REFLECTION: Pope Francis the pastor

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by Thomas Reese, S.J., NCR

Much attention was given to what Pope Francis had to say about public policy issues while he was in the United States (see “Pope Francis the prophet”), but the pope also had words to say about the life of the church. He spoke forcefully about the need to trust the Spirit and to be creative in being an evangelizing presence in the world. He called on pastors to be loving servants who empower their people.

popefrancisPope Francis began his talk to the American bishops on Sept. 23 by describing his mission (and theirs by extension) as testifying “to the immensity of God’s love,” a message from which no one is excluded.

The pope, he said, is at their side supporting 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.”

He thanked God for the growth of the church in America and the generous contribution of the church to American society and the world. He appreciated the bishops “unfailing commitment of the Church in America to the cause of life and that of the family,” specifically mentioning the immense efforts to welcome and integrate immigrants, and the church’s mission in education and charitable services.

The pope told the bishops he did not come to judge or lecture them, perhaps responding to progressive Catholics who wanted him to do exactly that. He did, however, exhort them to recognize that their greatest joy as shepherds comes from being “pastors with undivided hearts and selfless devotion.”

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