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The priest is a shepherd to the community

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 19 May 1993 - in French, Italian & Spanish  

"1. In the previous catecheses we explained the presbyters' task as co-workers of the bishops in the area of teaching authority (instructing) and sacramental ministry (sanctifying). Today we will speak of their cooperation in the pastoral governance of the community. For priests as well as for bishops this is a sharing in the third aspect of Christ's three-fold munus (prophetic, priestly, royal): a reflection of the high priesthood of Christ, the one Mediator between God and men, the one teacher, the one shepherd. In an ecclesial perspective pastoral work consists principally in the service of unity, that is, in ensuring the union of all in the body of Christ which is the Church (cf. PDV 16).

2. In this perspective, the Council says: "Exercising the office of Christ, the shepherd and head, and according to their share of his authority, priests, in the name of the bishop, gather the family of God together as a brotherhood enlivened by one spirit. Through Christ they lead them in the Holy Spirit to God the Father" (PO 6). This is the essential purpose of their activity as pastors and of the authority conferred on them so that they may exercise it at their level of responsibility: leading the community entrusted to them to the full development of its spiritual and ecclesial life. The presbyter-pastor (shepherd) must exercise this authority by modeling himself on Christ the good shepherd, who did not impose it with external coercion but by forming the community through the interior action of his Spirit. He wanted to share his burning love with the group of disciples and with all those who accepted his message, in order to give life to a "community of love," which at the right moment he also established visibly as the Church. As co-workers of the bishops, the successors of the apostles, presbyters too fulfill their mission in the visible community by enlivening it with charity so that it may live in the Spirit of Christ.

3. This is a demand intrinsic to the pastoral mission, whose inspiration is not governed by the priest's desires and personal opinions, but by the teaching of the Gospel, as the Council says: "They should act toward men, not as seeking to please them, but in accord with the demands of Christian doctrine and life" (PO 6).

The presbyter is responsible for the organic functioning of the community. To fulfill this task the bishop gives him a necessary share in his authority. It is his responsibility to ensure that the various services, indispensable for the good of all, are carried out harmoniously; to find appropriate assistance for the liturgy, catechesis and the spiritual support of married couples; to foster the development of various spiritual and apostolic associations or "movements" in harmony and cooperation; to organize charitable aid for the needy, the sick and immigrants. At the same time he must ensure and promote the community's union with the bishop and the Pope.

4. The community dimension of pastoral care, however, cannot overlook the needs of the individual faithful. As we read in the Council: "Priests therefore, as educators in the faith, must see to it either by themselves or through others that the faithful are led individually in the Holy Spirit to a development of their own vocation according to the Gospel, to a sincere and practical charity, and to that freedom with which Christ has made us free" (PO 6). The Council stresses the need to help each member of the faithful to discover his specific vocation, as a proper, characteristic task of the pastor who wants to respect and promote each one's personality. One could say that by his own example Jesus himself, the good shepherd who "calls his own sheep by name" (cf. Jn 10:3-4), has set the standard of individual pastoral care: knowledge and a relationship of friendship with individual persons. The presbyter's task is to help each one to utilize well his own gift, and rightly to exercise the freedom that comes from Christ's salvation, as St. Paul urges (cf. Gal 4:3; 5:1, 13; Jn 8:36).

Everything must be directed toward practicing "a sincere and practical charity." This means that "Christians should be taught that they live not only for themselves, but according to the demands of the new law of charity; as every man has received grace, he must administer the same to others. In this way, all will discharge in a Christian manner their duties in the community of men" (PO 6). Therefore, the priest's mission includes calling to mind the obligations of charity, showing the applications of charity in social life, fostering an atmosphere of unity with respect for differences, encouraging programs and works of charity, by which great opportunities become available to the faithful, especially through the new emphasis on volunteer work, consciously provided as a good use of free time, and in many cases, as a choice of life.

