A bishop in the pews

István Gégény, the editor of a Hungarian-language Catholic blog entitled SZEMlélek, explores why it’s worth remembering that religious leaders–be they parish priests or bishops–are people too. Just like members of their congregation, they struggle to live their faith in the everyday. HFP offers this English-language translation of Mr. Gégény’s piece, entitled “Püspök a padban“, or “A bishop in the pews.”


Back Seat: Pope Francis with Argentinians in the chapel of Casa Santa Marta. Photo source: Franciscan Ponderings

I had an unexpected encounter a few days ago. I was walking with my son in our village – we were on our way to Mass at our local Catholic church. At the end of our street, a familiar man came towards us, namely János Szemerei. The Lutheran bishop lives in Győr, so his appearance was not entirely unrealistic, but still I didn’t know what he was doing in our little community. The two churches, Catholic and Lutheran, face each other in Győrújfalu, and when the service ends, Mass begins. So I asked myself: did he preside during the service at the Lutheran church?

“No, I sat in the pews. My wife and I decided that we would attend church here this Sunday, to celebrate with the local community,” he responded.

It crossed my mind that he must be here on some type of official visit, perhaps to survey the community’s leadership. However, I learned from Lutheran circles that while such visits do exist, they are usually preceded by protocol. In this case, there was no sign of this at all. The Lutheran leader and his spouse came and participated in the service like any other member of the congregation. And afterwards, he went for a stroll in the village.

Christ the King R.C. Church in Győrújfalu. Photo source: miserend.hu

A few days later, I was preparing to go to confession in the capital. As often happens, I had to wait for my turn in the queue. I was amused to see that one of the people in line was a priest friend of mine. He came for the same reason as I did. Yes, he too has sins and he too stands in line, and waits.

When I shared these stories with a friend, he mentioned that he has also seen a bishop sitting among members of the congregation in the pews. In fact, he had seen a Catholic bishop do this, at Mass. Perhaps some readers will have already seen the photograph appearing with this article–the one depicting Pope Francis in the Saint Martha House’s chapel. Indeed, sometimes even he “blends in” with the faithful, although after several years of serving as pontiff, this is perhaps not so surprising from him anymore.

I don’t think that it detracts at all from the mission of church leaders if they occasionally indicate, in very visible ways, that they too are Christians in the same manner as everyone who shares their faith. They are, themselves, children of God too. In fact, these acts may strengthen both the trust in, and respect for church leaders.

After all, Jesus was approachable and accessible. He was a man who walked amongst us–sometimes appearing at the well, in the boats of fishermen, at weddings, in private homes and his contemporaries could also meet him in his journeys, along the way.

István Gégény

Translated by: Christopher Adam

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *