VATICAN CITY — Speaking to the Italian bishops’ general assembly on Monday, Pope Francis urged them to support the laity through Christian formation, so that they can assume their proper responsibilities in the public square.
An “ecclesial and pastoral sensibility” is “reflected in reinforcing the indispensible role of the laity, who are disposed to take on their responsibilities,” the Pope said May 18 in the Vatican’s Synod Hall.
“In truth, the laity who have an authentic Christian formation do not have need of a ‘bishop-pilot’ or a ‘monsignor-pilot’ or of clerical input to assume their proper responsibilities, on all levels: from the political to the social, from the economic to the legislative. They have, rather, all the need of a shepherding bishop.”
The Italian bishops’ general assembly, being held May 18-21 at the Vatican, is focused on the reception of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.
“Our Christian and episcopal vocation is to go against the tide,” the Pope reflected, “to be joyful witnesses of the risen Christ, so as to transmit joy and hope to others.”
Pope Francis then quoted from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount: “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.”
With that introduction, the Pope told the bishops, “It is very unsightly to encounter a dejected consecrated person, demotivated or shut down: He is like a dry well, where the people cannot find water to quench their thirst.”
He said his questions and concerns “come from a global vision” gleaned from his meetings with bishops’ conferences worldwide throughout the past two years, “where I noticed how important is what might be called the ecclesial sensibility: namely the appropriation of the very sentiments of Christ, of humility, compassion, mercy … and of wisdom.”
This ecclesial sensibility implies that bishops be neither “shy nor irrelevant in disavowing and defeating the widespread mentality of public and private corruption, which has so shamelessly impoverished families, retired persons, honest workers, Christian communities, and discarded the young, who are systematically deprived of any hope for their future, and has marginalized the weak and the needy.”
Continuing to reflect on this sensibility, the Pope emphasized that the shepherds must “go out to the people of God, to defend them from ideological colonization, which strips away human dignity and identity.”
Ecclesial sensibility “is also manifested in pastoral choices and in the elaboration of documents,” he said, reflecting that abstract, theoretical and doctrinal aspects “should not prevail” in pastoral documents “as if our guidelines are not destined for our people or our country — but are only for a few specialists and scholars — instead; we must pursue the effort to translate them into concrete and understandable proposals.”
Pope Francis’ final point in ecclesial sensibility was its manifestation in collegiality: between bishops and priests; among bishops and dioceses; the peripheries and the center; and between bishops and bishops’ conferences and the Successor of Peter.
He denounced a lack of collegiality both in “designing pastoral plans” and in financial commitments, and his other example of “a lack of ecclesial sensibility” was found in asking “why religious institutes, monasteries and congregations let themselves grow so old that they are no longer faithful, Gospel witnesses to their founding charisms.”
“I will stop here,” Pope Francis stated, “having wanted to offer only a few examples of the ecclesial sensibility, which is weakened because of a continual confrontation with the enormous problems of the world and because of the crisis which does not spare even the same Christian and ecclesial identity.”
“May the Lord — during the Jubilee of Mercy, which will begin next Dec. 8 — grant ‘the joy of rediscovering and rendering fruitful God’s mercy, with which we are all called to give comfort to every man and every woman of our time.’”