Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Day 2 - Ad Limina Visit with Pope Francis and Region VI Bishops

Tuesday, December 10, 2019
                Our Lady of Loreto

Greetings on this beautiful December day in Rome,

   While this is only Day 2 of our official “Ad Limina Visit”, I have already experienced the highpoint of the whole trip.  Having celebrated Mass at the Tomb of St. Peter yesterday morning, followed by today’s meeting with our Holy Father Pope Francis, our Visit is truly complete.  The next 3 days will be wonderful, and filled with special meetings and Masses at the other two major Basilicas; but the main purpose of our official Visit—-to pray at the Tomb of the Apostles, Peter and Paul (which we will do tomorrow afternoon when we celebrate Mass at the Tomb of St. Paul at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls), to renew our unity with Peter’s Successor, our current Holy Father, and to give an accounting of the vitality of our Diocese has been fulfilled.  Let me provide some additional detail to this very special day.

The day began very early, much before dawn, as we boarded our bus at 6:40, following an even earlier brief breakfast, to take us to the Basilica of St. John Lateran.  As you know, St. John Lateran is the oldest church in Christendom, and serves as the Cathedral Church for the Diocese of Rome.  While Pope Francis is automatically linked to St. Peter’s Basilica, in his official capacity as the “Bishop of Rome”, St. John Lateran is Pope Francis’ Cathedral Church, and the  “Mother of all Churches in the world”, just as St. Augustine Cathedral serves as our Mother Church for our Diocese.  And as the Cathedra in St. Augustine Cathedral, the chair where the Bishop presides, is the symbol of the Bishop’s teaching authority for the entire Diocese, so too the Cathedra at St. John Lateran Basilica serves that same purpose for Pope Francis as the Bishop of Rome.  It is in that special regard that Pope Francis is one with all Bishops in the responsibility we all share in to be the Shepherds of our particular Dioceses.  Our Holy Father, Pope Francis is not only the Bishop of Rome, but the Vicar of Christ’s Church on earth, and therefore the Universal Shepherd for all Catholics.  Our Mass at St. John Lateran was a beautiful celebration in which, as today’s Gospel reminded us all, Jesus is our Good Shepherd Who will do anything it takes to go in search of the one Sheep who wanders away and gets lost, and not just to take care of the 99 who remain.  We are all reminded that our role as “Shepherds” is to provide good and loving pastoral care for those who remain, but also to find ways to reach out to those who have wandered away, or who are temporarily lost.  Following Mass, we returned to the NAC for just enough time to prepare for our visit to Pope Francis. 

  For such a meeting, the Bishops are asked to wear what’s called our “house cassock” (or fitella).  The meeting is held in the formal and ancient building known as the Apostolic Palace.  Each room of this gorgeous building is filled with beautiful religious artwork and artifacts that are outstanding.  For those Bishops who have priests who accompanied them, are students in Rome, or who have seminarians studying in Rome, those priests/students are permitted to accompany their Bishop to the Visit, but only for the official greeting and photo with the Holy Father.  Then the priests and seminarians are dismissed and the Holy Father meets only with us Bishops.  None of the Holy Father’s personal staff join him.  This meeting is meant to be personal and just between the Holy Father and us, his Brother Bishops.

   I’ve only had one other “Ad Limina” Visit, and that was with Pope Benedict in 2012.  While that was memorable and inspiring, this visit with Pope Francis was quite different and unique.  While what we discussed remains privileged, I can tell you that Pope Francis is a master at making people feel welcome and “at home”.  I have no doubt that just as I was nervous about this meeting, most of the 17 Bishops were probably also quite nervous and a bit anxious to meet with such a holy and truly world-renowned person as the Pope.  Yet, he began by greeting us as Brothers, asked us to raise any question, concern, or problem that was on our mind, and that we should all feel free to speak openly and candidly as Brothers are supposed to do.  And that’s what we did for the next two hours.  Any one who wanted to was given the opportunity to ask a question or express a concern, and most of us did so, including me.  Pope Francis, just like any public person, receives his fair share of criticism by the public media.   But I can say from personal experience, Pope Francis is a simple, holy, humble, but truly brilliant and insightful Man of God.  He is our Holy Father, and we owe him our love, our allegiance, and our prayers.  I will share one of the discussion points since it involves all of you.  When asked what he wanted us to tell our people on his behalf, he said:  Please tell them to be encouraged, that is, filled with courage.  He asked us to tell you to keep close to Jesus and to Mary our Mother.  He asks you to practice the corporal works of mercy and charity, to stay close to Jesus in the Eucharist, and to pray. And he imparts to all of you his Blessing, and asks you to pray for him.


At the end of the two hour private meeting, he bid each of us a personal farewell, and it was at that moment that I presented him with the Spiritual Bouquet on behalf of many of the Faithful of our Diocese who chose to participate in this special gift of prayer and sacrifice, and he was extremely grateful.  I wished him a very Happy 50th Anniversary of his Priestly Ordination, which he will celebrate on Friday, and a very Happy Birthday which he will celebrate next week.  And his final words to me: “Pray for me!”

   After finding our way out of the Apostolic Palace and reboarding our bus, we returned to the NAC for lunch, and a brief rest, before heading out for our meeting at the Congregation for Clergy.  This was a wonderful meeting which lasted from 4:00 until nearly 6:00 this evening.  It was a very helpful meeting since the entire focus was on the Bishop and his priests.  We are truly blessed by the priests of our Diocese.  Pope Francis had mentioned, as did the Prefect of this Congregation for Clergy, Cardinal Stella, the fact that all priests are struggling in this environment of suffering that the Church is enduring due to the ongoing sexual abuse crisis and related scandals.  We need to pray for all priests, and I would ask you in particular to pray for all our priests, that they can remain good, holy, loving priests, and worthy instruments to help bring all their people closer to Jesus and His gift of Salvation.

   With that, another day comes to a close.  I very much look forward to the various events that Day 3 will bring tomorrow.  May Our Lady of Loreto shine her beautiful Countenance upon you all, and keep you close to Jesus her Son, our Lord.  

                                                                        Faithfully yours in Christ,

                                                                        +Bishop Paul J. Bradley
                                                                         Bishop of Kalamazoo 

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