Saturday, September 16, 2023
“Guard the ecclesial fidelity of your people,” this was the final recommendation Pope Francis made to the 110 Catholic Bishops mostly from Africa and Asia during his audience with them inside the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace near St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. [ACI Africa]
In the September 9 private audience with the Catholic Bishops ordained within the last five years, who participated in the September 4-13 ongoing formation for Bishops organized under the theme, “Living the Episcopal Mission in a Synodal Church”, the Holy Father made specific remarks about Africa, and recommendations that Catholic Church leaders across the globe need to bear in mind as they shepherd the people of God.
“In my ministry to govern the Church, I need to hear from you and your Churches,” Pope Francis is quoted to have said in a Wednesday, September 13 report by Bishop Christian Carlassare of South Sudan’s Rumbek Diocese that ACI Africa obtained.
In the report, Bishop Carlassare makes reference to the 2-minute speech of Pope Francis during which he also underscored the need of love on the part of Church ministers, saying that Church governance “is possible only in fraternal charity. Without charity all governing bodies are useless.”
The Holy Father had more to say about what Catholic Bishops need to know and help accomplish after “a number of Bishops presented some thoughts and concerns” during the September 9 audience, Bishop Carlassare notes in his report in which he speaks about the enlightenment the Bishops mostly from Africa and Asia received about the Dicastery for Evangelization among other Vatican Dicasteries.
Focusing on Africa, the Holy Father is quoted as saying, “There is still the widespread idea that Africa must be exploited. But you, African people, have great human resources. There is originality in you, recognize and value it. Give no room to the inferiority complex. There is still virginity in Africa. You have a virgin thought.”
Pope Francis also expressed his concern about graft in Africa. “Corruption is a great problem in the African continent, and in the world.” He described corruption as “the method of the powerful to dominate over the weak” and urged Catholic Bishops to “fight against corruption”.
According to Bishop Carlassare, the Father also addressed the challenge of Christian persecution. “Today, Christians suffer persecution in different forms. In order to overcome the causes of persecution, the inculturation of the faith is necessary to the evangelization of culture. Faith is not abstract; it must take flesh in a culture. So, we have to take the risk to bring faith into the cultures of the people,” the Italian-born member of the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus (MCCJ) who has ministered in South Sudan since 2005 quotes Pope Francis as saying.
He says that the Holy Father also spoke about the poor and the unequal distribution of resources across the globe, saying, “Poverty is a great wound in our world. Few rich people control the world economy and many people go hungry. Army industry gets too many funds and investments. There is hunger because we destroy rather than build.”
The Holy Father, Bishop Carlassare recounts, said that “the poor are God's holy believing people. Do not scandalize the poor. Stand among God's people. You cannot lead the church with ideas. Any ideology (that) is not Catholic, is pagan.”
Pope Francis is said to have cautioned against “tyrant Bishops”, who he said “are of no use”. According to Bishop Carlassare, the Holy Father called upon Bishops to “let the people express themselves”, adding that “God has given bishops two ears, one to listen to God and the other to listen to God's people. If one of your two ears doesn't work, you will do great harm. God's people need to touch the Bishop. Be close to them.”
Pope Francis also pointed out, the Bishop of Rumbek says, that “the holy people of God have the anointing of the spirit and have the infallibility … given by faith. As you treat the Eucharist, you also treat God's holy people.”
He further quotes the Holy Father emphasizing the need for good formation of pastoral agents. “The church grows when the pastoral agents grow. It is not enough to have a good bishop and good priests. We must have well-formed pastoral agents among the lay people and catechists,” Pope Francis is quoted as saying, and cautioning, “Do not clericalize the catechists. Care for the catechists. Form lay pastoral agents to care adequately for the Church.”
The Holy Father, the 45-year-old Catholic Bishop says, urged Bishops to “train seminarians well to have good Priests. The goodness of a Priest is not seen in what he knows. Priests must strengthen relationships.”
The Pope is also said to have addressed the ongoing preparations for the Synod on Synodality, saying that the “synodal process is an occasion to seek unity in the church through prayer and dialogue. Unity is not made when we aim to be all the same. Unity comes when there is communion in diversity. The church is neither progressive nor conservative. It's church and that's it.”
“Synod participants may be either progressist or conservative. They will speak, but they are not the main actors. The main actor is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit creates harmony. The progressivist person must not radicalize his position,” Bishop Carlassare quotes Pope Francis as saying. He adds, “The Holy Spirit will help to make a synthesis of all that will be expressed. At Pentecost there must have been a lot of noise with the Apostles speaking in all languages. But there was communion. We must do more theology of the Holy Spirit.”