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Pastores Gregis:
Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of John Paul II

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Pastores Gregis











1. The shepherds of the Lord's flock know that they can count on a special divine grace as they carry out their ministry as Bishops. In the Roman Pontifical, during the solemn prayer of episcopal ordination, the principal ordaining Bishop, after invoking the outpouring of the Holy Spirit who leads and guides, repeats a phrase already found in the ancient text of the Apostolic Tradition: "Grant, O Father, knower of all hearts, that this your servant, whom you have chosen for the office of Bishop, may shepherd your holy flock. May he fulfil before you without reproach the ministry of the High Priesthood.".1 In this way there continues to be carried out the will of the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Shepherd, who sent the Apostles even as he himself was sent by the Father (cf. Jn 20:21), and who wishes that their successors, the Bishops, should remain shepherds in his Church until the end of time.2

The image of the Good Shepherd, so dear also to ancient Christian iconography, was very much present to the Bishops from throughout the world who gathered from 30 September to 27 October 2001 for the Tenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. At the tomb of the Apostle Peter, they joined me in reflecting on the figure of Lumen Gentium and in the Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops The Bishop, Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World.10 In doing so, I send my fraternal greetings and the kiss of peace to all the Bishops in communion with this See, first entrusted to Peter so that he might be a guarantee of unity and, as is recognized by all, preside in love.11

To you, venerable and dear Brothers, I repeat the invitation that I addressed to the whole Church at the beginning of the millennium: Duc in altum! It is Christ himself who repeats these words to the Successors of those Apostles who heard them from his lips and who, putting their trust in him, set forth on mission along the byways of the world: Duc in altum (Lk 5:4). In the light of this pressing command from the Lord, ''we may reread the triple munus entrusted to us in the Church: munus docendi, sanctificandi et regendi ... Duc in docendo! With the Apostle we will say: 'Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke and exhort - be unfailing in patience and in teaching' (2 Tim 4:2). Duc in sanctificando! The 'nets' we are called upon to cast among men are, first of all, the sacraments, of which we are the principal dispensers, moderators, guardians and promoters. They form a sort of saving 'net,' which sets free from evil and leads to the fullness of life. Duc in regendo! As pastors and true fathers, assisted by the priests and other helpers, we have the task of gathering together the family of the faithful and in it fostering charity and brotherly communion. As arduous and laborious a mission as this may be, we must not lose heart. With Peter and the first disciples we too with great confidence renew our heartfelt profession of faith: Lord, 'at your word I will lower the nets' (Lk 5:5)! At your word, O Christ, we wish to serve your Gospel for the hope of the world!''.12

In this way, living as men of hope and reflecting in their ministry the ecclesiology of communion and mission, Bishops will truly be a source of hope for their flock. We know that the world needs the ''hope that does not disappoint'' (cf. Rom 5:5). We know that this hope is Christ. We know it and therefore we proclaim the hope that springs from the Cross.

Ave Crux, spes unica! May this acclamation, which echoed in the Synod Hall at the central moment of the work of the Tenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, remain ever on our lips, for the Cross is a mystery of life and death. The Cross has become for the Church a ''tree of life''. For this reason we proclaim that life has triumphed over death.

In making this Paschal proclamation we follow in the footsteps of a great multitude of holy pastors who have been eloquent images of the Good Shepherd in medio Ecclesiae. This prompts us always to praise and thank almighty and eternal God, for, as we sing in the sacred Liturgy, he strengthens us by their example, instructs us by their teaching and gives us protection through their intercession.13 As I said at the conclusion of the Synod's work, the face of each of these holy Bishops, from the beginning of the Church's life to our own day, is like a tile placed in a sort of mystical mosaic forming the face of Christ the Good Shepherd. It is he, then, that we contemplate, setting an example for the flock entrusted to us by the Pastor of Pastors, so that we can become ever more committed servants of the Gospel for the hope of the world.

