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Bishops govern their local churches

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 18 November 1992 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. In addition to the prophetic and sacramental service of bishops, to which we devoted the previous catecheses, there is a pastoral service, regarding which the Second Vatican Council said: "Bishops, as vicars and ambassadors of Christ, govern the particular churches entrusted to them by their counsel, exhortations, example, and even by their authority and sacred power, which indeed they use only for the edification of their flock in truth and holiness, remembering that he who is greater should become as the lesser and he who is the chief become as the servant (cf. Lk 22:26-27)" (LG 27). This wonderful teaching hinges on this basic principle: in the Church authority is meant to be upbuilding. St. Paul considered it as such when he wrote to the Corinthians, speaking of "our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for tearing you down" (2 Cor 10:8). To the members of this Church that was very dear to him he always expressed the hope of not having to act harshly "in virtue of the authority that the Lord has given me to build up and not to tear down" (2 Cor 13:10). The aim of building up requires patience and leniency from bishops. This means the spiritual development of their flock in truth and holiness, as the Council says: the truth of the Gospel teaching and holiness as it was lived, willed and taught by Christ.

2. It is necessary to insist on the concept of service, which applies to every ecclesiastical ministry, beginning with that of bishops. Indeed, the episcopate is more a service than an honor. If it is also an honor, it is so when the bishop, a successor of the apostles, serves in a spirit of gospel humility, following the example of the Son of Man who admonished the Twelve: "Let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant" (Lk 22:26). "Whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10:44-45; cf. Mt 20:27-28).

3. In Christus Dominus the Council adds: "In exercising their office of father and pastor, bishops should stand in the midst of their people as those who serve. Let them be good shepherds who know their sheep and whose sheep know them. Let them be true fathers who excel in the spirit of love and solicitude for all and to whose divinely conferred authority all gratefully submit themselves. Let them so gather and mold the whole family of their flock that everyone, conscious of his own duties, may live and work in the communion of love" (CD 16).

4. It is in the light of this service "as a good shepherd" that the authority which the bishop possesses in proprio must be understood, although it is always subject to that of the Supreme Pontiff. We read in Lumen Gentium: "This power, which they [the bishops] personally exercise in Christ's name, is proper, ordinary and immediate, although its exercise is ultimately regulated by the supreme authority of the Church, and can be circumscribed by certain limits, for the advantage of the Church or of the faithful. In virtue of this power, bishops have the sacred right and the duty before the Lord to make laws for their subjects, to pass judgment on them and to moderate everything pertaining to the ordering of worship and the apostolate" (LG 27). Certainly it is a question of a true authority, which must be treated with respect and to which both the clergy and the faithful should be docile and obedient in the area of Church governance. However, it is always an authority with a pastoral function.

5. In regard to this pastoral care for their flock, which entails a corresponding personal responsibility for developing the Christian life of the people entrusted to them, the Council says of bishops: "The pastoral office or the habitual and daily care of their sheep is entrusted to them completely; nor are they to be regarded as vicars of the Roman Pontiffs, for they exercise an authority that is proper to them, and are quite correctly called 'prelates,' heads of the people whom they govern" (LG 27). Obviously, the Council does not hesitate to assert that every bishop has true authority over his own diocese, or local church. But it forcefully underscored another point that is basic to the unity and catholicity of the Church, that is, the communion of every bishop and the whole corpus episcoporum "cum Petro," which is also communion "sub Petro." This is in virtue of the ecclesiological principle (which tends to be overlooked sometimes) according to which the ministry of Peter's successor belongs to the essence of every particular church "from within," or as a requirement of the Church's very constitution, and not as something added on from without, for historical, sociological or practical reasons. It is not a question of adapting to the circumstances of the times, but of fidelity to Christ's will for his Church. The Church's foundation on Peter the rock, the assigning of a primacy to Peter, which continues in his successors as bishops of Rome, entails a connection with the universal Church and its center in the church of Rome as a constitutive element of the particular church and a condition for its being a church at all. This point is fundamental to a good theology of the local church.