5. The presbyter is also called to be involved personally in works of charity, sometimes even in extraordinary forms, as has happened in the past and does so today as well. Here I especially want to underscore that simple, habitual, almost unassuming but constant and generous charity. This is manifested not so much in huge projects--for which many do not have the talent and vocation--but in the daily practice of goodness, which helps, supports and comforts according to each one's capacity. Clearly the principal concern, and one could say the preference, must be for "the poor and weak entrusted to them, for our Lord himself showed that he was united to them, and their evangelization is mentioned as a sign of messianic activity" (PO 6); for "the sick and dying," to whom the priest should be especially devoted, "visiting them and strengthening them in the Lord" (PO 6); for young people, who must be looked after "with special diligence"; as well as for "married couples and parents" (PO 6). In particular, the priest must devote his time, energy and talents to young people who are the hope of the community, in order to foster their Christian education and their growth in living according to the Gospel.

The Council also commends to the presbyter's care "catechumens and the newly-baptized who must be educated gradually to know and to live the Christian life" (PO 6).

6. Lastly, a too limited vision of the local community and every particularist and "parochial" attitude must be overcome, to foster instead the community spirit that is open to the horizons of the universal Church. The presbyter must devote his time and concern to the local community entrusted to him, as is the case especially for parish priests and their closest co-workers. But his heart must remain open to the "fields ripe for the harvest" beyond all borders, both as the universal dimension of the spirit and as the personal participation in the Church's missionary tasks, and as zeal in promoting the cooperation of his own community with the necessary spiritual and material aid (cf. Redemptoris Missio 67; PDV 32).

"By virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders," the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "priests share in the universal dimensions of the mission that Christ entrusted to the apostles. The spiritual gift they have received in ordination prepares them, not for a limited and restricted mission, 'but for the fullest, in fact, the universal mission of salvation "to the end of the earth"' (PO 10), 'prepared in spirit to preach the Gospel everywhere' (OT 20)" (CCC 1565).

7. In any case, everything depends on the Eucharist, which contains the vital principle of pastoral leadership. As the Council says: "No Christian community, however, is built up unless it has its basis and center in the celebration of the most Holy Eucharist; from this, therefore, all education to the spirit of community must take its origin" (PO 6). The Eucharist is the source of unity and the most perfect expression of the union of all the Christian community's members. It is the presbyters' task to ensure that this is really so. Unfortunately, it sometimes happens that Eucharistic celebrations are not expressions of unity. Each person attends individually, ignoring the others. With great pastoral charity, priests will remind everyone of St. Paul's teaching: "Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf," which is "a participation in the Body of Christ" (1 Cor 10:16-17). Awareness of this union in the Body of Christ will encourage a life of charity and effective solidarity. Therefore, the Eucharist is the vital principle of the Church as the community of Christ's members; here pastoral leadership finds its inspiration, strength and extent."

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Zum Schlub dieser kurzen Betrachtung grübe ich Euch, liebe Schwestern und Brüder, nochmals sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Grub gilt dabei den Lesern der Kirchenzeitung für das Erzbistum Köln sowie den zahlreichen Jugendlichen und Schülergruppen. Euch alle, liebe Schwestern und Brüder, lade ich dazu ein, mit mir für die Priester zu beten, die in Treue ihren oft nicht leichten Dienst zu erfüllen suchen.

Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie all jenen, die uns in diesem Augenblick geistlich verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli francesi 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je vous salue cordialement, chers pèlerins de langue française. Je souhaite la bienvenue, en particulier, au groupe de l’hôpital Jitawi de Beyrouth et aux fidèles de Nouvelle–Calédonie qui ont parcouru de longues distances pour venir jusqu’ici. Je salue également les membres de l’École de l’Évangile de Lourdes et je leur souhaite un bon travail pour se préparer à servir le Seigneur.

En ce temps pascal, je demande au Christ de vous faire sentir la force de son amour et la richesse de la vie qu’il promet à chacun d’entre nous. Que Dieu vous bénisse et vous garde!

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to welcome the Marist Brothers and the members of the General Chapter of the Sisters Faithful Companions of Jesus. May you be strengthened in your religious consecration, for an ever more effective witness to the Gospel and service of God’s people.

Upon all the English–speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Hong Kong, Indonesia and the United States, I invoke an abundance of divine blessings.

Ad un gruppo di pellegrini nipponici 

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Dilettissimi pellegrini di Tokyo ed Ise, stiamo vivendo il mese Mariano, mese del rosario. Rinnoviamo il nostro impegno di recitare questa preghiera tanto cara a Maria, affinché, come in tempi passati ha salvato il mondo, così anche oggi, per l’intercessione della Madonna, la pace torni a regnare in tutte le nazioni.

