A recurring theme of Pope Francis is that of shepherds being among their sheep. To bishops and priest, the pope has said time again, “You must smell like your sheep.” This, of course, can only come when the bishops and priests live in the midst of those they shepherd, binding up their wounds, helping them give birth, and leading them to safe pasture. This is often thankless and anonymous work, yet is, according to Francis, the only job of those who have received the sacrament of holy orders.

At his last stop in his recent Latin America visit, Pope Francis once again reiterated the importance of bishops and priests being shepherds. He used the example of St. Turibius, a 16th century bishop to Peru (which is where the pope made his remarks). Speaking of the saint, Francis said, “Today we would call him a ‘street’ bishop, a bishop with shoes worn out by walking, by constant travel, by setting out to preach the Gospel to all.”

“He was a pastor who knew his priests,” Francis said, “a pastor who tried to visit them, to accompany them, to encourage them and to admonish them.”

“He reminded his priests that they were pastors and not shopkeepers, and so they had to care for and defend the indios as their children,” the pope said. “Yet he did not do this from a desk, and so he knew his sheep and they recognized, in his voice, the voice of the good shepherd.”

The pope equated what he calls “clericalism” with sitting behind a desk rather than being among the sheep. He went on to outline four aspects of St. Turibius’s actions as a bishop that should be emulated by today’s bishops.

  • He met people where they were, seeking them rather than waiting for them to seek him.
  • He learned the languages of the people in order to bring the Gospel to them in a way they could easily understand.
  • He fought against the injustices his people suffered.
  • He worked to form priests in the same shepherding spirit.

The call of a bishop is one of complete surrender to the Great Shepherd and of complete sacrifice for the sheep entrusted to him. It is not an easy life in any way, and yet it is a life ordained by God for those whom He calls. For us–the needy sheep–it is our calling to support our bishops through constant and fervent prayer. In the days ahead, we will outline a plan to raise up dedicated prayer partners for all our bishops.

Stay tuned.