6. On the other hand, the power of bishops is not threatened by that of the Roman Pontiff. As the Council says: "Their power, therefore, is not destroyed by the supreme and universal power, but on the contrary it is affirmed, strengthened and vindicated by it, since the Holy Spirit unfailingly preserves the form of government established by Christ the Lord in his Church" (LG 27). Consequently, the relationship among bishops and the Pope cannot fail to be a relationship of cooperation and mutual aid, in an atmosphere of friendship and fraternal trust, as can be observed--and even experienced--in the Church's life today.

7. To the bishop's authority there is the corresponding responsibility of a pastor, because of which he feels committed to giving his own life each day for the good of his flock, following the example of the good shepherd. Sharing in the cross of Christ, he is called to make many personal sacrifices for the Church. These sacrifices are the concrete expression of that commitment of perfect love to which he is called by the status he has received through episcopal consecration. Therein lies the specifically episcopal spirituality, as the supreme imitation of Christ, the good shepherd, and as the greatest sharing in his love. The bishop, then, is called to imitate Christ the shepherd, allowing himself to be led by charity in regard to everyone. The Council especially recommends a listening attitude: "Let him not refuse to listen to his subjects, whom he cherishes as his true sons and exhorts to cooperate readily with him" (LG 27). The bishop should be distinguished by all the qualities necessary for communication and communion with his children and brethren: understanding and compassion for their spiritual and physical suffering; a desire to help and aid, to encourage and promote cooperation; and above all, universal love, with no exceptions, restrictions or reservations.

8. According to the Council, all of the above should find special expression in the bishop's attitude toward his brothers in the ministerial priesthood: "Bishops should always embrace priests with a special love since the latter to the best of their ability assume the bishops' anxieties and carry them on day by day so zealously. They should regard the priests as sons and friends and be ready to listen to them. Through their trusting familiarity with their priests they should strive to promote the whole pastoral work of the entire diocese" (CD 16). However, the Council also mentions the duties of the pastor regarding the laity: "In exercising this pastoral care they should preserve for their faithful the share proper to them in Church affairs; they should also respect their duty and right of actively collaborating in the building up of the Mystical Body of Christ" (CD 16). The Council also adds a note on the universal dimension of the love which should inspire the episcopal ministry: "They should deal lovingly with the separated brethren, urging the faithful also to conduct themselves with great kindness and charity in their regard and fostering ecumenism as it is understood by the Church. They should also have a place in their hearts for the non-baptized so that upon them too there may shine the charity of Christ Jesus, to whom the bishops are witnesses before all men" (CD 16).

9. The image of the bishop that emerges from the Council's texts, then, shows that he is distinguished in the Church by the greatness of his ministry and the nobility of his spirit as a good shepherd. His status obliges him to demanding and arduous duties and to lofty sentiments of love for Christ and his brothers and sisters. It is a difficult mission and life, and so for this reason too all those in the bishop's diocese should show him love and docility, and work with him for the coming of God's kingdom. In this regard the Council concludes: "The faithful must cling to their bishop, as the Church does to Christ, and Jesus Christ to the Father, so that all may be of one mind through unity, and abound to the glory of God (cf. 2 Cor 4:15)" (LG 27).

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini francesi 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

J’adresse mes salutations cordiales aux Archevêques, Évêques, Prêtres, Religieux et Religieuses, Séminaristes et Fidèles laïcs de l’Église arménienne catholique qui sont venus participer à la cérémonie d’ordination épiscopale de Monseigneur Nerses Der Nersessian, Ordinaire pour les Arméniens catholiques de l’Europe orientale. Chers Frères et Sœurs de l’Église arménienne, je vous offre mes meilleurs vœux pour vous-mêmes, pour vos familles et pour toutes les personnes qui vous sont chères. Je vous invite à prier pour que le Synode arménien extraordinaire, qui s’ouvrira demain, apporte un regain de vitalité à votre Église, qui peut maintenant remplir sa mission dans des conditions plus normales.