Con questo cocente desiderio vi imparto la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! 

Ad alcuni latinisti svedesi 

Inter alios hodie hic adstantes peregrinatores perplacet Nobis ex animo quosdam discipulos etiam discipulasque litterarum Latinarum humanissime consalutare eodem illo regio sermone Latino.

Adsunt enim Romae optima cum magistra Eva Kristensson ex schola superiore quae “ Magnus Abergsgymnasiet ” vocatur in Suetia civitate Trollhätten.

Dum singulos autem illos bene inter nos salvere iubemus, exoptamus simul vehementer ut his in antiquis sacrisque locis Romanis fidei christianae origini proximis suum linguae Latinae amorem et usum alant, sensum historiae ac perennis humanitatis acuant, aestimationem artis pulchritudinisque augeant, unde sua vicissim in patria praecones eorundem bonorum validi esse possint.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Con el gozo de la Pascua, saludo ahora muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes venidos de los distintos Países de América Latina y de España. En particular, al grupo de sacerdotes de la diócesis de Mercedes–Luján (Argentina) y a las peregrinaciones procedentes de Perú y México.

A todos imparto con gran afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Amados Irmãos e Irmãs,

O Papa sente–se feliz por poder saudar–vos e acolher todos vós, queridos peregrinos de língua portuguesa, e pede desculpa por não nomear cada um pelo nome, mas ficai certos de que invoca, para cada um e seus familiares, as melhores graças e favores do céu. Quer, porém, referir um nome – o Centro de Preparação para o Matrimónio – uma instituição ao serviço do apostolado familiar em Portugal, e hoje aqui presente. O Espírito de Deus abençoe as vossas iniciativas e esforços tendentes à formação de lares cristãos sólidos e capazes de acolher e amar a vida à medida dos desígnios do Criador. A Virgem Maria vos proteja e acompanhe! 

Ai fedeli di lingua italiana 

Desidero ora salutare i pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolar modo saluto gli studenti vincitori del concorso “La meraviglia della vita umana”, che il “Movimento fiorentino per la Vita”, sotto la guida dell’Onorevole Carlo Casini, ha promosso nelle scuole medie inferiori toscane. Carissimi giovani, mi è gradito ricordare a voi tutti che la difesa della vita umana costituisce un impegno essenziale per ogni cristiano consapevole del valore di questo grande dono di Dio. Auspico che la presente occasione vi sia di stimolo ad apprezzare ancor più l’affascinante meraviglia di un essere umano che viene alla luce, bisognoso di tutto e in particolare di amore.

Rivolgo poi il mio pensiero al numeroso gruppo dei fedeli della Comunità parrocchiale di San Gabriele dell’Addolorata, provenienti dalla città di Bari, i quali, in occasione del XX di Fondazione della Parrocchia hanno qui portato un’artistica statua lignea di San Gabriele, che volentieri benedico, mentre auguro ai cari fedeli di proseguire il loro cammino di fede alla luce delle virtù del Santo.

Il mio affettuoso saluto va, inoltre, al gruppo delle Parrocchie di Colledimezzo e di Pietraferrazzana, in diocesi di Chieti. Con vera gioia benedico la statua della Madonna che devotamente hanno qui portato, e li esorto ad un impegno di apostolato cristiano sempre più zelante sotto la materna protezione della Madre di Dio, che particolarmente veneriamo in questo mese di maggio. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

La festa, ormai vicina, dell’Ascensione del Signore mi offre lo spunto per un saluto particolare a voi tutti, cari giovani, malati e sposi novelli, presenti a questa Udienza. Gesù Cristo, ascendendo al cielo, lascia un messaggio ed un programma per tutta la Chiesa: “Andate e ammaestrate tutte le nazioni... insegnando loro ad osservare tutto ciò che vi ho comandato” (Mt 26, 19-20). Far conoscere la parola di Cristo e testimoniarla con la vita sia il vostro ideale e il vostro impegno, cari giovani. Siate anche voi, cari ammalati, testimoni generosi del Crocifisso, ben sapendo che Egli è sempre con voi. E voi, sposi novelli, impegnatevi a far sì che la Parola del Signore sia luce e sostegno lungo il cammino che avete intrapreso con il sacramento del Matrimonio. A tutti la mia benedizione apostolica.

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