are not something to perfume one’s person, just as anointing is not, but rather something that “spills and reaches the peripheries,” like the oil that ran down Aaron’s head and “reached the fringe of his cloak” (Ps 133:2). For this reason, the prayer of the pastor to which he alludes is always full of faces, an image that the pope made feel like an embrace from God to the priests in the most recent Chrism Mass: “Our weariness, dear priests, is like an incense which silently rises up to heaven.”

One can outline the image of the bishop who prays by looking first at how, centered on Christ, he transcends in ministry to his people, and then by identifying some traces of his transcendence to God, his holiness and his personal prayer: “He ought to have the same parrhesia in prayer that he has in proclaiming the word” (“Address of Pope Francis to a Meeting of the Congregation for Bishops,” Feb. 27, 2014).

The spirituality that springs from concrete pastoral action is what St. John Paul II repeatedly recommended to pastors in his postsynodal apostolic exhortation on “The Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day.” He had outlined it already 12 years earlier (1992) in a homily called “The Spirituality of the Diocesan Presbyterate Today,” in which he reminded priests of “the pastoral reason for being.” “A priest (especially a bishop) who does not know how to completely immerse himself in an ecclesiastical community can certainly not present himself as a valid model of ministerial life, since that life is essentially inserted within the concrete context of the interpersonal relationships of the community itself.”

St. John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation presents as an example the bishop St. Charles Borromeo, who loved the spirituality of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. The Exercises call on pastors to join contemplation and action in the manner explained by St. Peter Faber: “Seeking God in good works by the Spirit, one will more readily find him afterward in prayer, rather than seeking him first in prayer to then later find him in action, as often happens.” That is why he recommended that people with active lives “order all your prayers to the treasure of good works, and not the other way around.” That is, they should look at what they have to do and the people they have to deal with and only then ask for the grace they need to carry out their tasks as the Lord desires.

Charles Borromeo wrote: “There is nothing so necessary to all churchmen as the meditation which precedes, accompanies and follows all our actions. If you administer the sacraments, my brother, meditate upon what you are doing. If you celebrate Mass, meditate on what you are offering. If you recite the psalms in choir, meditate on to whom and of what you are speaking. If you are guiding souls, meditate on whose blood they have been cleansed in. And let all be done among you in charity (1 Cor. 16:14).”

The transcendence, therefore, that the pope is always talking about is dual: toward God and his saints in prayer, and toward one another, the people of God. As he told the Mexican bishops: “Do not forget prayer. It is a bishop’s ‘negotiation’ with God on behalf of his people. Do not forget it! And the second transcendence is closeness to one’s people.”

Therefore, the sheep smell is not only the smell of earthly sheep but also of those who are already grazing in heaven’s pastures. It is the pleasant odor of holy sheep, which is acquired through frequent familiarity with them in prayer and in the reading of their lives. In the role of the bishop that the pope has in mind, the example of the saints, and especially of those who have been great evangelizers of peoples, is essential. The saints the pope has canonized recently in a procedure called equivalent canonization “are figures of great evangelizers who resonate with the spirituality and theology of ‘The Joy of the Gospel.’ That is why I have chosen those figures.” They are evangelizing women and men, beloved by their people, who inculturated themselves in order to inculturate the Gospel.

This desire to “inculturate the Gospel” powerfully influences the prayer of the evangelizing and shepherding bishop. Bergoglio was always a bishop who prayed to the saints with his people, immersed from childhood in popular piety, thanks to his Nonna Rosa, his grandmother, who would “tell him the stories of the saints” and “took him to processions.” The image of the transcendence of God in prayer, which the pope is proposing to the bishops, has to do with the mode of praying and worshiping God that belongs to the faithful. The pope wants bishops who pray with their people, bishops whose prayer is perfumed with popular spirituality and mysticism.

The Christological Smell

The image of the shepherd with the smell of sheep is an emblematic image, of the kind Romano Guardini called primordial images with great evocative power. And although it has been cited and used to the point of becoming commonplace, this image can lead to another brief theological reflection. It is only a sketch, an invitation to enter into the theological, anthropological and ontological density of the language of Pope Francis.

First of all, one must properly understand how the pope uses metaphors.There are people who do not understand this language; it seems simplistic to them, inappropriate for a pope and even devoid of theological content. This phenomenon is very curious and makes one think that the people “get it,” while there are scholars who dismiss it. Some feel that appealing both to the heart and to the mind of people is nothing but “populism.” Is that the case? Not at all. Enlightenedfaith is not only for enlightened minds. There is an enlightenment that comes from the anointing of the Spirit; it is given to the little ones and makes them wiser than the wise of this culture (cf. Mt 11:25-27, Jn 2: 26-27).

The metaphors the pope uses must be assessed for what they are: images that, in the sea of words of today’s world, act as the whistle of the shepherd whose sheep recognize him perfectly and let themselves be moved by him. His language is not only distinctive—that of a Latin American—but rather, because it is beautiful, it is also true and does the heart good. And what Aristotle said applies in this case—that the ability to create metaphors is an indication of higher intelligence.

If we contemplate from a Trinitarian point of view the nature of the pastor with a sheep smell, and if we freely use that joy that the fathers of the church, like St. Augustine, felt when attributing a unique quality to one of the divine persons, the smell of sheep goes with the person of Christ. It is the “Christological scent,” the smell of incarnation and passion, of diapers and blood. It is the sweat of him who walks with his disciples and is surrounded by crowds. It is the smell of foot-washing and the smell of the bandages of an already decomposing Lazarus. It is also the perfume of a woman, like Mary, that permeates the house, the aroma of lilies of the field and the wind of the open sea toward which Jesus commands Simon Peter to row.

St. John Paul II affirmed: “The Christological dimension of the pastoral ministry, considered in depth, leads to an understanding of the Trinitarian foundation of ministry itself. Christ’s life is Trinitarian.... This Trinitarian dimension, manifested in every aspect of Christ’s life and activity, also shapes the life and activity of the bishop. Rightly, then, the synod fathers chose explicitly to describe the life and ministry of the bishop in the light of the Trinitarian ecclesiology contained in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.”

This “Christological scent” illustrates the anthropology of Pope Francis and leads us to think of his choice to take beauty as the starting point, before truth and goodness. The choice is based on his discernment about what the ears of today’s sheep need to hear, ears that are saturated with dogmatic issues under discussion and moral advice that is impossible to fulfill. With the beautiful the good arrives, and then one truly desires the truth. This is the pedagogy of the shepherd.

If we think about it philosophically, the smell of sheep is related to the beautiful. It is a purely Christological beauty in that beauty and glory are manifested in a contrary manner, although not entirely, since the smell of sheep is not disagreeable to the shepherd. And if we reflect from a political perspective, keeping in mind Francis’ four principles,the olfactory metaphor of the smell of sheep brings us closer to the principle of “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”: the smell of the sheep is the “smell of anointing” which makes the entirety of the faithful people of God “holy and infallible ‘in believing” (“The Joy of the Gospel,” No. 119, 234). If something has a strong smell, it is all-encompassing and evokes either total rejection, like food that has gone rotten, or irresistible attraction, like a pleasant perfume.

This smell comes from “the proximity of the Shepherd,” close to all but especially to the sick, the poorest and most forgotten, the excluded and rejected. There are two principles that can be resolved only in proximity: the principle of unity as greater than conflict (because conflict is about distancing and confronting) and the principle that reality is better than an idea, because an idea can be experienced only by going down into reality, touching the wounds, letting oneself be affected by the other.

And if we think about the sweat of the shepherd who walks with his sheep, the image of a church that goes out, which is the “paradigm of all of the church’s work” (“The Joy of the Gospel,” Nos. 15, 17, 20), what comes to mind is the conviction that time is superior to space, because the path must be opened and walked without becoming locked by contradictions or taking over the spaces. As “The Joy of the Gospel” says, “Giving priority to time means being concerned about initiating processes rather than possessing spaces” (No. 223).

The pope does not teach lessons on how a bishop must be. When he speaks to pastors, one notes that he has one ear on the Gospel and the other on the faithful (No. 154). One sees, then, through his words, his pauses, his examples, his smiles and gestures, a solidly unified figure of a pastor who is centered on love for Jesus and who unifies his people: a man of communion.

