To Lead – and to Follow – the People of God

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St. Paul outlines a high standard of what it takes to be a trustworthy bishop or deacon. Certainly, anyone who exercises power in the Church should be hospitable, level-headed, and “not a lover of money.” But there are other qualities that should not be missed. 

On a recent trip to Chiapas, we gathered with a friend who spoke of the groundbreaking impact that Bishop Samuel Ruiz García had made in that region over the course of his four decades as a bishop. It was only after encountering the devastating poverty and oppression of the Mayan indigenous peoples that Bishop Ruiz transformed his pastoral approach. He critiqued systems of oppression, fostered awareness building through base communities, and integrated Mayan practices within Catholicism. Bishop Ruiz emulated the very holy qualities of being value-driven, committed to solidarity with the most marginalized, and working to co-create a better reality through righteous anger and action. Perhaps the most important part of his story is that he was open to the people of God, who converted and awakened in him his true path. Much like St. Oscar Romero, Bishop Ruiz was converted by the people he served.  

In a 2021 address to bishops, Pope Francis said that the primary duties of a bishop are to pray with the heart, to live out the Gospel, and not to fall into a “comfortable Catholicism.” The pope’s reminder extends to all of us as the Church. Our role is not one of privilege, but of service. To authentically live out the Gospel means to follow the people of God, specially the most marginalized and exploited. 

© Liturgical Press.

Joanna Arellano-Gonzalez

Joanna Arellano-Gonzalez is a cofounder and the director of spiritual & theological formation with the Coalition for Spiritual & Public Leadership, a spiritually rooted community organizing coalition in the Chicagoland area. Visit their work at

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