De grand cœur, je vous accorde ainsi qu’à tous les pèlerins de langue française présents à cette audience ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I wish to greet those taking part in the Special Course organized by the NATO Defense College. I pray that your efforts to promote international peace and security will contribute to greater understanding and cooperation between the world’s peoples. My greetings also go to the Japanese pilgrims from the Diocese of Kyoto accompanied by their Bishop. I welcome the Divine Word Missionaries attending a programme of spiritual renewal in Rome, and the pilgrim group from the Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, including the pilgrims from Canada, the Philippines and the United States of America, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of Christ our Saviour.

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grübe ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Grub gilt den Mitgliedern der Musikgesellschaft Ottobeuren, denen ich für die klangvolle musikalische Darbietung danke, sowie den Lehrerinnen und Schülerinnen der Fachschule für Sozialpädagogik der Liebfrauenschule Rottenburg.

Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen zu Hause sowie den mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai pellegrini di lingua spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo ahora muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española. En particular, al grupo de Religiosas de Nues- tra Señora de la Consolación y a las peregrinaciones de Argentina, México, Miami y Los Angeles. A todos imparto con gran afecto la Bendición Apostólica. 

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese 

Amadíssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Saúdo os fiéis de língua portuguesa hoje aqui presentes. Faço votos por que deste encontro romano, no coração da Igreja Católica, surjam novos propósitos de vida cristã, amparados por um empenhamento renovado em dar vida nova à própria fé, com uma adesão cada vez mais firme e corajosa aos seus Bispos que estão em comunhão com o Vigário de Cristo. E que Deus vos abençoe e vos ampare! 

Ai fedeli polacchi 

Witam pielgrzymów z Polski. W szczególności księży biskupów: z Włocławka - bpa Dembowskiego i z Zielonej Góry-Gorzowa - bpa Pawła Sochę. Witam grupę Katolickiego Biura Pielgrzymkowego ze Stanów Zjednoczonych, kolejarzy z okręgu krakowskiego, grupy turystyczne: z Tych - “Kolumb” i z całej Polski - “Orbis”, prócz tego wszystkich innych obecnych Polaków, zarówno z Ojczyzny, jak z emigracji. 

Ai fedeli di lingua italiana 

Saluto tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana. Rivolgo un pensiero speciale ai fedeli provenienti dalla Diocesi di Fidenza che, insieme al loro Vescovo, Monsignor Carlo Poggi, e ad un gruppo di Presbiteri, sono venuti a visitare la tomba degli Apostoli in occasione dell’inizio delle celebrazioni del diciassettesimo centenario del martirio di San Donnino, patrono della Diocesi. Carissimi, vi esorto a fare in modo che questa lieta ricorrenza diventi occasione propizia per un cammino spirituale di rinnovamento e di ripresa nella vita delle vostre Comunità cristiane, in fedele adesione alle sane tradizioni religiose della vostra Terra. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Nel salutare cordialmente i giovani, gli ammalati e gli sposi novelli, desidero richiamare il valore che, in modo speciale, assume la pubblicazione del “Catechismo della Chiesa Cattolica”, che ho avuto la gioia di promulgare con la Costituzione Apostolica “Fidei Depositum”.

Il Catechismo aiuterà voi, giovani, ad approfondire le vostre convinzioni di fede e a rafforzarvi nelle scelte morali secondo l’insegnamento della Chiesa.

Per voi, ammalati, esso sarà di grande aiuto a comprendere il valore della sofferenza accettata per amore.

A voi, sposi novelli, esso offrirà dei saldi punti di riferimento per le scelte su cui si fonda la vita della nuova famiglia che avete formato.

A tutti la mia Benedizione! 

Per Croazia e Bosnia ed Erzegovina 

Cari fedeli della Missione Cattolica Croata di Stuttgart, vi saluto cordialmente! La rinnovata fede in Gesù Cristo aiuti voi e i vostri connazionali in Croazia e in Bosnia ed Erzegovina, terre da dove provenite, a superare le prove e le conseguenze dell’immane guerra che imperversa in quelle regioni. A voi tutti e ai vostri cari, specialmente a coloro che soffrono, imparto ben volentieri la mia benedizione apostolica. Siano lodati Gesù e Maria.

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