Pope Francis meets Bishops, Priests. Deacons at Juba's St Theresa Cathedral Pope Francis meets Bishops, Priests. Deacons at Juba's St Theresa Cathedral   (Vatican Media) Editorial

Shepherds interceding in the midst of their people, not managers

Pope Francis meets with the bishops and clergy of South Sudan in St Theresa's Cathedral in Juba. An opportunity to talk about the role of the universal Church and of intercession as an icon of synodality

By Andrea Tornielli

Anyone who exercises a ministry in the Church is asked to make room for the Lord and to intercede in the midst of the people. Pope Francis’ speech in Juba Cathedral during his meeting with the country’s bishops, clergy and religious, was profound and full of insights. The Successor of Peter first recalled the need not to think "that we are at the centre of everything", and not to rely "on our own talents", because " everything we accomplish comes from God: he is the Lord, and we are called to be docile instruments in His hands ".

He then asked pastors to be compassionate and merciful, “not overlords” or “tribal chieftains”. And then he pointed to a fundamental attitude of those who are called to serve their brothers and sisters: intercession.

As the Son of God did by becoming incarnate and dying on the cross: he came down to raise us up. As Moses did, interceding for the people, putting himself inside their history to bring them closer to God. And interceding, Francis explained, echoing the words of Cardinal Martini, does not mean simply 'praying for someone', as we often think. Etymologically it means 'to step in the middle', to take a step so as to put oneself in the middle of a situation. "A lot of times it doesn't go so well,” but you have to do it, the Pope remarked.

It was evident, listening to him, that the Bishop of Rome was speaking in the third person but from the heart of his own experience as a pastor who prays, who cries out, who intercedes, who steps into the middle to help his people. Because, as he explained, this is precisely what is required of pastors, to “walk in the midst”: in the midst of suffering, in the midst of tears, in the midst of the hunger for God and the thirst for love of their brothers and sisters.

"Our first duty," Francis went on to say, "is not to be a Church that is perfectly organized - any company can do this”. The Church of Christ “stands in the midst of people’s troubled lives”, and “that is willing to dirty its hands for people” and its pastors exercise their ministry, “walking in the midst and alongside our people, learning to listen and dialogue, collaborating as ministers with one another and with the laity”. Together, not as privileged members of a caste. Together, following the Master and making room for Him, not as functionaries of the sacred or as managers who rely on structures and strategies. Is this not the most appropriate icon to describe synodality?

Thank you for reading our article. You can keep up-to-date by subscribing to our daily newsletter. Just click here

04 February 2023, 14:50