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Bishops teach, sanctify and govern

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 28 October 1992 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. As successors of the apostles, bishops are called to share in the mission which Jesus Christ himself entrusted to the Twelve and the Church. The Second Vatican Council reminds us of this: "Bishops, as successors of the apostles, receive from the Lord, to whom was given all power in heaven and on earth, the mission to teach all nations and to preach the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain to salvation by faith, baptism and the fulfillment of the commandments" (LG 24). According to the Council's text, this mission is one which the bishops "receive from the Lord" and which has the same scope as that of the apostles. It is the responsibility of the episcopal college as a whole, as we saw in the previous catechesis. We must add, however, that the apostles' inheritance--as mission and as sacred power--is handed on to each individual bishop within the context of the episcopal college. We want to explain this reality in today's catechesis, especially by turning to texts of the Council. They offer the most authoritative and competent lessons on this topic.

2. The mission of individual bishops is fulfilled within a strictly defined sphere. We read in the conciliar text: "The individual bishops, who are placed in charge of particular churches, exercise their pastoral government over the portion of the People of God committed to their care, and not over other churches nor over the universal Church" (LG 23). This matter is regulated by the canonical mission conferred on every bishop (cf. LG 24). In every case the involvement of the supreme authority guarantees that the assignment of the canonical mission is done not only for the benefit of the local community, but for the welfare of the whole Church, in relation to the universal mission common to the episcopate in union with the Supreme Pontiff. This is a fundamental element of the "Petrine ministry."

3. The majority of bishops exercise their pastoral mission in dioceses. What is a diocese? The Council's Decree Christus Dominus answered this question in the following way: "A diocese is a portion of the people of God which is entrusted to a bishop to be shepherded by him with the cooperation of the presbytery. Thus by adhering to its pastor and gathered together by him through the Gospel and the Eucharist in the Holy Spirit, it constitutes a particular church in which the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and operative" (CD 11). According to the Council, then, each particular church lives the life of the universal Church, which is the fundamental reality of the Church. The latter is the most important and distinctive hallmark of the diocese, which is part of the universal Church, not only as a portion of the People of God, usually determined territorially, but also as one having particular features and characteristics that deserve respect and esteem. In some cases these values are very significant and widespread among individual peoples and even in the universal Church, as history attests. We can also say, however, that always and everywhere the variety of dioceses adds to the Church's spiritual wealth and to the fulfillment of her pastoral mission.

4. We read again in the Council: "Individual bishops who have been entrusted with the care of a particular church--under the authority of the Supreme Pontiff--feed their sheep in the name of the Lord as their own ordinary and immediate pastors, performing for them the office of teaching, sanctifying and governing" (CD 11). Bishops' jurisdiction over the flocks entrusted to them is thus proper, ordinary and immediate. Nevertheless, the Church's good order and unity require that this authority be exercised in strict communion with the authority of the Supreme Pontiff. For the same reasons bishops should "recognize the rights which legitimately belong to patriarchs or other hierarchical authorities" (CD 11), according to the historical development of the Church's structure in various places. As the Council points out, however, what really matters and is most decisive is that the bishops exercise their pastoral mission "in the name of the Lord."

5. Seen in this light, the mission of bishops is presented in its institutional, spiritual and pastoral value, in relation to the various conditions and states of the people entrusted to them, as follows: "Bishops," the Council states, "should dedicate themselves to their apostolic office as witnesses of Christ before all men. They should not only look after those who already follow the prince of pastors but should also wholeheartedly devote themselves to those who have strayed in any way from the path of truth or are ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and his saving mercy, until finally all men walk 'in all goodness and justice and truth' (Eph 5:9)" (CD 11). Bishops, therefore, are called to imitate the "Son of Man," who "came to seek and to save what was lost" (Lk 19:10), as Jesus said during his visit to Zacchaeus' house. It is the very essence of their missionary vocation.

6. The Council continues in the same vein: "Special concern should be shown for those among the faithful who, on account of their way of life, cannot sufficiently make use of the common and ordinary pastoral care of parish priests or are quite cut off from it. Among this group are the majority of migrants, exiles and refugees, seafarers, air-travelers, gypsies, and others of this kind. Suitable pastoral methods should also be promoted to sustain the spiritual life of those who go to other lands for a time for the sake of recreation" (CD 18). All these groups and social strata, especially individuals belonging to old and new forms of societal life, belong to the pastoral mission of bishops, within or beyond the fixed structures of their dioceses, just as they are included in the Church's universal embrace.

