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Pope's Address to Bishops of Pennsylvania and New Jersey

9/13/2004 - 7:00 AM PST

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"Every Act of Governance Must Be Aimed at Fostering Communion and Mission"

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 13, 2004 (Zenit) - Here is the text of John Paul II's greeting and address, delivered Saturday, to the U.S. bishops of the ecclesiastical region of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

* * *

[Holy Father's greeting]

Dear Brother Bishops,

With great affection I greet you, the Bishops of the ecclesiastical region of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Cardinal Rigali has mentioned that today marks the third anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States. I assure you of my closeness to the American people and I join you in praying for an end to the scourge of terrorism and the growth of the civilization of love.

Our thoughts today are centered on the bishop's exercise of sacred power, which must always be rooted in the moral authority of a life shaped by his sharing in Christ's consecration and mission. This demands of us a pastoral style inspired by the example of Christ, the Good Shepherd, and aimed at fostering holiness, communion and mission in the ecclesial community.

Dear brothers, as you guide the Churches entrusted to your care, may you find wisdom and strength through the intercession of Mary Immaculate, Patroness of your country. To all of you I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of joy and peace in the Lord.

[Original text: English]

[Holy Father's address]

Dear Brother Bishops,

1. With fraternal affection I welcome you, the Bishops of the ecclesiastical region of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, on the occasion of your quinquennial visit to the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul. During our "ad Limina" meetings this year I have invited you and your Brother Bishops from the United States to reflect with me on the significance of the ministry entrusted to us as "true and authentic teachers of the faith, pontiffs and pastors" ("Christus Dominus," 2). Today our considerations turn to the "munus regendi," the power of governance by which the successors of the Apostles have been set apart by the Holy Spirit as guardians of the flock and shepherds of the Church of God (cf. Acts 20:28). As the Church's constant Tradition attests, this apostolic authority is a form of service to the Body of Christ. As such, it can only be inspired by and modeled on the self-sacrificing love of the Lord who came among us as a servant (cf. Mark 10:45) and, after stooping to wash the feet of his disciples, commanded them to do as he had done (cf. John 13:15).

The existence of an unequivocal right and duty of governance entrusted to the successors of the Apostles is an essential part of the Church's divinely-willed constitution (cf. "Lumen Gentium," 18). As a ministerial power, given for building up the Body (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:8), this "sacra potestas" must be seen as one of the hierarchical gifts (cf. "Lumen Gentium," 4) bestowed upon the Church by her divine Founder, and thus a constitutive element of that sacred Tradition which contains everything passed down from the Apostles as a means of preserving and fostering the holiness and faith of the People of God (cf. "Dei Verbum," 8). History amply demonstrates that the firm and sage exercise of this apostolic authority, particularly in moments of crisis, has enabled the Church to preserve her integrity, independence and fidelity to the Gospel in the face of threats from within and without.

2. Building on the rich reflection on the episcopal "munus regendi" occasioned by the Council, and in light of the challenges of the new evangelization, the recent Synod of Bishops insisted on the urgent need to recover a fuller and more authentically "apostolic" understanding of the episcopal office. The Bishop is above all a witness, a teacher and model of holiness, as well as a prudent administrator of the Church's goods. The sacred power which he legitimately exercises should be rooted in the moral authority of a life completely shaped by his sacramental sharing in Christ's consecration and mission. Indeed, "all that the Bishop says and does must reveal the authority of Christ's word and his way of acting" ("Pastores Gregis," 43). As a result, "a renewed appreciation of the Bishop's authority will not be expressed by external signs, but by an ever deeper understanding of the theological, spiritual and moral significance of this ministry, founded on the charism of apostolicity" (ibid.). Bishops need to be esteemed as successors of the Apostles not only in authority and sacred power, but above all by their apostolic life and witness.

In our meetings, many of you have expressed your concern about the crisis of confidence in the Church's leadership provoked by the recent sexual abuse scandals, the general call for accountability in the Church's governance on every level and the relations between Bishops, ...

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