As we gaze upon the face of our Master and Lord at that hour when he ''loved his own to the end'', all of us, like the Apostle Peter, allow our feet to be washed so that we might have a part in him (cf. Jn 13:1-9). And with the strength that comes to us from him in the Church, in the presence of our priests and deacons, before all men and women of the consecrated life and all our beloved lay people, we repeat aloud: ''Whatever we may be, let not your hope be placed in us: if we are good, we are your servants; if we are bad, we are still your servants. But if we are good and faithful servants, it is then that we are truly your servants''.14 Servants of the Gospel for the hope of the world.




''... and he chose from them Twelve'' (Lk 6:13)

6. The Lord Jesus, during his earthly pilgrimage, proclaimed the Gospel of the Kingdom and inaugurated it in his own person, revealing its mystery to all people.15 He called men and women to be his followers, and from his disciples he chose Twelve ''to be with him'' (Mk 3:14). The Gospel of Luke points out that Jesus made this choice after a night spent in prayer on the mountain (cf. 6:12). The Gospel of Mark, for its part, appears to see in this action of Jesus a sovereign act, a constitutive act which gives an identity to those whom he chose: ''he appointed Twelve'' (3:14). The mystery of the election of the Twelve is thus disclosed: it is an act of love, freely willed by Jesus in intimate union with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

The mission entrusted by Jesus to the Apostles is to last until the end of time (cf. Mt 28:20), since the Gospel which they have been charged to hand down is the life of the Church in every age. It was precisely for this reason that the Apostles were concerned to appoint for themselves successors, so that, as Saint Irenaeus attests, the apostolic tradition might be manifested and preserved down the centuries.16

The special outpouring of the Holy Spirit with which the Risen Lord filled the Apostles (cf. Acts 1:5; 8; 2:4; Jn 20:22-23) was shared by them through the gesture of laying hands upon their co-workers (cf. 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6-7). These in turn transmitted it by the same gesture to others, and these to others still. In this way, the spiritual gift given in the beginning has come down to our own day through the imposition of hands, in other words, by episcopal consecration, which confers the fullness of the sacrament of Orders, the high priesthood and the totality of the sacred ministry. Thus, through the Bishops and the priests, their co-workers, the Lord Jesus Christ, seated at the right hand of God the Father, remains present in the midst of believers. In every time and place it is he who proclaims the word of God to all peoples, administers the sacraments of faith to believers and guides the people of the New Testament on their pilgrimage to eternal happiness. The Good Shepherd does not abandon his flock but preserves and protects it always through those who, by their ontological share in his life and mission, carry out in an eminent and visible way the role of teacher, shepherd and priest, who act in his name in exercising the functions associated with the pastoral ministry, and who are constituted his vicars and ambassadors.17

The Trinitarian foundation of the episcopal ministry

7. The Christological dimension of the pastoral ministry, considered in depth, leads to an understanding of the Trinitarian foundation of ministry itself. Christ's life is Trinitarian. He is the eternal and only-begotten Son of the Father and the anointed of the Holy Spirit, sent into the world; it is he who, together with the Father, pours out the Spirit upon the Church. This Trinitarian dimension, manifested in every aspect of Christ's life and activity, also shapes the life and activity of the Bishop. Rightly, then, the Synod Fathers chose explicitly to describe the life and ministry of the Bishop in the light of the Trinitarian ecclesiology contained in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.

The tradition which sees the Bishop as an image of God the Father is quite ancient. As Saint Ignatius of Antioch wrote, the Father is like an invisible Bishop, the Bishop of all. Every Bishop, therefore, stands in the place of the Father of Jesus Christ in such a way that, precisely because of this representation, he is to be revered by all.18 Consonant with this symbolism, the Bishop's chair, which especially in the tradition of the Eastern Churches evokes God's paternal authority, can only be occupied by the Bishop. This same symbolism is the source of every Bishop's duty to lead the holy people of God as a devoted father and to guide them - together with his priests, his co-workers in the episcopal ministry, and with his deacons - in the way of salvation.19 Conversely, as an ancient text exhorts, the faithful are to love their Bishops who are, after God, their fathers and mothers.20 For this reason, in accordance with a custom widespread in certain cultures, one kisses the Bishop's hand as one would kiss the hand of the loving Father, the giver of life.