7. In fulfilling their mission, bishops find that they must face social structures and the powers that control them. In this area they are committed to acting according to the Gospel norms of freedom and love that the apostles themselves followed. What Peter and John said before the Sanhedrin is valid in every case: "Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:19). These words clearly formulate the principle of action for the Church's pastors in relation to various earthly authorities and it is valid for all ages. On this matter the Council teaches: "In discharging their apostolic office, which concerns the salvation of souls, bishops per se enjoy full and perfect freedom and independence from any civil authority. Hence, the exercise of their ecclesiastical office may not be hindered, directly or indirectly, nor may they be forbidden to communicate freely with the Apostolic See, or ecclesiastical authorities, or their subjects. Assuredly, while sacred pastors devote themselves to the spiritual care of their flock, they also in fact have regard for their social and civil progress and prosperity. According to the nature of their office and as behooves bishops, they collaborate actively with public authorities for this purpose and advocate obedience to just laws and reverence for legitimately constituted authorities" (CD 19).

8. In speaking of the bishops' mission and responsibilities, the Council also discussed the question of bishops who have been appointed as auxiliaries of the diocesan bishop. "Auxiliary bishops will frequently be appointed because the diocesan bishop cannot personally fulfill all his episcopal duties as the good of souls demands, either because of the vast extent of the diocese or the great number of its inhabitants, or because of the special nature of the apostolate or other reasons of a different nature. Sometimes, in fact, a particular need requires that a coadjutor bishop be appointed to assist the diocesan bishop" (CD 25). As a rule, the coadjutor bishop is appointed with the right to succeed the diocesan bishop in office. But over and above canonical distinctions stands the principle which the conciliar text refers to: the good of souls. Everything must always be arranged and done in accord with that "supreme law" which is "the salvation of souls."

9. The following conciliar laws can also be explained in relation to this good: "Since pastoral needs require more and more that some pastoral undertakings be directed and carried forward as joint projects, it is fitting that certain offices be created for the service of all or many dioceses of a determined region or nation. These offices can be filled by bishops" (CD 42). Anyone who observes the Church's pastoral and structural situation today in the various countries of the world can easily see that these laws have been implemented in the many offices created by bishops or by the Holy See itself before and after the Council, especially for missionary, charitable and cultural activities. A typical, well-known example is the spiritual care of military personnel, for which the Council provided the establishment of special Ordinaries, according to the Holy See's long-standing practice: "Since, because of the unique conditions of their way of life, the spiritual care of military personnel requires special consideration, there should be established in every nation, if possible, a military vicariate" (CD 43).

10. In these new areas of activity, which are often complex and difficult, as well as in the ordinary fulfillment of the pastoral mission in the individual dioceses entrusted to them, bishops need unity and cooperation with each other in a spirit of fraternal charity and apostolic solidarity as members of the episcopal college in the concrete fulfillment of their great and small tasks every day. The Council also said in this regard: "In these days especially bishops frequently are unable to fulfill their office effectively and fruitfully unless they develop a common effort involving constant growth in harmony and closeness of ties with other bishops" (CD 37).

Obviously, unity and cooperation are always recommended as the keystone of pastoral work. This is a principle of ecclesiology to which we must be ever more faithful, if we want to "build up the body of Christ," as St. Paul wanted (cf. Eph 4:12; Col 2:19; 1 Cor 12:12ff.; Rom 12:4-5; etc.), and together with him, every other genuine pastor of the Church over the centuries.

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

Ai gruppi di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grübe ich alle Pilger und Besu cher sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Grub gilt der groben Zahl der Teilnehmer an der Behindertenwallfahrt des Malteser-Hilfs-dienstes unter der Leitung von Herrn Weihbischof Klaus Dick aus Köln. Möge mit Gottes Hilfe Eure Wallfahrt nach Rom dazu beitragen, dab Ihr aus der Verbindung mit dem Leiden Christi neue innere Kraft gewinnt, Eure eigenen Leiden und Beschwerden zu tragen. Die unerschütterliche Liebe zur Kirche, die in dieser Zeit mancher öffentlichen Kritik ausgesetzt ist, möge in Euch neu entflammen, stets eingedenk des Wortes des heiligen Augustinus: ”Seid überzeugt, Brüder, so viel wie einer die Kirche Christi liebt, so viel hat er den Heiligen Geist“.

Ebenso grübe ich eine Gruppe österreichischer Richter sowie die Pilger der Katholischen Militärgemeinde Regensburg und der Pfarrei St. Blasien.

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

Ai pellegrini francesi

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je salue cordialement les pèlerins de langue française présents à cette audience, notamment les séminaristes du séminaire interdiocé sain d’Orléans que j’encourage dans la poursuite du discernement de leur vocation, dans l’approfondissement spirituel et dans la formation philosophique et théologique. Qu’avec l’aide de l’Esprit Saint, chaque baptisé, soucieux de la communion avec son évêque, soit témoin du Christ ressuscité, par sa parole et par ses actes, auprès de ses frères avec lesquels il est appelé à vivre. Avec ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai gruppi di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to extend cordial greetings to His Beatitude Maximos the Fifth Hakim, accompanied by members of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of his Patriarchal Ministry. I also welcome the Union of Catholic Mothers from the Archdiocese of Liverpool, the Festival Choir representing the Malcolm Sargent Cancer Fund for Children, and the Group of Jewish and Christian Friends from Saint Louis, Missouri. Upon all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims - from Great Britain, Ireland, India, Korea, the Philippines, Thailand and the United States - I invoke Almighty God’s abundant blessings.

