Dear brothers in the Episcopate:
I rejoice in being able to greet you on the occasion of the Ad Limina Apostolorum pilgrimage visit.
It is my desire that (this visit) be a fruitful experience of communion for each one of you and for Church on its pilgrim journey in Puerto Rico.
I thank His Excellency Roberto Octavio González Nieves, Archbishop of San Juan and President of the Bishops Conference for the words he addressed to me in the name of all of you.
In that beautiful Caribbean archipelago was founded one of the first three dioceses that were established on the American continent. Since then, the Church’s history has been interwoven with the faithfulness and tenacity of its pastors, religious, missionaries and lay people that, responding to the times and places, knew how to communicate the joy of announcing Christ the Savior, in whose name so many initiatives for the common good were created in the liturgical, social and educational fields, that have profoundly marked the public and private life of the Puerto Rican people.
You, as heralds of the Gospel and guardians of the hope of your people, are called to continue writing that work of God in his local Churches, enlivened by a spirit of ecclesial communion, endeavoring to make the faith grow and the light of truth also shine in our days.
Mutual confidence and sincere communication among yourselves will permit the clergy and the faithful to see the authentic unity desired by Christ. Moreover, faced with the magnitude and disproportion of problems, the bishop needs to have recourse not only to prayer but also the friendship and brotherly assistance of their brothers in the episcopate. Do not waste energy in divisions and confrontations, but instead building and collaborating. You already know that “the more intense communion is, the more mission is fostered.” (Pastores gregis, 22)
Know how to keep your distance from all political or ideological trends that would make you lose time and the true ardor for the Kingdom of God. The Church, by reason of her mission, is not tied to any political system in order to always be able to be “a sign and a safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person.” (Gaudium et spec 76)
The bishop is a model for his priests and he encourages them to always seek spiritual renewal and to rediscover the joy of pastoring his flock within the great family of the Church. I ask (you to have) a welcoming attitude towards them, that they feel listened to and guided so they can grow in communion, holiness, wisdom, and bring to everyone the mysteries of salvation.
Looking toward the upcoming Jubilee of Mercy, recall first of all to yourselves and then to (your) priests, the service of being faithful servants of God’s forgiveness, above all in the sacrament of Reconciliation, that allows (the penitent) to experience in the flesh the love of God and to offer the penitent the source of true interior peace. (cf. Misericordiae vultus, 17)
To have good pastors it is necessary to do the work of fostering vocations, so as to have an adequate number of vocations and especially in the seminaries, you should offer a proper formation to the candidates. The seminary is the plot of land that calls for the most careful attention of Bishop Shepherd.
Providing the faithful with the sacramental life and offering them an appropriate continual formation makes it possible for them too to fulfill their own mission. The Puerto Rican faithful, and in particular the associations, the movements and the educational institutions are called to generously collaborate so that the Good News may be announced in all environments, including those most hostile and distanced from the Church.
It is my heartfelt desire that, inspired by the example of distinguished laymen like Blessed Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Santiago, model of dedication and apostolic service, or the venerable teacher Rafael Cordero y Molina, you continue advancing on the path of a joyful observance of the Gospel, going deeper into the Church’s Social Teaching, and participating lucidly and serenely in the public debates that concern the society that you live in.
Among the initiatives necessary to strengthen more and more is family pastoral ministry, in the face of the serious social problems that afflict it: the difficult economic situation, emigration, domestic violence, unemployment, drug trafficking, corruption. These are realities that are cause for concern.
Allow me to draw your attention to the value and beauty of marriage. The complementarity of man and woman, the vertex of the divine creation, is being questioned by gender ideology, in the name of a freer and more just society. The difference between man and woman is not meant to stand in opposition, or to subordinate, but is for the sake of communion and generation, always “in the image and likeness of God.”
Without mutual self-giving, the two cannot even understand the depth of what it means to be man and woman. (General Audience April 15, 2015) The sacrament of marriage is a sign of the love of God for humanity and Christ’s self-giving to his Spouse, the Church. Take care of this treasure, one of the “most important of the Latin American and Caribbean peoples.” (Aparecida, 433)
Finally, among the greatest challenges for the apostolic work, is the implementation of the Joint Pastoral Plan in the dioceses, by means of programs drawn up to proclaim Christ and to respond to the concerns of society and of the People of God today, in which the missionary dimension must always be present even to the farthest existential peripheries.
I assure you of my prayers for you as well as for the priests, consecrated religious and for all the lay faithful of that beloved land of Puerto Rico. Please give everyone the pope’s greetings. Watch over with zeal and patience that portion of the Lord’s vineyard that has been entrusted you, and go forward together. I entrust the work of evangelization in Puerto Rico to the Most Holy Virgin Mary, asking you to not forget to pray for me, I impart with affection the Apostolic Blessing.