Church leaders must put prayer before all other things, Pope Francis said at his morning Mass Sunday.

Speaking in the chapel at Casa Santa Marta, his Vatican residence, the pope said May 10 that praying must be a bishop’s first priority.

He said: “The bishop's prayer, the first task: to pray. And the people, seeing the bishop pray, learn to pray. Because the Holy Spirit teaches us that it is God who ‘does things’.”

“We do a little, but it is He who ‘does the things’ of the Church, and it is through prayer that the Church advances. And that is why the leaders of the Church, so to say, the bishops, must go ahead with prayer.”

In his homily, the pope reflected on Sunday’s Gospel reading, John 14:1-12, in which Jesus tells his disciples that he is the way, the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through him.

He described the passage as Jesus’ “declaration of access to the Father.” It was, he suggested, as if Christ “opened the doors of the omnipotence of prayer.”

Believers should pray with trust and courage, he said. He gave the examples of Abraham “haggling” with God to save Sodom in Genesis 18:20-33, and Moses asking the Lord to spare his people in Exodus 32:1-35. Therefore Christians should not pray timidly.

“To pray is to go with Jesus to the Father who will give you everything," he said. "Courage in prayer, frankness in prayer.”

The pope then turned to the day’s second reading, Acts 6:1-7, in which the apostles respond to complaints about food distribution in the early Christian community.

He noted that, in order to focus on prayer and preaching, the apostles “enlightened by the Holy Spirit, ‘invented’, so to speak, the deacons,” selecting seven men of good reputation to oversee food allocation.

He said: “This is the bishop's task: to pray and preach. With this strength that we have heard in the Gospel: the bishop is the first one who goes to the Father, with the trust that Jesus gave, with courage, with parrhesia [bold speech], to fight for his people. The first task of a bishop is to pray.”

The pope recalled “a holy parish priest” who whenever he met a bishop would ask him how many hours a day he prayed.

Prayer is a bishop’s primary task, he said, “Because it is the prayer of the head of the community for the community, the intercession to the Father so that he might guard the people.”

He concluded: “It is sad to see good bishops, good people, good people, but busy with many things, the economy, and this and that... Prayer in first place. Then the other things. But when the other things take space away from prayer, something doesn’t work…”

“This is how the Church goes forward, with prayer, the courage of prayer, because the Church knows that without this access to the Father she cannot survive.”

The pope ended the celebration with adoration and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The congregation then sang the Easter Marian antiphon “Regina caeli.”

At the start of Mass, the pope recalled two recent commemorations. May 8 marked the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. May 9 was the 70th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration, which proposed the creation of a European Coal and Steel Community, leading to the foundation of the European Union.

He said: “Let us ask the Lord for Europe today to grow united in this unity of brotherhood which makes all peoples grow in unity in diversity.”