The Figure of the Bishop According to Pope Francis

Diego Fares SJ

Paid Article

In his opening address to the 68th General Assembly of the Italian Episcopal Conference in May 2015, Pope Francis asked the bishops not to be “pilots” but real “pastors.1

On many occasions the pontiff has appealed to bishops to be “bishops who are pastors, not princes,” making references to images he had already used when he governed his previous diocese.

In 2006, while giving a retreat for the bishops of Spain, in his introductory meditation on the Magnificat, he spoke of “feeling ourselves to be collaborators, not owners, humble servants like Our Lady, not princes.” Concluding the retreat, he said – in his meditation on the phrase “the Lord reforms us” – that, “the people desire a pastor, not a refined man who loses himself in the finer things which are in vogue.2

This pastoral choice does not belong exclusively to bishops, but involves every “missionary disciple,” each in his own state and condition. In the apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (EG),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 which are so clear, direct and convincing that they need no interpretations which might diminish their power to challenge us. Let us live them sine glossa, without commentaries.3

The image “pastors, not princes” is not used pejoratively, although some in the media have interpreted it as a rebuke to bishops and priests. It is something that it is much more profound. It goes back to the discernment of an epochal shift and, even more significantly, it is an invitation to ensure that no bishop, no priest allows himself to be robbed of the joy of being a pastor:4 “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” (EG 271).

Bishops who keep watch over their people

Expressed in the very title “bishop” – in Greek, episkopos – there is a specific charism on which the then Cardinal Bergoglio reflected in the Synod of 2001, dedicated to “The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World.” That charism, a particular mission of the bishop, consists in keeping watch.

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