Thursday, May 22, 2008

What Makes a Bishop?

At Monday's ordination of Shreveport Bishop Michael Duca, the "Super-Nuncio" Archbishop Pietro Sambi was, per usual, well present.

In his customary intro remarks before reading the bull of appointment, B16's top man in the States (shown with the "Big Boss" during last month's visit) repeated his answer to one of this readership's most frequently-asked questions -- namely, the qualities that inform his recommendations for higher office.

As none can express Sambi like Sambi, below is a transcription of his episcopal job description as given to the Louisiana crowd:
Just one month ago, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI graced all of us with his pastoral visit to the United States. As Peter in our midst, he clearly proclaimed the message of "Christ our Hope," and confirmed in the faith all of his brother bishops, and the entire family of the Catholic church in this country.

In his address to the American bishops, His Holiness spoke very directly: "People today need to be reminded of the ultimate purpose of their lives.... Without God... our lives are ultimately empty.... The goal of all our pastoral and catechetical work, the object of our preaching, and the focus of our sacramental ministry should be to help people establish and nurture that living relationship with "Christ Jesus, our hope" (1 Tim 1:1)."

In light of the Holy Father's words, permit me to emphasize three essential aspects of the ministry of a bishop -- especially one who is called to be chief shepherd of the flock and a respected voice in the community at large.

First, the diocesan bishop himself has an obligation to be a model of Christian life, providing "an example of holiness in charity, humility and simplicity [of life]" (Christus Dominus 11) and promoting in every way the holiness of the Christian faithful, according to their proper vocation, to the vocation of each. Like the Lord Jesus, who was rising very early in the morning and going out to a deserted place to pray, the bishop should be a man of prayer: for himself, for his mission, and for his flock.

Secondly, the bishop -- as a successor of the apostles -- is an evangelizer. For "as he had been sent by the Father" (Lumen Gentium 18) the Son himself sent the Apostles, saying "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And, behold, I am with you all days, even until the consummation of the world."

Thirdly, a bishop is a unifier. In the words of the Council Vatican II: "the individual bishops are the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular churches, which are constituted after the model of the universal church" (LG 23).

Dear Bishop-elect Duca, we are confident that, as you faithfully teach, govern and sanctify in the footsteps of the one Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus, you will be for your local church a transparent model of the Christian life, an authentic evangelizer, and an effective unifier, radiating the face of Christ, our Hope.
(For the record, the troika of attributes was first employed at Bishop Michael Warfel's January installation in Montana's diocese of Great Falls-Billings.)

In a pre-PopeTrip interview with Religion News Service, the veteran Vatican diplomat -- no stranger to candor -- said that he "look[s] for a man of faith, who not only believes but also is capable of communicating in a convincing way, his faith.

"I look for a man who has a spirit of service, service to the community," Sambi added, "and who is convinced, like Jesus, that we come not to be served but to serve. I look for a person who every day makes an effort to be holy, so as to be an example for his flock...."

"It's extremely important, pastoral experience, but what is more important is a pastoral heart, a pastoral spirit, and a conception of life like a gift received to be given."

...and from there, connect the dots.

PHOTO: AP/Gerald Herbert