Ai pellegrini di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Me es grato saludar ahora a todos los peregrinos de lengua española. En particular, a los jóvenes de Acción Católica y a la Asociación de Universitarias de Madrid. Igualmente doy mi bienvenida a los peregrinos colombianos de la diócesis de Buga. A todos os aliento a ser fieles colaboradores del propio Obispo en la misión evangelizadora, a la vez que os imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di espressione portoghese

Amadíssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Convido os fiéis de língua portuguesa a elevar preces ao Todo Poderoso pelos Bispos das suas dioceses, conservando-se unidos a eles como a Igreja está unida a Jesus Cristo.18 E que Deus vos abençoe e vos ampare, sob a intercessão da Virgem Maria, Mãe de Deus.

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Pozdrawiam wszystkich pielgrzymów oraz uczestników tej au diencji z Polski, w szczególności: z archidiecezji białostockiej; z parafii św. Antoniego w Łodzi - młodzież; z Misji Polskiej w Dortmundzie; z Wołomina - grupa młodzieży Zespołu Szkół Ekonomicznych; z Rzeszowa - grupa kolejarzy; z Płocka, z Opola i z Warszawy - grupy turystyczne; ponadto wszystkich innych uczestników audiencji, nie objętych tymi wymienionymi grupami.

Ai fedeli di lingua italiana

Rivolgo un saluto cordiale a tutti i pellegrini italiani. In particolare accolgo con gioia la comunità dei SS. Pietro e Paolo in Dragonea (Salerno), che celebra il millenario della chiesa parrocchiale. Carissimi, i vostri Patroni sono anche quelli di Roma: pregate sempre per l’unità della Chiesa e siatene validi testimoni nella vostra realtà locale.

Il mio pensiero va inoltre ai partecipanti al Congresso dell’Unione europea dei Forestali, ai quali auguro un proficuo lavoro per la tutela di quei “polmoni naturali” che sono le foreste.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Ed ora un saluto a tutti i giovani, ammalati e sposi novelli. Oggi la Chiesa celebra la liturgia della festa dei Santi Apostoli Simone e Giuda Taddeo. Vi esorto, cari giovani, a seguire il loro esempio nel mettere sempre Cristo al centro della vostra vita, per essere veri testimoni del suo Vangelo nella nostra società. Anche voi, cari ammalati, accogliete con fede il mistero del dolore sull’esempio di questi Apostoli. E voi, sposi novelli, sappiate attingere ogni giorno dal Signore il senso del vostro amore, perché questo sia sempre più vero e duraturo.

Un fraterno pensiero di solidarietà è rivolto dal Papa al popolo ebraico, in occasione della ricorrenza del XXVII anniversario della promulgazione della Dichiarazione “Nostra aetate” del Concilio Vaticano II, avvenuta il 28 ottobre 1965, ed in occasione delle solenni festività di apertura dell’anno ebraico. Queste le parole del Santo Padre. 

Un pensiero di fraterna solidarietà desidero ora rivolgere ai membri del popolo ebraico. Proprio oggi, infatti, ricorre l’anniversario della promulgazione della Dichiarazione del Concilio Vaticano II “Nostra aetate” sui rapporti della Chiesa con le religioni non cristiane, e in special modo con i discendenti della “stirpe di Abramo”. Inoltre, la scorsa settimana si è chiuso il ciclo delle solenni festività di apertura dell’anno ebraico, con la celebrazione di “Simhath Torà”, la “Esultanza per la Legge” divina. Rilevo queste ricorrenze avendo nell’animo molto viva l’amarezza per le notizie di attacchi e di profanazioni, che da qualche tempo offendono la memoria delle vittime della Shoà in quegli stessi luoghi che sono stati testimoni delle sofferenze di milioni di innocenti.

Come insegna il Concilio, e come ho ripetuto anche nella Sinagoga di Roma, la Chiesa “deplora gli odi, le persecuzioni, e tutte le manifestazioni dell’antisemitismo, dirette contro gli ebrei in ogni tempo e da chiunque” (Nostra aetate, 4).

Più in generale, dinanzi ai ricorrenti episodi di xenofobia, di tensioni razziali e di nazionalismi estremi e fanatici, sento il dovere di ribadire che ogni forma di razzismo è un peccato contro Dio e contro l’uomo, giacché ogni persona umana reca impressa in sé l’immagine divina.

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