Christ is the primordial icon of the Father and the manifestation of his merciful presence among men and women. The Bishop, who acts in the person and in the name of Christ himself, becomes in the Church entrusted to him a living sign of the Lord Jesus, Shepherd and Spouse, Teacher and High Priest of the Church.21 Here we find the source of pastoral ministry, and the reason why, as the homily outline in the Roman Pontifical suggests, the three functions of teaching, sanctifying and governing the People of God are to be carried out in imitation of the Good Shepherd: with charity, knowledge of the flock, concern for all, mercy towards the poor, the stranger and those in need, and a willingness to seek out the lost sheep and to bring them back to the one sheepfold.

Finally, the anointing of the Holy Spirit, by configuring the Bishop to Christ, enables him to be a living continuation of the mystery of Christ for the Church. Because of this Trinitarian shaping of his existence, every Bishop in his ministry is committed to keeping watch over the whole flock with love, for he has been placed in their midst by the Spirit to govern the Church of God: in the name of the Father, whose image he represents; in the name of Jesus Christ his Son, by whom he has been established as teacher, priest and shepherd; in the name of the Holy Spirit, who gives life to the Church and by his power strengthens us in our human weakness.22

The collegial nature of the episcopal ministry

8. ''And he appointed Twelve'' (Mk 3:14). The Dogmatic Constitution Novo Millennio Ineunte, ''it is especially necessary that listening to the word of God should become a life-giving encounter, in the ancient and ever valid tradition of lectio divina, which draws from the biblical text the living word which questions, directs and shapes our lives''.73 In the realm of meditation and lectio, the heart which has already received the word opens itself to the contemplation of God's work and, consequently, to a conversion of thoughts and life to him, accompanied by a heartfelt request for his forgiveness and grace.

Drawing nourishment from the Eucharist

16. Just as the Paschal Mystery stands at the centre of the life and mission of the Good Shepherd, so too the Eucharist stands at the centre of the life and mission of the Bishop, as of every priest.

At the daily celebration of Holy Mass, the Bishop offers himself together with Christ. When this celebration takes place in the cathedral or in other churches, especially parish churches, with the presence and the active participation of the faithful, the Bishop stands before all as Sacerdos et Pontifex, since he acts in the person of Christ and in the power of his Spirit, and as hiereus, the holy priest, devoted to enacting the sacred mysteries of the altar, which he proclaims and explains by his preaching.74

The Bishop's love of the Holy Eucharist is also expressed when in the course of the day he devotes a fair part of his time to adoration before the tabernacle. Here the Bishop opens his heart to the Lord, allowing it to be filled and shaped by the love poured forth from the Cross by the great Shepherd of the sheep, who shed his blood and gave his life for them. To him the Bishop raises his prayer in constant intercession for the sheep entrusted to his care.

Prayer and the Liturgy of the Hours

17. A second means (for the advancement of the Bishop's spiritual life) mentioned by the Synod Fathers is prayer, especially the prayer raised to the Lord in the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, which remains the distinctive prayer of the Christian community, carried out in the name of Christ and under the guidance of the Spirit.

