When Pope Francis met with the bishops at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew in Washington, D.C. , I was fortunate to be in the front row, I even had a chance to chat briefly with the Holy Father in Spanish and he said he was pleased to speak his native language after struggling with English at the White House and in his address to Congress.
At St. Matthew, he spoke to us as “brother to brother,” assuring us of his support and pledging to be at our side in difficult moments, recalling that, “From the birth of this nation, when, following the American Revolution, the first diocese was erected in Baltimore. The Church of Rome has always been close to you; you have never lacked its constant assistance and encouragement.”
He spoke of the bishops’ role as shepherds as “ones appointed by God to feed His flock,” called to be selfless with undivided hearts finding our identity in constant prayer, preaching and shepherding the flock entrusted to our care, recalling the three roles of a bishop; to sanctify, to teach and to govern.
Bishops, he told us, are not to preach “complicated doctrines, but to joyfully proclaim Christ” so that those who hear should also feel that the message we preach is for them and find in our words that “taste of eternity which they seek in vain in the things of this world.”
Dialogue should be our method, the Pope suggested; dialogue among ourselves, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. He challenged us to dialogue fearlessly and boldly. Otherwise, we will fail to understand the thinking of others or the depth of their need.
Our mission as bishops, Pope Francis declared, “is first and foremost to solidify unity.” He added that “the world is already so torn and divided, brokenness is now everywhere.” Consequently, the Church, “the seamless garment of the Lord” cannot allow herself to be rent, broken or fought over.”
At the end of his talk, the Holy Father offered two recommendations to us as bishops. First, he urged us to be close to our priests, support and encourage them so that they may serve Christ with an undivided heart and see to their spiritual growth so that they not grow tired or discouraged. Secondly, he encouraged us to continue our nation’s tradition of welcoming immigrants, “Know that they also possess resources meant to be shared. So do not be afraid to welcome them. Offer them the warmth of the love of Christ and you will unlock the mystery of their heart. I am certain that, as so often in the past, these people will enrich America and its Church.”
At St. Matthews we experienced a pastor sharing with other pastors to aid and encourage us to become better shepherds of God’s flock.