By Linda Bordoni
Shortly after his arrival in Budapest on Sunday morning, Pope Francis met with his Hungarian brother bishops with whom he shared a reflection on Eucharistic action in which, he said, we see Christ offering his body and blood for us, and he upheld the Hungarian Church’s long history of unwavering faith amid persecutions and the bloodshed of its martyrs.
He paid tribute to so many “brothers and sisters, bishops and priests,” whose loving sacrifice he described as "an evangelical seed of rebirth sown in the history of your people.”
Speaking from the Museum of Fine Arts’ magnificent Renaissance Hall, he also looked to the future inviting the bishops not to keep their gaze fixed only on the past but to look forward “to find ever new ways to proclaim the Gospel.”
Recalling the words of Pope Benedict XVI who described tradition as a “river of new life that flows from the origins, from Christ down to us, and makes us participate in God’s history with humanity,” the Pope told them their ministry “is not to repeat a message from days of yore, but to be a prophetic voice loudly proclaiming the perennial timeliness of the Gospel in the life of the holy people of God and in today’s world.”
Thus, he went on to suggest a few pointers for carrying out this mission.
Heralds of the Gospel
First, Pope Francis said: “be heralds of the Gospel.” In a country and in a continent that is caught up in great changes, the Church is called to resist the temptation of retreating into a defense of the institutions and structures, and go forth awakening in men and women the thirst for God while offering them the living water of the Gospel.
“After the long years when the practice of the faith met with opposition, the growth of freedom has brought new challenges, with the advance of secularism and a lessened thirst for God,” he said, urging them never to forget that “Christ is an ever-flowing spring of water that quenches every thirst.”
Thus, he told the Bishops they are “not called to be primarily bureaucrats and managers, or to seek privileges and benefits, but to demonstrate a burning passion for the Gospel.”
Putting his text aside he reminded them to always be servants and not princes, to be close to their priests, their flocks, and above all, to God.
“As a brother, I ask you: do you pray? Or do you just open your breviary…? Do you take time to pray?” he said noting that in the everyday bustle of life it is a grace and a richness to wholeheartedly cultivate closeness and unity with the Church.
He urged them to really talk to each other, and even argue about different viewpoints, and never to let their priests feel they are alone. He told them to cultivate their relations with their priests – even, or especially, those who are most difficult. Finally, he said, always be close to the holy people of God: your flock.
Summing up, he concluded his off-cuff remarks saying that in order to be a bishop today four types of closeness are needed: closeness to God, closeness amongst yourselves, closeness to your priests, closeness to the faithful.
And he appealed to them to “be witnesses and preachers of the Good News, abounding in joy," with "the heart of a father, ever ready to lend a listening ear,” and invited them to involve the laity, whom he said, “will be the streams by which Hungary will once again be watered by the river of faith.”
Witnesses of fraternity
Second, he continued: “be witnesses of fraternity.” Noting that Hungary is historically a diverse and multicultural country thanks to the presence of various ethnic groups, minorities, religious confessions, and migrants, Pope Francis said that while diversity can prove a bit frightening at first, it “provides a precious opportunity to open our hearts to the Gospel message: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12).
“In the face of cultural, ethnic, political and religious diversity, we can either retreat into a rigid defense of our supposed identity, or become open to encountering others and cultivating together the dream of a fraternal society,” he said, reminding those present that “attachment to one’s own identity must never become a motive of hostility and contempt for others, but rather an aid to dialogue with different cultures.”
“If we want the river of the Gospel, also here in Hungary, to penetrate people’s lives and lead to a more fraternal and solidary society, the Church needs to build new bridges of dialogue,” Pope Francis continued, asking the Bishops, priests and pastoral workers, to “always to show the true face of the Church, a face that is welcoming to all, including those coming from elsewhere, one that is fraternal and open to dialogue.”
” May the Church in Hungary be a builder of bridges and an advocate of dialogue!” he said.
Builders of hope
Finally, Pope Francis said: “be builders of hope.”
He noted that “if we put the Gospel at the center and bear witness to it with fraternal love, we will be able to look to the future with hope, whatever the tempests, great and small, we may experience today,“ never forgetting "God’s style, which is a style of proximity, compassion, and tenderness,” he added, noting that this is the style the bishops must adopt.
Warning against the many dark areas that, he said, can lurk “behind a façade of prosperity, or under the guise of religious traditions,” the Pope noted that the Church in Hungary has had cause to reflect on how the transition from the age of dictatorship to that of recovered freedom has its contradictions: “a decline in morality and a surge in organized crime, the narcotics trade, and even organ trafficking.” As well as social problems that emerge where “democracy remains to be solidly established.”
“The Church must not fail to be an advocate of closeness, a source of care and consolation, lest people end up being robbed of the light of hope,” he said, adding that “the Gospel reinvigorates hope because it reminds us that in everything God is present; he accompanies us and gives us the courage and creativity we need to start ever anew.”
In the face of crises, whether social or ecclesial, Pope Francis said, “may you always be advocates of hope. As the Bishops of this country, always speak words of encouragement. May you never speak in ways that increase distances or impose judgments, but in ways that help God’s people to look confidently to the future, that help individuals to live lives of freedom and responsibility.”
Be shepherds amidst your flock
He concluded his address urging the Bishops to play a leading role in a process to breathe new life in the “preaching of the Gospel, a new social and religious fraternity, a daily-renewed hope that enables us to look to the future with joy,” never forgetting the smell of the sheep as good shepherds who walk in the midst of the flock letting it lead the way “because it has a special sense in finding where there are good fields and good pastures.”