Catholic Church leaders, especially bishops, have “to be servants, not masters or managers.”
This was the reminder made by Pope Francis to bishops of Thailand and Asia during their meeting in the city of Nakhon Pathom in Sampran district, west of Bangkok, on Nov. 22.
“We too are part of this people, we were chosen to be servants, not masters or managers,” said the pope in what could be his strongest reminder yet to Asia’s church leaders.
“We are to accompany those whom we serve with patience and kindness, listening to them, respecting their dignity, always promoting and valuing their apostolic initiatives,” he added.
Pope Francis went on to remind the bishops that many of their lands were evangelized by the lay faithful who spoke “the dialect of their people” that are “neither theoretical nor ideological.”
He made the comments a day after he challenged thousands of lay people who attended the papal Mass in Bangkok to be missionaries.
The pope told the bishops, to be “unafraid to take to the streets and come face to face with the lives of the people entrusted” to their care.
Early in his talk, he called the attention of the church leaders that they were meeting under the “watchful gaze” of Blessed Nicholas Bunkerd.
The pontiff met with the prelates at the Shrine of Blessed Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung in the city of Nakhon Pathom in Sampran district, west of Bangkok.
Blessed Nicholas was sent as a missionary priest to northern Thailand in 1930 where he trained seminarians and worked to bring lapsed Catholics back to the faith.
At a time of anti-Christian sentiment during World War II, he was arrested for “anti-patriotic” acts and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
He continued his missionary work in jail, baptizing 68 of his fellow prisoners. He died of tuberculosis in the prison hospital in 1944 at the age of 49.
Pope Francis wished the bishops will be inspired by the example of Blessed Nicholas’s “great zeal for evangelization.”
He reminded them of the power of the Holy Spirit that sustained countless missionaries “not to discount any land, people, culture or situation.”
“They were bold and courageous because they knew the Gospel is a gift to be shared with and for everyone,” he said, adding that mission means cultivating “a sense of smell.”
“Mission calls for a paternal and maternal concern, because the sheep is only lost when the shepherd gives it up for lost, and not before,” he said.
“We are not the ones in charge of the mission,” said Pope Francis. “We have been transformed by the Spirit in order to transform wherever we are placed,” he added.
The 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences next year should be a “fitting occasion” to revisit the “missionary roots that left their mark on these lands,” said the pope.