Be shepherds concerned only for God and others, pope tells U.S. bishops

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Lisa Johnston |

WASHINGTON -- Acknowledging the real challenges and burdens the
U.S. bishops face in their ministry, Pope Francis shared with them his
own experience as a pastor and urged them to keep their eyes focused on
Jesus and their hearts open to others.

"Woe to us," he said, "if
we make of the cross a banner of worldly struggles and fail to realize
that the price of lasting victory is allowing ourselves to be wounded
and consumed."

The 78-year-old pope met the U.S. bishops Sept. 23
in Washington's Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle for midday prayer.
His speech to them, delivered in Italian, was expected to be among the
longest of those he would give in the United States.

"I did not
come to judge you or to lecture," the pope said, but he wanted to
address the bishops "as a brother among brothers, " one who served as
archbishop of a large, diverse archdiocese and now, "in old age," is
called to encourage Catholics around the world.

Archbishop Joseph
E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, welcomed Pope
Francis, telling him, "Your humble witness that no one is beyond the
healing power of Christ's mercy and love energizes the church. True to
our heritage, we seek to spread the Good News so that each human life is
cherished and given an opportunity to flourish."

The pope also
was welcomed by Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, who rode with Pope
Francis in the popemobile part of the way from the White House to the

A majority of the country's more than 400 bishops were
present for the meeting. Many of them, after arriving in a bus caravan,
stopped to take photos with their smartphones of a cream-colored sign
above the center cathedral doors that read, "Welcome Pope Francis."

of office workers in high-rise buildings around the cathedral pressed
their faces or smartphones to the glass windows in hopes of getting a
better glimpse and photo of the pontiff on the steps leading up the

In his speech, Pope Francis focused on the basic
qualities needed in a shepherd, a pastor called to share the good news
of Jesus Christ and God's mercy in word and deeds.

The Catholic
Church in the United States already excels at that mission in so many
ways, the pope told them. "Whenever a hand reaches out to do good or to
show the love of Christ, to dry a tear or bring comfort to the lonely,
to show the way to one who is lost or to console a broken heart, to help
the fallen or to teach those thirsting for truth, to forgive or to
offer a new start in God ... know that the pope is at your side and
supports you."

He also praised the bishops' defense of the unborn
and the U.S. Catholic community's history of welcoming and assisting
migrants and refugees.

Pope Francis also acknowledged the
"courage" and the "mortification and great sacrifice" made by the U.S.
bishops as they came to grips with the clerical sexual abuse crisis and
its impact on survivors.

"I realize how much the pain of recent
years has weighed upon you, and I have supported your generous
commitment to bring healing to victims -- in the knowledge that in
healing we, too, are healed -- and to work to ensure that such crimes
will never be repeated," he said.

At the same time, Pope Francis
insisted that no matter the challenge, the misunderstanding and even
hostility the bishops face, they cannot stop "to lick one's wounds, to
think back on bygone times and to devise harsh responses to fierce

The ministry with which they have been entrusted is God's, not theirs, he said.

joy, inclusivity, simplicity, dialogue, self-giving, mercy and humility
must mark a bishops' ministry, the pope told them.

"As pastors,
we know well how much darkness and cold there is in this world," he told
them. But the church can attract people by being "the family fire" that
offers warmth, comfort and community.

To do that, the church must
be certain of "the embers" of Christ's presence, "kindled in the fire
of his passion," he said. "Whenever this certainty weakens, we end up
being caretakers of ash, and not guardians and dispensers of the true
light and the warmth which causes our hearts to burn within us."

the faith, he said, "is not about preaching complicated doctrines, but
joyfully proclaiming Christ who died and rose for our sake."

need to know that the message is for them, not for an abstract group,
or worse, for a group of like-minded people, Pope Francis insisted. "May
the word of God grant meaning and fullness to every aspect of their
lives; may the sacraments nourish them with that food which they cannot
procure for themselves; may the closeness of the shepherd make them long
once again for the Father's embrace."

Bishops, he said, must
"flee the temptation of narcissism" and recognize that "we fall into
hopeless decline whenever we confuse the power of strength with the
strength of that powerlessness with which God has redeemed us."

and dialogue must be the hallmarks of a bishop's interactions with
others, especially with those who hold differing opinions, the pope
said. Dialogue is not "a shrewd strategy" but the path Jesus chose to
offer his love to all people.

Without listening and dialogue, he
said, "we fail to understand the thinking of others or to realize deep
down that the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem with the
power and the closeness of love, counts more than their positions,
distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain."

and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor," Pope
Francis said. "It has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily
seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love
remains truly convincing."

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