Pope Francis addresses the Bishops of Madagascar in Andohalo Cathedral, in Antananarivo, and describes what it means to be a pastor according to the heart of God.
There are 21 dioceses in Madagascar and 5 archdioceses. All of their bishops and archbishops were present in Antananarivo’s Cathedral on Saturday to listen to Pope Francis on the first full day of his visit to the country.
A land of contradictions
The Pope began by describing Madagascar as a land of contradictions: “a rich land with widespread poverty; an ancestral culture and wisdom that respect the life and dignity of the human person, but also the presence of inequality and corruption”.
Sowing in hope
“The task of a shepherd in such circumstances is not easy”, said the Pope. But bishops are sowers, called “to spread seeds of faith” on this earth”, and to “do so in hope”. The sower “never stops loving the field entrusted to his care”, continued Pope Francis. “Even if he is tempted, he does not abandon it or leave it to another”.
Promoting the human person
“The task of evangelization implies and demands the integral promotion of each human being”, said the Pope. Religion can no longer be “restricted to the private sphere”, it does not exist “only to prepare souls for heaven”, he said. “Can a pastor worthy of that name remain indifferent before the challenges facing his fellow citizens of all social categories, regardless of their religious affiliation?” asked Pope Francis. “Can a pastor with the heart of Jesus be indifferent to lives entrusted to his care?”.
Defending the human person
“To be pastors according to God’s heart, we must be the first to choose to preach the Gospel to the poor”, continued the Pope. The Church, he said, has a particular duty “to protect and remain close to the poor, the marginalized and the little ones, to children and those most vulnerable, to the victims of exploitation and abuse”.
Returning to the image of the sower, Pope Francis clarified that a pastor who is a sower will not try to control every detail, but rather, “will leave plenty of room for new initiatives, let things mature in their own good time… He will not demand more than what is reasonable”.
This kind of fidelity to the Gospel “makes us pastors close to God’s people, starting with our brother priests”, said the Pope. “Our priests should see in their bishop an elder brother and a father who encourages them and supports them on their journey”. That, he said, is what “spiritual fatherhood” is.
Caring for the earth also means waiting for harvest time and assessing the quality of the workers, said the Pope. “As pastors, you have an urgent task of…ensuring the authenticity” of vocations to the consecrated life and the priesthood, he said. Pope Francis praised the efforts of Madagascar’s bishops “to ensure the formation of authentic and holy workers for the abundant harvest that awaits us in the field of the Lord”.
Training lay people
He also expressed his appreciation for all the initiatives undertaken “to provide training for lay men and women, and not to leave them alone in their mission to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world”. In this way, lay people too “will be able to contribute to the transformation of society and the life of the Church in Madagascar”, he said.
Sharing and cooperation
“This great responsibility for the Lord’s field should challenge us to open our hearts and minds”, said the Pope to the bishops. He encouraged them to engage in fraternal dialogue among themselves, to share their gifts and to cooperate with the Particular Churches of the Indian Ocean. The Pope suggested that similar pastoral challenges, like the protection of the environment, or the problem of immigration, could be sources of “shared reflection and coordinated action on a large scale in devising effective approaches”.
Two women protectors
Before concluding his address to the bishops, the Pope noted how “two women protect this Cathedral” where the meeting was taking place. Blessed Victoire Rasoamanarivo, who “was able to do much good and to defend and spread the faith in difficult times”, and our Blessed Mother, represented in a statue, “whose arms, outstretched to the valley and the hills, seem to embrace everything”, he said.
“Let us ask these two women always to enlarge our hearts”, concluded Pope Francis, “to teach us the maternal compassion that women, like God himself, feel for the forgotten of the earth, and to help us to sow seeds of hope”.