VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Don’t be on the road all the time, aloof or deaf to people’s needs; be simple, loving and always close by, just like a spouse would be for his wife, Pope Francis told new bishops.
Bishops are pastors, not princes, so always return people’s calls, listen to parishioners, recognize one’s limitations and sharpen that sense of humor, he said Sept. 19 to some 120 recently appointed bishops from around the world.
(See the full text of the pope’s talk to new bishops here.)
“Your presence (among the people) isn’t secondary, it’s indispensable,” he said. People want their bishop to be near, sharing their hopes, joys, pains and sorrows.
The pope based his talk on what St. Peter meant with his words: “Tend the flock of God in your midst.”
Tending one’s flock, he said, is all about welcoming people with joy, and then walking and staying with them through thick and thin.
It’s clearly wrong for a husband to be searching or pining for women who seemed better or richer than his wife, he said. A bishop, likewise, should remain appreciative and faithful to his diocese.
Dioceses need stability, he said.
Staying put and not becoming “airport bishops,” who are constantly out of town, is good not only for pastoral governance, it also has theological importance. “You are spouses of your community, deeply bonded with them,” he said.
“Please, we pastors are not men with a princely mentality, ambitious men, who are married to this church, waiting for another that’s more beautiful or wealthier.”
Such careerism is scandalous and “a cancer,” he said. And bishops must serve in a way that is humble, austere and back to basics.
The pope emphasized how important it is for bishops to spend time with his priests and return their calls.
If time is tight, call the same day or the next to set up an appointment to talk or meet up later, but never give the impression there is never any time for them, he said. Otherwise, the priest may end up thinking, ‘Well, he doesn’t care. He is not a father, he’s an office manager.'”
“Time spent with priests is never a waste of time,” he said.
Bishops must be “welcoming, walking with your people, with affection, mercy, a gentle manner and paternal firmness, with humility and discretion, also able to recognize your limitations and have a measure of good humor,” he said.
Being able to laugh at oneself and other things “is a grace we have to ask for.”
Make the church a welcoming place by being available and generous, he said. That way when people come knocking they will experience “the paternity of God and will understand how the church is a good mother” with open, loving arms, ready to listen, help and guide people.
A bishop needs to lead his flock in order to show people the way; he needs to be in the middle of his flock “in order to strengthen it in unity;” and he needs to bring up the rear so no one is left behind, the pope said.
He must also keep his ears open: listening to the Holy Spirit, his people and diocesan boards and consultants who are there to advise their bishop, “promoting a loyal and constructive dialogue.”