This was the centerpiece of his address to the Italian bishops in May 2014. Francis offered a significant gesture: he gave the bishops the words of Paul VI, who demanded of the same Italian Episcopal Conference on April 14, 1964: “an effusion of the spirit of unity,” which would create a “unifying renewal in spirit and in works.” This union is key for the world to believe, to be able to be “pastors of a church…a foretaste and promise of the kingdom” that goes out into the world with “the eloquence of the actions” of “truth and mercy.”

Men of Communion

This role as “men of communion” who give hope to the world is the last one we will highlight as the role of the bishop put before us by the one who is today the bishop of Rome, the church that “presides in charity over all the churches.”

As the pope said to the Italian bishops last May 18, to be men of communion requires a certain “ecclesial sensitivity.” Unity is the work of the Spirit, which works thanks to shepherd bishops and not pilot bishops. These pastors reinforce “the indispensable role of laypersons willing to take on their responsibilities to them.” Their ecclesial sensitivity “is revealed concretely in the collegiality and communion between the bishops and their priests; in the communion among the bishops themselves; between the dioceses that are materially and spiritually wealthy and those in difficulty; between the peripheries and the center; among the bishops’ conferences, and the bishops with the successor of Peter.”

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Mike Evans
9 years ago
Typically, Catholics only see their bishop for a quick Mass for Confirmation, a dedication of some new facility, or other special official celebration. They seldom see him just dropping by for a weekend visit and sitting around for doughnuts and coffee to talk with his people. He is seen by most as just a remote authority, sending out annual fundraising appeals and occasionally making public remarks on pending legislation. Moreover, the typical bishop has no personal relationship or origin within the diocese he now governs. The most important act of a bishop is to assign clergy. In so many dioceses, this is a mystery process, seldom matching congregations with their leader. It has become a game of dominoes and rotating clergy blackouts. Parishioners ask, will it be our turn for a turkey or a genuinely pastoral priest?
Walter Sandell
8 years 12 months ago
Good comment. Both the article and the comment ignore the abuse of authority and the abuse of children. It appears to me that many of the bishops belong in jail. The Ordination of Women has been called a 'Delecta Gravia.' I believe the 'Delecta Gravia' is the refusal to consider the Ordination of Women.
Richard Booth
8 years 12 months ago
I agree that Mr. Evans's comment is the reality all too many Catholics experience vis-a-vis their bishops. To Mr. Sandell: You are correct that the issues you mention are not addressed by the author; however, the author has a topic he is developing that does not include a discussion of the notions you mention. In my view, he is not to be faulted for staying with his topic.
Joe Ferrara
8 years 12 months ago
Highjacking the wrongs of the few is not the way to further one's own idea.
Lisa Weber
8 years 12 months ago
I like the direction that Pope Francis gives for bishops, but the nonexistent women's leadership is a bigger problem. Ordination for women is not the answer because women need to establish full membership for themselves before they will be able to assume leadership roles. The "daughter" role for women, whether it is daughter to an ecclesial father or an ecclesial mother, precludes adulthood for women. Part of adulthood and membership in a community is being allowed to speak publicly. Women's leadership will not develop until women are allowed to speak at Mass because it is impossible to lead without being able to speak publicly. Ordination and being allowed to speak are separate questions.
Bob Waldrop
8 years 11 months ago
I think if we look among the US Catholic bishops for the kind of bishop described in this article we would end up with very slim pickins. We would find conservative bishops, and liberal bishops, and nationalist Republican bishops, but precious few actual Catholic bishops. But! Everybody gets multiple chances at conversion however so let's pray for the conversion of the US Catholic bishops, that they would become truly humble, loving, and Catholic bishops.

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Spanish Jesuit Luis María Roma, who died in 2019, was recently discovered to have abused hundreds of Indigenous girls while serving as a missionary in rural Bolivia, and to have documented his acts in a diary.
Members of Coro y Orquesta Misional San Xavier perform the opera “San Francisco Xavier” at the Church of San Xavier in the town of San Javier, Bolivia, on April 23. 2024.
The opera ‘San Xavier’ provides a glimpse of how Jesuits evangelized with music—a key dimension of the 1986 film “The Mission.”