Vatican City, 9 May 2015 (VIS) – The bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Mozambique were received this morning by the Pope at the end of their “ad Limina” visit. In the written discourse that he handed to them during the audience, he first recalls Jesus’ question to the apostle Peter: “Do you love me?”, and before the latter’s affirmative response He asked him to be the shepherd to His flock. Christ, Who made Himself poor for us, requires of the bishops the same love for their own flock, along with their full availability and complete commitment. He calls them to set aside false presumptions in order to “wash the feet of those the Lord has entrusted to us”.
Francis goes on to emphasise that in the pastoral ministry of the bishops, priests occupy a very special role as “if God sends us to love our neighbour, the closest neighbours of a bishop are the priests, indispensable collaborators”, for whom they must always keep their “heart, hand and door” open. “Time spent with them is never wasted”, he remarks. The Pope also comments that the fruitfulness of the episcopal and priestly mission cannot be measured by the number of collaborators, the prestige of the institution, or the quantity of resources available. Instead, what counts is “being pervaded with Christ’s love, allowing oneself to be led by the Holy Spirit, and grafting one’s own existence onto the tree of life, which is the Cross of the Lord”. From St. Paul, “insuperable model of the Christian missionary, we know that this means trying to conform to Jesus in His death to participate in His resurrection”. In his ministry the apostle “experienced suffering, weakness and defeat, but also joy and consolation”. “Jesus’ paschal ministry is the heart of the mission of the Church”, affirms Francis. “If you abide in this mystery, you will be protected both from a worldly and triumphalist vision of the mission, and the disappointment that may arise when faced with trials and failures”.
“However, will there continue to be missionaries like Paul, men and women holding on to Christ’s cross, denuded of everything so as to be able to embrace the Whole?”, asks the Pope. “We must rejoice for these men and women totally consecrated to Christ”. He highlights that the witness of men and women religious in Mozambique, who devote themselves to assisting the poor, to the education of abandoned children, and helping those experiencing all kinds of hardship. He also praises the “heroic dedication” of many doctors and nurses, priests and nuns, who work in clinics and hospitals, and he invites the bishops to thank them, underlining the importance of the inclusion of religious communities in diocesan life. “They are not merely reserve material for the diocese, but rather, charisms that enrich”, he stressed.
The Pope exhorts the prelates to live among their faithful, also in the peripheries of their dioceses and in particular in the “existential peripheries”, where there is suffering, loneliness and human degradation, as “a bishop who lives among his faithful keeps his ears open to listen to what the Spirit says to the Churches and to the voice of his sheep”. He also notes the importance of the diocesan bodies which have the task of advising the bishops and assisting them “through the promotion of loyal and constructive dialogue: presbyteral council, pastoral council, council of economic affairs. It is unthinkable for a bishop not to count on these diocesan bodies. This also means being with the people. I also think at this point of your duty to reside in the diocese: listen to what your people want, what they want to see in their bishop, walk with them, stay close to them. You need this presence to live and, in a certain sense, to breathe”.
“The pastors and the faithful of Mozambique need to further develop a culture of encounter”, the Pope observes. “Jesus asks only one thing: that you go out in search of the neediest”. Among these, he mentions the victims of the natural disasters that recently sowed destruction, suffering and death throughout the country, thus increasing the number of displaced persons and refugees. “These people need us to share in their suffering, their worries, their problems. They need us to look upon them with love and you must reach out to them, like Jesus”.
Finally, the Pope offers an overview of all Mozambique, where the tensions and conflicts of recent years have undermined the social fabric, destroyed families and jeopardised the future of thousands of young people. “The most effective way of opposing the mentality of arrogance and inequality, as well as social divisions, it to invest in the field of education, which teaches the young to think critically, and offers a path towards maturity in values. In this sense, it is appropriate to raise awareness among leaders in society and to revive pastoral ministry in universities and schools, combining the task of education with the proclamation of the Gospel. The needs are so great that they cannot be satisfied simply through individual initiatives or by a union of individuals educated in individualism. Community networks are needed to respond to social problems. There is a need for a union of forces and unity of direction: in this, the Episcopal Conference may help as it has among its functions the unitary dialogue with the political authority for the whole territory. In this respect, I encourage a decisive implementation of good relations with the government, not of dependency, but rather of solid collaboration”.
“Dear bishops”, he concludes, “spare no efforts in supporting the family and in the defence of life from conception to natural death. In this sense, remember the options appropriate to one of Christ’s disciples and the beauty of being a mother, accompanied by the support of the family and the local community. The family must always be defended as the main source of fraternity, respect for others and the primary path of peace”.