In the current ecclesiastical jargon, what is the meaning of the word “pastoral”? The term was frequently used to describe Pope John Paul I during his very short reign. He was said to be a “pastoral” pope, presumably because he was close to his people in Venice, and in his first diocese, Vittorio Veneto. The term also seemed to stand in opposition to “curial,” since he had never been a part of the Roman Curia, nor had he been a Vatican diplomat, such as his four predecessors, Paul VI, John XXIII, Pius XI, and Pius XII.
Again, in the sad weeks between the sudden death of John Paul I, and the election of Blessed John Paul II, much was said and written about the need for a “pastoral” Pope. When certain journalists, theologians and ecclesiastics stress the need for a “pastoral” Pope, what do they really mean?
The term “pastoral” comes from the Latin, pastor, meaning “shepherd,” and thus refers to the work and concern of the shepherd for his sheep. Jesus referred to himself as “the Good Shepherd,” and to those who believe in him, as his “sheep,” so the terminology is founded on the very words of Christ. Timothy and Titus, 1 and 2, are known as the “pastoral epistles” since they present a series of practical directives for the proper pastoral care of the Christian communities at Ephesus and Crete. “Pastoral theology” includes everything connected with the priestly ministry to the faithful; it is a practical science which tries to apply the revealed truths of our faith, and the directives of the Magisterium, to the problems of daily living. Thus, the pastoral priest, according to this understanding, is a practical man who instructs and helps his people lead a fully Christian life so that they can finally attain eternal salvation.