Prayer is itself a particular duty for a Bishop, and for all those who ''have received the gift of a vocation to the specially consecrated life: of its nature, their consecration makes them more open to the experience of contemplation''.75 The Bishop himself cannot forget that he is a successor of those Apostles who were appointed by Christ above all ''to be with him'' (Mk 3:14), and who at the beginning of their mission made a solemn declaration which is a programme of life: ''We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word'' (Acts 6:4). The Bishop will be a true teacher of prayer for the faithful only if he can draw upon his own personal experience of dialogue with God. He must be able to turn to God continually with the words of the Psalmist: ''I hope in your word'' (Ps 119:114). From prayer he will gain that hope which he must in turn pass on to the faithful. Prayer is the privileged forum where hope finds expression and nourishment, since it is, in the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the ''interpreter of hope''.76

The Bishop's personal prayer will be particularly and typically ''apostolic,'' in the sense that it is presented to the Father as intercession for all the needs of the people entrusted to his care. In the Roman Pontifical this is the final commitment demanded of the candidate elected to the episcopacy before the rite of the imposition of hands: ''Are you resolved to pray without ceasing for the People of God, and to carry out the office of high priest without reproach?''.77 The Bishop prays in a very special way for the holiness of his priests, for vocations to the ordained ministry and the consecrated life, so that missionary and apostolic commitment will be all the more ardent in the Church..

With regard to the Liturgy of the Hours, which is meant to consecrate and guide the course of the entire day through the praise of God, we cannot fail to recall the impressive statement of the Second Vatican Council: ''When this wonderful song of praise is worthily rendered by priests and others who are deputed for this purpose by Church ordinance, or by the faithful praying together with the priest in an approved form, then it is truly the voice of the Bride addressing her Bridegroom; it is the very prayer which Christ himself, together with his Body, addresses to the Father. Hence, all who perform this service are not only fulfilling a duty of the Church, but also are sharing in the greatest honour accorded to Christ's Spouse, for by offering these praises to God they are standing before God's throne in the name of the Church, their Mother''.78 Writing on the prayer of the Divine Office, my predecessor of venerable memory Pope Paul VI, called it ''the prayer of the local Church'', which expresses ''the true nature of the praying Church''.79 The consecratio temporis, effected by the Liturgy of the Hours, brings about that laus perennis which is an anticipation and prefiguration of the heavenly liturgy and a bond of union with the angels and saints who glorify God's name throughout eternity. The Bishop will become, and will appear, as a man of hope to the extent that he enters into the eschatological dynamism of praying the Psalter. The Psalms resound with the voice of the Bride (vox sponsae) as she calls upon her Bridegroom.

Every Bishop therefore prays with his people and for his people. He himself is supported and assisted by the prayer of his faithful: priests, deacons, consecrated persons and the lay people of all ages. In their midst the Bishop is a teacher and a promoter of prayer. He not only hands down what he himself has contemplated, but he opens to Christians the way of contemplation itself. The well-known motto contemplata aliis tradere thus becomes contemplationem aliis tradere.

The way of the evangelical counsels and the Beatitudes

18. To all his disciples, and especially to those who while still on this earth wish to follow him more closely like the Apostles, the Lord proposes the way of the evangelical counsels. In addition to being a gift of the Holy Trinity to the Church, the counsels are a reflection of the life of the Trinity in each believer.80 This is especially the case in the Bishop, who, as a successor of the Apostles, is called to follow Christ along the path leading to the perfection of charity. For this reason he is consecrated, even as Jesus was consecrated. The Bishop's life is radically dependent on Christ and a completely transparent image of Christ before the Church and the world. The life of the Bishop must radiate the life of Christ and consequently Christ's own obedience to the Father, even unto death, death on a Cross (cf. Phil 2:8), his chaste and virginal love, and his poverty which is absolute detachment from all earthly goods.

In this way the Bishops can lead by their example not only those members of the Church who are called to follow Christ in the consecrated life but also priests, to whom the radicalism of holiness in accordance with the spirit of the evangelical counsels is also proposed. Indeed, this radicalism is incumbent on all the faithful, including lay people, for it is ''a fundamental, undeniable demand flowing from the call of Christ to follow and imitate him by virtue of the intimate communion of life with him brought about by the Spirit''.81

The faithful ought to be able to contemplate on the face of their Bishop the grace-given qualities which in the various Beatitudes make up the self-portrait of Christ: the face of poverty, meekness and the thirst for righteousness; the merciful face of the Father and of the peaceful and peacegiving man; the pure face of one who constantly looks to God alone. The faithful should also be able to see in their Bishop the face of one who relives Jesus' own compassion for the afflicted and, today as much as in the past, the face filled with strength and interior joy of one persecuted for the truth of the Gospel.

