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The ring and the people

The Pope’s meeting with the new bishops was truly important and programmatic, as the words that Francis addressed to them were certainly uncommonly incisive. At the centre is in fact that dynamic which Bergoglio recalled in the very first moments of his pontificate when, immediately after his election, he wished to emphasize the relationship between a bishop and the people.

The relationship between every shepherd and his flock is fundamental and essential. It is based on faithfulness to the One Lord, and is expressed — the Pontiff stated to the bishops, evoking a suggestive and familiar image — by “the ring on your right hand, which at times is too tight or at times risks slipping off”, but which, nevertheless, has the power “to fuse your life to Christ and to his Bride”, that is, to the Church.

This twofold faithfulness is rooted in the wisdom of the Council of Trent which, in the mid-1500s, imposed residence on the bishops, that is to say, it required a stable presence in their dioceses, which they had frequently neglected. “Rightly said”, Francis remarked, explaining that “every authentic reform of the Church of Christ begins with presence, that never-failing presence of Christ, but also from that of the Pastor”.

The same twofold faithfulness guards against the existential confusion that leads one to “come and go with no destination”. You are not, in fact, “guardians of a failed mass”, the Pope said emphatically to his brothers in the episcopate, but rather custodians of a precious gift to be shared, the joy of Christ. “I am thinking of so many people to lead to Him”, above all priests — the first for whom the bishop must exercise his fatherhood — and then, naturally, the people. “Allow the Successor of Peter to scrutinize you from the height of the Mystery which irrevocably binds us”, the Pontiff added, alluding to the Catholic communion. And again, “on returning to your homes, wherever they may be, please express the greeting and affection of the Pope and assure the people that they are always in his heart”, said the Bishop of Rome, using a turn of phrase which recalled the touching words of John XXIII in his well-known “Moonlight Address” on the evening of the opening day of the Second Vatican Council.

And as the start of the itinerary of the biennial Synod (in Greek, “to journey together”) on the Family is approaching, Francis counseled the pastors to walk with the people, “before, among and behind the flock”, as well as to jealously safeguard “the passion for truth”, and not to expend energy on “opposing and confronting, but on building and loving”.

g.m.v.

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St. Peter’s Square

Nov. 18, 2018

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