Pope Francis addresses Papal Nuncios
Below a Vatican Radio translation of the Holy Father’s address:
these days, in the Year of Faith, are offered to us by the Lord as an occasion to pray together, to reflect together and to share a fraternal moment. I thank Cardinal Bertone for the words he addressed to me on your behalf, but I would like to thank each of you for your service which aids me in solicitude for all of the Churches, in the ministry of unity that is central to the Successor of Peter. You represent me in Churches spread throughout the world and with the Governments, but seeing so many of you today also gives me the sense of the catholicity of the Church, of its universality. I thank you wholeheartedly!
Now I would like to offer you some simple thoughts on certain, I would say existential, aspects of your being Papal Representatives. These are things I reflected on in my heart, above all by trying to place myself alongside to each one of you. In this meeting, I do not want to address purely formal or perfunctory words to you. What I now say comes from deep within my heart.
1. First of all, let me point out that yours is a nomadic life. Every three years, four for collaborators, a little more for Nuncios, you change place, passing from one continent to another, from one country to another, from one, often very different, Church reality to another, you always have a suitcase at hand. I ask myself the question: what does this life tell us? What spiritual sense does it have? I would say that it give us the sense of a journey, which is central to the life of faith, beginning with Abraham, a man of faith on a journey: God asks him to leave his country, his security, to go, trusting in a promise, which he does not see, but which he simply keeps in his heart like the hope which God offers him (cf. Gen 12:1-9). And this involves two elements. First, mortification, the sacrifice of stripping oneself of things, friends, bonds and of always beginning anew. And this is not easy; it means living in the interim, going outside of yourselves, without ever having a place to put down roots, a stable community, yet loving the Church and the Country that you are called to serve. A second aspect that involves this being nomads, always on the road, is what is described in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Listing examples of the faith of the fathers, the author says that they saw the promised goods and greeted them from afar, declaring that they were pilgrims on this earth (cf. 11:13). Such a life is of great worth, a life like yours, when lived with an intensity of love, with an active memory of the first call.
2. I would like to pause for a moment the aspect of “seeing from afar.” What did the fathers of the Old Testament see from afar? The goods promised by God. Each of us may wonder: what is my promise? What do I see? What I am looking for in life? What our founding memory pushes us to seek is the Lord, He is the promised goods. We must never take this for granted . On April 25, 1951, in a famous speech, the then Substitute Secretary of State, Monsignor Montini, recalled that the figure of the Papal Representative “is one who is really conscious of the fact that he carries Christ with him” as the precious good to be communicated, announced, represented. Goods, the prospects of this world end up disappointing, they push people to never be satisfied; the Lord is the good that does not disappoint. And this demands a self-detachment that can only be achieved through a constant relationship with the Lord and the unification of one’s life around Christ. Familiarity with Jesus Christ must be the daily food of the Papal Representative, because it is the food that comes from the memory of our first encounter with Him, and also because it is the daily expression of loyalty to His call. Familiarity with Jesus Christ in prayer, celebration of the Eucharist, in the service of charity.
3. There is always the danger, even for the men of the Church, to surrender to what I call, taking an expression from De Lubac, “spiritual worldliness”: to surrender to the spirit of the world, which leads to action for self-fulfillment and not for the glory of God (cf. Meditation on the Church, Milan 1979, p. 269), in that sort of “bourgeoisie spirit and life” which leads people to settle and seek a peaceful and comfortable life. Speaking to Alumni of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy I remembered how for Blessed John XXIII, his service as a Papal Representative was one of the areas, and not secondary, in which his holiness took shape, and I quoted some passages from the Journal of a Soul relating to this long stretch of his ministry. He claimed to have increasingly understood that, for effectiveness of action, he had to continually prune the vineyard of his life from that which was merely useless foliage and go straight to the essentials, which is Christ and his Gospel, otherwise there was the risk of ridiculing a holy mission (Journal of a Soul, Cinisello Balsamo 2000, pp.. 513-514). These are strong but true words: giving in to worldly spirit exposes us Pastors to ridicule, perhaps we may be applauded by some, but those same people who seem to approve of us, then criticize us behind our backs.
We are pastors! And that we must not ever forget that! Dear Papal Representatives, be the presence of Christ, be a priestly presence, as Pastors. Of course, you will not teach a particular portion of the People of God entrusted to you, you will not guide a local church, but you are Pastors who serve the Church, with the role to encourage, to be ministers of communion, and also with the not always easy task of reprimanding. Always do everything with deep love! Even in relations with the Civil Authorities and your Colleagues you are Pastors: always seek the good, the good of all, the good of the Church and of every person.
I would like to conclude by saying just one word about one of the important points of your service as Papal Representatives, at least for the vast majority: collaboration in providing bishops. You know the famous expression that indicates a fundamental criterion in choosing who should govern: si sanctus est oret pro nobis, si doctus est doceat nos, si prudens est regat nos – if holy let him pray for us, if learned teach us, if prudent govern us. In the delicate task of carrying out inquiries for episcopal appointments be careful that the candidates are pastors close to the people, fathers and brothers, that they are gentle, patient and merciful; animated by inner poverty, the freedom of the Lord and also by outward simplicity and austerity of life, that they do not have the psychology of “Princes”. Be careful that they are not ambitious, that they do not seek the episcopate – volentes nolumus – and that they are married to a Church without being in constant search of another. That they are able to “watch over” the flock that will be entrusted to them, take care to keep it united, “vigilant” of the dangers that threaten it, but above all that they are able to “watch over” the flock, to keep watch, imbue hope, that they have sun and light in their hearts, to lovingly and patiently support the plans which God brings about in His people. Let us think of the figure of St. Joseph, who watches over Mary and Jesus, of his care for the family that God entrusted to him, and the watchful gaze with which he guides it in avoiding dangers. For this reason Pastors must know how to be ahead of the herd to point the way, in the midst of the flock to keep it united, behind the flock to prevent someone being left behind, so that the same flock, so to speak, has the sense of smell to find its way.
Dear papal representatives, these are just a few thoughts that come from my heart, with which I do not pretend to say new things, but on which I invite you to reflect on the important and valuable service that you make for the whole Church. Your life is often difficult, sometimes in places of conflict – I know it well – a continuous pilgrimage without the ability to put down roots in one place, in one culture, in a specific ecclesial reality. But it is a life that walks towards promises and greets them from afar. A life on the road, but always with Jesus Christ who holds you by the hand. Thank you again for this! We know that our stability does not lie in things, in our own projects or ambitions, but in being true Pastors who keep our gaze fixed on Christ. Once again, thank you! Please, I ask you to pray for me. May the Lord bless you and Mary keep you.