The virtue of obedience

19. By taking on these very human features of Jesus, the Bishop also becomes the model and promoter of a spirituality of communion, carefully and vigilantly working to build up the Church, so that all that he says and does will reflect a common filial submission in Christ and in the Spirit to the loving plan of the Father. As a teacher of holiness and minister of the sanctification of his people, the Bishop is called to carry out faithfully the will of the Father. The Bishop's obedience must be lived according to the example - for it could hardly be otherwise - of the obedience of Christ himself, who said that he came down from heaven not to do his own will, but rather the will of the One who sent him (cf. Jn 6:38; 8:29; Phil 2:7-8).

Walking in the footsteps of Christ, the Bishop is obedient to the Gospel and the Church's Tradition; he is able to read the signs of the times and to recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit in the Petrine ministry and in episcopal collegiality. In my Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis I stressed the apostolic, communitarian and pastoral character of priestly obedience.82 These hallmarks naturally appear even more markedly in the obedience of the Bishop. The fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders which he has received puts him in a special relationship with the Successor of Peter, with the members of the College of Bishops and with his own particular Church. He must feel committed to living intensely this relationship with the Pope and his brother Bishops in a close bond of unity and cooperation, and thus conforming to the divine plan which willed to unite the Apostles inseparably around Peter. This hierarchical communion of the Bishop with the Supreme Pontiff strengthens his ability to make present, by virtue of the Order he has received, Jesus Christ, the invisible Head of the whole Church.

The apostolic aspect of obedience is necessarily linked also to its communitarian aspect, since the episcopate is by its nature ''one and indivisible".>83 As a result of this communal dimension, the Bishop is called to live out his obedience by overcoming all temptations to individualism and by taking upon himself, within the wider context of the mission of the College of Bishops, concern for the good of the whole Church.

As a model of attentive listening, the Bishop will also strive to understand, through prayer and discernment, the will of God in what the Spirit is saying to the Church. Through the evangelical exercise of his authority, he will be ready to dialogue with his co-workers and the faithful in order to build effective mutual understanding.84 This will enable him to show a pastoral appreciation of the dignity and responsibility of each member of the People of God, fostering in a balanced and serene way their spirit of initiative. The faithful should be helped to grow towards a responsible obedience which will enable them to be actively engaged on the pastoral plane.85 Here the exhortation which Saint Ignatius of Antioch addressed to Polycarp remains timely: ''Let nothing be done without your consent, but do nothing yourself without the consent of God''.86

The spirit and practice of poverty in Bishops

20. The Synod Fathers, as a sign of collegial unity, responded to the appeal which I made at the opening Mass of the Synod that the evangelical Beatitude of poverty should be considered an indispensable condition for a fruitful episcopal ministry in present-day circumstances. Here too, amid the assembly of Bishops there stood out the figure of Christ the Lord, ''who carried out the work of redemption in poverty and under oppression'', and who invites the Church, and above all her pastors, ''to follow the same path in communicating to humanity the fruits of salvation''.87

Consequently, the Bishop who wishes to be an authentic witness and minister of the Gospel of hope must be a vir pauper. This is demanded by the witness he is called to bear to Christ, who was himself poor. It is also demanded by the Church's concern for the poor, who must be the object of a preferential option. The Bishop's decision to carry out his ministry in poverty contributes decisively to making the Church the ''home of the poor''.

This decision also provides the Bishop with inner freedom in the exercise of his ministry and enables him to communicate effectively the fruits


Vatican City , VA
Pope John Paul II - Holy See, 661 869-1000



Pastores Gregis, Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation

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