ROME — In a special Jubilee audience with nearly all of his 108 ambassadors around the world, Pope Francis thanked them for their dedication, and encouraged them to continue their work in humble service, without getting caught up in useless politics.
“(You are) the link between the Successor of Peter and the different local churches to whom you are bearers and artisans of that communion which is sap for the life of the Church, and for the announcement of her message,” the pope said Sept. 17.
As papal ambassadors – also called nuncios – “you touch with your hand the flesh of the Church, the splendor of the love which renders her glorious, but also the wounds and sores that are begging for forgiveness,” he said.
He thanked the nuncios for their service and fidelity, as well as their generous dedication and availability to their missions, often times demanding.
As the pope’s representatives, nuncios must be bearers of Christ’s love and one who “sustains and protects, who is ready to support and not only to correct, who is willing to listen before deciding, to make the first step in eliminating tensions and fostering understanding and reconciliation.”
Francis stressed the importance of humility in their role, explaining that “without humility no service is possible or fruitful.”
“The humility of a nuncio passes through love for the country and for the Church in which he is called to serve,” the pope said, and cautioned his ambassadors not to get distracted by politics or thinking of the next assignment, but to be fully present “with an undivided mind and heart.”
Pope Francis met with 106 out of his 108 ambassadors serving in various countries throughout the world. They gathered in the Vatican Sept. 15-17 for a special meeting convened specifically for the Jubilee of Mercy.
Among the 108 nuncios currently in service, 103 are bishops, and 5 are prelates who have the mission of Permanent Observer at various international bodies.
In his broad and lengthy speech, Pope Francis said as his representatives, nuncios must be pastors who “meet, listen, talk, share, propose and work together” both with Catholics and civil society, always showing “sincere love, sympathy and empathy with the people and with the local Church.”
Francis cautioned them not to “point fingers at or attack” those whose opinions differ from their own, explaining that this is “a miserable tactic of today’s political and cultural wars, but it cannot be the method of the Church.”
“Our gaze must be far-reaching and deep,” he said, adding that “the formation of the conscience is our primary duty of charity and requires delicacy and perseverance in being carried out.”
He acknowledged that there are many threats in the world that attack the flock, confuse it, disrupt it, “disperse and even destroy it.”
Nuncios must be aware of the different faces of danger that threaten their flocks, Francis said, and pointed to the situation of Christians in the Middle East, noting that “the violent siege seems to aim, with the complicit silence of many, toward their eradication.”
He highlighted the importance of going to the root of the problem, saying “it’s good to have the eyes opened to recognize where hostilities come from and to discern the possible paths to counter their causes and tackle their pitfalls.”
Closeness and fraternity with local bishops is something the pope also pointed to as essential to a nuncio’s mission.
“To be ready and happy to spend (sometimes even lose) time with bishops, priests, religious, parishes, cultural and social institutions,” he said, is ultimately “the job of a nuncio.”
To be close and available to the local churches doesn’t consist of “a supine strategy to collect information and manipulate reality or people,” but rather of an attitude “that befits one who is not only a career diplomat, nor merely an instrument of Peter’s concern, but a pastor gifted the interior ability to bear witness to Jesus Christ.”
While it can be natural and understandable in their work, Francis told the nuncios to “overcome the logic of bureaucracy which can often impede your work, rendering one closed, indifferent and impenetrable.”
He encouraged his ambassadors to make sure the apostolic nunciature is truly the “pope’s home” and a constant reference point where both faithful and public authorities can come for support and advice, not just diplomatic functions.
“Make sure that your nunciature never becomes a refuge for ‘friends and friends of friends,’” he said, telling them to “flee from gossip and careerists.”
The pope also warned his nuncios against endorsing political or ideological battles, because “the Church’s permanence is not based on the consent of living rooms or squares, but on fidelity to the Lord.”
The Church’s true source of power flows from God’s mercy, he said, adding that “we have no right to deprive the world, the diplomatic forum and large areas of international discussion of this wealth that no one else can give.”
Awareness of this fact allows the Church to become the prophetic voice of the marginalized, he said, asking “may their cry become our cry and together we can break the barrier of indifference that often reigns to hide hypocrisy and selfishness.”
Francis told the nuncios that in order to accompany their people, they have “to move,” and encouraged them to visit dioceses, religious institutes, parishes and seminaries in order to understand how the people live and think, and which questions they ask.
He told the nuncios to be “a true expression of an outgoing Church, or a ‘field hospital’” capable of being part of the local Church, country or institution to which they have been sent.
Pope Francis urged the nuncios to be close to local bishops and encourage their ideas, adding that “vague priorities and theoretical pastoral programs are not enough. You need to focus on the concrete reality of the present, of the company, of proximity, of accompanying.”
He said that one of his great concerns is the selection of good bishops, and voiced his hope that bishops would be pastors, “and not principals or officials. Please!”
Acknowledging that the speed of our times demands constant training and updating, Francis said the current challenges we face are big ones, and papal diplomacy must be involved and make “mercy palpable in this crushed and wounded world.”
While the Church shouldn’t underestimate the extent of current problems, she is also called to look ahead, and not focus on the need for immediate results, he said.
“There will always be that tension between fullness and limits, but it’s not useful to the Church to worry about spaces of power and of self-affirmation, but rather to make born and grow the seed of good, patiently accompanying its development,” he said.
Francis told nuncios they ought to rejoice “with the temporary collection that you can obtain, without becoming discouraged when a sudden and icy story ruins what seemed golden and ready to harvest.”
He also urged them not to be afraid to speak confidently both to the faithful and to public institutions.
“We face a world in which it’s not always easy to identify the centers of power and many get discouraged, thinking that they are anonymous and unreachable,” he said, but voiced his certainty that these people are still able to be reached.
He told them to dialogue clearly and never fear that mercy will “confuse or diminish” the beauty of the truth, because “the truth is fulfilled in its fullness only in mercy.”
The world, Pope Francis said, “is afraid and is spreading fear. Often this is the key it adopts in its reading of reality and chooses – as its strategy – to build a world founded on walls and trenches.”
However, while the reasons for this fear are understandable, “we must not embrace it, ‘for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control,” he said, and urged the nuncios to “open doors, build bridges, create ties, make friendships, promote unity.”
“Be men of prayer: never neglect this, especially silent adoration, the true source of your work.”
Fear, Francis said, “always lives in the darkness of the past, but has a weakness: it’s provisional. The future belongs to the light! The future is ours because it belongs to Christ!”