December 9, 2019
Dear Family of Faith,
May the Peace of our Lord Jesus, and the Hope we celebrate in this Advent Season as we prepare to celebrate His Coming to us anew, be with you all! Greetings from the Eternal City!
The official “Ad Limina Apostolorum” Visit to the Holy Father and to the Tombs of the Apostles has officially begun. We unofficially arrived yesterday, Sunday morning Rome time, after a long, and thankfully smooth, flight from Detroit, to Philadelphia, and then to Rome. While it was 3:30 a.m. in the morning for our “real-feel/body time”, our six-hour time difference kicked in and Rome was already a bustling active city, at least for a Sunday. The several Bishops who were on the flight with me were met by our drivers from the North American College (NAC) to pick us up and drive us the 30 minutes from the airport to Rome.
The weather in Rome at this time of year is moderate, warm for our standards; in the mid-50’s on average, and mostly pleasant. We found our reception at the North American College to be warm, efficient, and smooth. By noon I was situated in my room, which is quite nice by any standards, and certainly nice for a Seminary. After time to freshen up after a long flight, unpacking and a brief siesta, and the low-key concelebration of Holy Mass for the Second Sunday of Advent, our preliminary meetings began. There was an orientation meeting at 5 p.m. to explain the procedures for the busy days ahead, followed by a beautiful banquet in the Seminary Dining Room in honor of the Patroness of the North American College, the Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Mother, whose Solemnity is one day deferred this year due to the conflict with the Sunday.
Let me just say a word about the North American College. While its name could be deceptive, the NAC (as everyone calls it) is the Major Seminary for American seminarians sent here by their Bishops for their four years of Theological studies and formation in the last four years of priestly preparation for Ordination. The NAC is referred to as the U.S. Seminary in Rome. A number of our priests serving in our Diocese have attended the NAC, including Fr. Jim O’Leary as well as our more recently ordained young priests, Fr. Max Nightingale and Fr. Jeff Hanley. Because it is a Seminary sponsored by the U.S. Bishops, it also serves as a residence for Bishops when visiting their students, or who are just making a pilgrimage to Rome. During the “Ad Limina” Visits, the NAC hosts all the Bishops who choose to stay there during their week-long visits.
By the way, the “Ad Limina” Visits are supposed to take place approximately every 5 years; the last visit for U.S. Bishops was in 2011-12. Due to the change in Holy Fathers in 2013, the schedules have been a bit behind, so it’s now been 7 years since our Ad Limina Visits. On another side note, besides the Bishops from Michigan and Ohio (Region 6) here for our visit this week, the Bishops from Region 7 (Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana) are also here, so we truly have a “full house”.
So with all that being said, our first official day began today. And what a beautiful day to do so, as the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Mother. Our day began very early with leaving the NAC at 6:45 a.m. to bring us to celebrate Mass at the Tomb of St. Peter in the downstairs of St. Peter’s Basilica.
While I have had an opportunity to do this several times in the past, every time is extremely moving and quite special—-to be at the very spot where the mortal remains of the original Vicar of Christ, the one to whom Jesus said: “You are Peter, and upon this Rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” This is always a highpoint, and a required visit for all Bishops on their Ad Limina Visits—-to recommit ourselves to be in union with Peter’s Successor, our Holy Father, and to take this occasion to re-profess our faith in a solemn reciting of the Creed, which unites us all. Following the Mass and a time of personal prayer and a very brief breakfast, the first of four Dicastery meetings began at the Congregation for Bishops.
Just a word about the Roman Curia. Just as every Pastor has a staff of faithful and competent people to help coordinate programs and ministries at the parish, every Bishop has a Diocesan Pastoral Staff (or Curia) to do the same. I am truly blessed by those who serve on our diocesan Staff, not just for the competence they bring, but also for the dedication and commitment they bring to their work which is truly a great gift to me and to us all. In a similar way, the Holy Father has a very large staff, which is oftentimes known as the Roman Curia. It is divided into departments known as Congregations, Secretariats, and Pontifical Councils (Dicasteries). Many of these departments are headed by Bishops or Cardinals, and they are staffed by many priests and a lot of dedicated lay people from around the world.
During the Ad Limina Visits, we Bishops make an accounting to the Holy Father directly to provide him with a report on the vitality of our Diocese, to point out what the challenges are, and to share with him any areas of success or problems. Those reports were written, formally prepared and sent to Rome 6 months ago, to give the various departments/congregations time to review them so they can be prepared for our visits.
As I mentioned earlier our first meeting was a 90-minute meeting with the Congregation for Bishops, followed by an hour-long meeting at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), then a trip back to the NAC for some lunch and a break, followed by two more hour plus- long meetings this afternoon at the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, and then with the Secretariat for Communication, which concluded at 5:30 p.m. this evening.
While the content of those meetings are confidential, I can say that each of them were interesting, helpful and informative.
We returned to the NAC for Evening Prayer and other evening activities. Tomorrow we will begin the day with early Mass at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, followed by the highpoint of the week: our meeting with Pope Francis. We will meet with him as a Region, but we are told that the Holy Father spends a lot of time, and wants to hear from each of us, about the state of affairs in our Dioceses. I very much look forward to this very important meeting.
Please be assured of special remembrances in my prayers throughout this week at each of the Basilicas and holy places I will be visiting. Know that high on my list of prayers and intentions are an increase of Vocations to the Priesthood, Religious Life and the Sacrament of Marriage, and unity/vitality/renewal of the faith of each of us, and a deeper love and devotion to the Holy Eucharist as we prepare for “The Year of the Eucharist: 2020”. Please pray for me as well.
+ Bishop Paul
Christmas at St. Peter's Square