Pope Francis, in his address to the Diocese of Rome, moves onward from the general to the specific for his own diocese. The diocese is where the Holy Father envisions the widest possible listening to the people, and we in the US should keep that in mind:
To return to the synodal process, the diocesan phase is very important, since it involves listening to all the baptized, the subject of the infallible sensus fidei in credendo.
He acknowledges this is not only unpopular in some circles, but it produces nervousness. God has, however, this tendency to buck expectations. We might do well to look for it, anticipate it, and even embrace it.
There is a certain resistance to moving beyond the image of a Church rigidly divided into leaders and followers, those who teach and those who are taught; we forget that God likes to overturn things: as Mary said, “he has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly” (Lk 1:52). Journeying together tends to be more horizontal than vertical; a synodal Church clears the horizon where Christ, our sun, rises, while erecting monuments to hierarchy covers it.
A reminder, in case we needed it, of how Pope Francis sees clergy leadership of the faithful:
Shepherds walk with their people: we shepherds walk with our people, at times in front, at times in the middle, at times behind. A good shepherd should move that way: in front to lead, in the middle to encourage and preserve the smell of the flock, and behind, since the people too have their own “sense of smell”. They have a nose for finding new paths for the journey, or for finding the road when the way is lost. I want to emphasize this, also for the bishops and priests of the diocese.
His suggestion of a question they can ask themselves:
In this synodal process, they should ask: “Am I capable of walking, of moving, in front, in between and behind, or do I remain seated in my chair, with mitre and crozier?” Shepherds in the midst of the flock, yet remaining shepherds, not the flock. The flock knows we are shepherds, the flock knows the difference. In front to show the way, in the middle to sense how people feel, behind to help the stragglers, letting the people sniff out where the best pastures are found.
I’d have to say that a pastor unwilling to shift between front, middle, and rear isn’t fully equipped for religious leadership in the 21st century.
This speech is copyright © Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana