Pallium is Sign of Unity and Good Shepherd

Fr Joachim Omolo
Kisumu Metropolitan Archbishop Philip Anyolo arrives July 2, 2019 from Rome where he had gone to be vested with Pallium by Pope Francis.
Annually on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, June 29, it has been the tradition for the pope to bestow on metropolitan archbishops (those who oversee dioceses or archdioceses that are the largest in their ecclesiastical province) the pallium, a white scarf-like vestment that is worn over a bishop’s chasuble. It means according to Pope Francis that each newly-appointed metropolitan archbishops should be formally vested at a ceremony held in their own archdiocese, by the Apostolic Nuncio, replacing the tradition of the pontiff presenting the pallium on the Feast of St Peter and St Paul in Rome. Despite this change, Pope Francis has still invited each new archbishop, including Bishop Philip Anyolo to join him in Rome on June 29 to concelebrate at Mass on the Feast of St Peter and St Paul.

Kisumu Metropolitan Archbishop Philip Anyolo
Kisumu Archbishop Philip Anyolo

The Pope blessed each pallium, and present the vestment to the archbishops who are present, privately after the Mass. The wearing of the pallium dates back to the fourth century predating the miter and the crosier as episcopal symbols. The pallium is a liturgical vestment that dates to the 4th century and eventually became associated with bishops. It symbolizes unity and the bond between an archbishop and his Pope, the good shepherd. By the 11th century, metropolitan archbishops had to seek permission from the pope to wear it. This developed into an annual celebration where the newly appointed archbishops from around the world would travel to Rome and be given the pallium from the Roman Pontiff.

The pallium is made of wool from lambs that are presented on the feast of St. Agnes of Rome (January 21), whose name became associated with the Latin word for lamb (agnus). Two lambs are traditionally blessed by the pope on that day and then on Holy Thursday the sheep’s wool is sheared. As such, the pallium highlights the bishop’s role as good shepherd and reminds him of the “yoke” of Christ that he is called to carry. This is further emphasized by the six crosses that adorn the pallium, bringing to mind the many crosses that the bishop must bear as a disciple of Christ. Wearing it over their shoulders, pallium reminds the archbishops of the weight of their duties and the responsibility they have to seek and serve the lost sheep, leaving 99 and looking for the lost one.

The Good Shepherd (Greek: ποιμήν ο καλός, poimḗn o kalós) is an image used in the pericope of John 10:1-21, in which Jesus Christ is depicted as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. A shepherd's primary responsibility is the safety and welfare of the flock. Some flocks may include as many as 1,000 sheep. The shepherd will graze the animals, herding them to areas of good forage, and keeping a watchful eye out for poisonous plants. Shepherds often live in trailers or other mobile quarters.

The symbolism of Christ as a shepherd comes directly from the gospel of John in which Christ is leading the faithful and will lay down his life for the sheep, or those who are faithful to him: “I am the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Metaphorically, the term "shepherd" is used for God, especially in the Judeo-Christian tradition (e.g. Psalm 23, Ezekiel 34), and in Christianity especially for Jesus, who called himself the Good Shepherd. The Ancient Israelites were a pastoral people and there were many shepherds among them.

Catholic Bishops of Kenya
Catholic Bishops of Kenya

The staff was a tool used to guide any wayward sheep back to the fold. Shepherds used his rod (or crook) in leading the flock, to manage and help them and to defend them against wild animals. As a loving shepherd takes care of his flock. In the Old Testament God was called a shepherd, and God's people the flock. For instance, in Psalm 23 the psalmist sings that the shepherd leads him to green pastures near refreshing waters.  The shepherd guards him in right paths and protects him from evil. God says, “I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest. . . . The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal” (Ezekiel 34:15-16).

According to the Gospels, Jesus referred to himself as a shepherd. He said, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). A shepherd knows his sheep well. There is a personal relationship between Jesus and his followers. Jesus knows each of us by name. On the other hand, we respond to his voice and do not follow the voice of strangers who may lead us to harm. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Unlike a hired hand who flees to save his life, Jesus saved his flock from the wolf even though it meant sacrificing his own life. The parable Jesus told about the lost sheep is a story about Jesus' concern and care for us sinners. He is the loving shepherd who goes to great lengths to search for his lost sheep and when he finds it, carries it back on his shoulders rejoicing.

When Jesus gave Peter the responsibility of leading his Church, he again used shepherd imagery. He told Peter, “Feed my lambs. . . . Tend my sheep. . . . Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). Knowing about shepherds sheds light on the image of Jesus as shepherd. The shepherd uses a staff with a hook on the end to guide the sheep and pull back the stray. Today Jesus guides his flock through bishops, who are known as pastors, the Latin for shepherds. Bishops carry staffs called crosiers. The shepherd has a rod to fend off wild animals that might harm the flock. Jesus saved us from evil.