, 24 January, 2020 / 2:58 AM
At the ongoing Plenary Assembly of the Bishops in Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland, the Papal representative in the region, Archbishop Peter Bryan Wells outlined, on Wednesday, January 22, five characteristics of missionary episcopate that the Holy Father desires of serving Bishops as explained in Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium and that “the bishop must become a model of the joy of Christ.”
“The most important “takeaway” from Evangelii Gaudium is the reality that despite all the crises that the world and individuals within the world experience, with Christ joy is constantly born anew,” Archbishop Wells who represents the Holy Father in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland told the members of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC).
He added in reference to the joy that comes with having a relationship with Jesus Christ, “This is an insight for the Christian faithful. It is an insight for the mission of the bishop. But, even more importantly, as sheep ourselves, it is an insight for the person of the bishop; the bishop must become a model of the joy of Christ. This is the first mark of Pope Francis’ model of the missionary episcopacy.”
In the face of the “consumeristic, throw-away culture of the world,” each member of SACBC needed to maintain his closeness to the person of Jesus Christ as “a bishop who sits at the wellspring of the joy of Christ, which comes to us through the Gospels,” the Apostolic Nuncio noted as a second characteristic of missionary episcopate during his Wednesday address at St. John Vianney Seminary in Pretoria, South Africa.
He explained, “If we bishops take the time to vulnerably sit with the Lord, silently approaching Him, coming to know His Good News, our faith should be nourished, and more than that, the way in which we “see” the world should be tinged by the experience we have of Christ and Christ’s vision.”
The American Prelate encouraged the Local Ordinaries under SACBC “to teach and make manifest” the joy of the Gospel through the celebration of sacraments as the third way of living their missionary life as Bishops as guided by Evangelii Gaudium.
“The joy of the Gospel is missionary: outward, never inward, looking. That means that a further characteristic of bishops is that our authenticity is determined by whether we move beyond ourselves – being missionary – to the people of God, who deeply yearn to receive Jesus’ joy,” Archbishop Wells told the Prelates who represent 29 episcopal Sees under SACBC.
Acknowledging that “we bishops can – at times – become … arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators,” the 56-year-old Nuncio identified the ability of Bishops to be facilitators and not limiters of the joy of Christ as another characteristic of missionary episcopate desired by Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation.
“If we become “limiters” of Jesus’ joy,” Archbishop Wells noted, “we fail to authentically be bishops in the fulness of the Person of Christ.”
He emphasized referencing Evangelii Gaudium, “A further quality of the episcopate, for Pope Francis, is that we must be missionary bishops who are dispensers of Grace, welcoming all people to God’s house, which is the home of people and their problems.”
The Papal Nuncio decried the tendency to abandon those “who have journeyed extraordinarily difficult paths” and probed, “Who will go after them?”
“In light of the Gospel, prophetically rejecting the exclusion of people at the margins of society must be a joy-giving characteristic of the episcopal vocation,” he reiterated.
Being rooted in one’s baptism with the mission to share the Gospel joyfully was also identified as an important characteristic of the ministry of Bishops in line with Pope Francis’ Exhortation.
“Fundamentally, the Holy Father is looking for a man rooted in his baptism, who frequently experiences and existentially knows the joy of Christ because he habitually reflects on the Gospel and encounters the joy that Christ gives,” Archbishop Wells told SACBC members.
He explained, “It is a bishop who knowing the world, is not selfish with the Gospel that he lives, and following Jesus’ command, has the strength, the courage and the conviction to move beyond himself to bring the joy of the Gospel to those who he governs, teaches and as a missionary, sanctifies.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa