Pope Francis addresses Central American bishops during a meeting in the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Panama City Jan. 24, 2019. At left is Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa Mendieta of Panama. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Stay close to people's suffering, Pope Francis tells Central American bishops

By  Hannah Brockhaus, Catholic News Agency
  • January 24, 2019
PANAMA CITY, Panama – At World Youth Day Thursday, Pope Francis told the bishops of Central America to be close to the people, and to let their wounds and suffering be the drive behind the bishops’ actions and priorities.

“It is important, brothers, that we not be afraid to draw near and touch the wounds of our people, which are our wounds too, and to do this in the same way that the Lord himself does,” the Pope said Jan. 24.

“A pastor cannot stand aloof from the sufferings of his people; we can even say that the heart of a pastor is measured by his ability to be moved by the many lives that are hurting or threatened.”

“To do this as the Lord does,” he added, “means allowing this suffering to have an impact on our priorities and our preferences, on the use of our time and money, and even on our way of praying.”

Pope Francis addressed the bishops of Central America during his first full day in Panama City for World Youth Day 2019. The international gathering of young people will culminate in a prayer vigil and Mass with the Pope Jan. 26-27.

During his speech in the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis presented St. Oscar Romero, who was canonized last October. St. Romero was the Archbishop of San Salvador when he was killed during the celebration of Mass in 1980.

He is an inspirational figure for the Church in Central America, and particularly for bishops, Francis said: “His legacy can become an active and life-giving witness for us, who are likewise called to the daily martyrdom of serving our people.”

Romero treated all people as if he was their father, friend, or brother, he added, noting that his example can “serve as a yardstick, however daunting, to help us measure our own hearts as bishops.”

The Pope explained that priests are “on the front lines,” and need the closeness, support, and encouragement of their bishops. Acknowledging that administrative tasks are a necessary part of a bishop’s responsibilities, he urged them to spend more time on listening, “the one thing we cannot delegate.”

It is normal for priests and their bishop to have the occasional disagreement, but “it is important that the parish priest encounter [in his bishop] a father, a shepherd in whom he can see a reflection of himself, not an administrator concerned about ‘reviewing the troops,’” he emphasized.

Noting Romero’s deep love for the Church, Francis reminded bishops that they are not the inventors of the Church and that “she was not born with us and she will carry on without us.”

To think with the Church, for Romero, meant “contemplating her as the People of God,” he said. “In this way, Romero showed us that the pastor, in order to seek and discover the Lord, must learn to listen to the heartbeat of his people.”

The bishop “must smell the ‘odor’ of the sheep, the men and women of today, until he is steeped in their joys and hopes, their sorrows and their anxieties, and in so doing ponder the word of God,” he said.

World Youth Day, he noted, is a unique opportunity for encountering and drawing closer to the young members of their flocks, who are “so full of hope and desires, but also many hurts and scars.”

The Pope also encouraged them to promote programs and educational centers for young people, in order to protect them from the influence of the “culture of death,” which only appears to offer solutions to today’s problems.

Young people, he said, have been “orphaned” by a culture and society which do not prioritize people and the common good, resulting in young people without families or homes, “without a community, without a sense of belonging.”

Francis also addressed the issue of migration, referencing a recent pastoral letter of the bishops of Central America which called attention to the “massive and organized” migration affecting the region and the danger it poses to the dignity of the human person.

“Many migrants have young faces; they are seeking a better life for their families,” he said, emphasizing that just to realize this fact is not enough, and the Church needs to proclaim clearly the “good news.”

“The Church, by virtue of her universality, can provide the fraternal hospitality and acceptance that can enable the communities of origin and of destination to dialogue and to help overcome fears and suspicions, and thus to consolidate the very bonds that migrations – in the collective imagination – threaten to break,” he said.

Quoting the First Epistle of John, he added: “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.”

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