As many of you know, from November 22 to December 1, all the bishops of New York State, accompanying priests, and I participated in my first Ad Limina Apostolarum in Rome. Every five years, the bishop participates in this pilgrimage at the threshold of the Apostles.
Monsignor John Murphy and I boarded the plane for the Eternal City, anticipating a privileged moment in our faith lives. We were not disappointed.
The ad limina visit includes three key events: an opportunity to celebrate Eucharist at the four main Basilicas of Rome; meetings with the heads of several of the major Roman Congregations that assist the Holy Father in his Petrine Office; and the privilege of meeting our Holy Father personally to discuss the state of our individual dioceses.
In this article, I wish to share with you the premier event that was truly a blessed occasion for me. Soon after we arrived on Wednesday, we learned that the bishops from upstate New York were to have our personal audiences with the Pope the next morning - Thanksgiving Day.
Pope Benedict began our meeting by reflecting on his recent trip to Africa. He felt very much at home in the nation of Benin, experiencing in a powerful way the “catholicity” of our faith. Leading the discussion, Pope Benedict said that he wanted to “learn of the struggles we encounter” in our churches in New York. He told us: “Speak frankly, as in a family setting.” So we did.
Bishop Hubbard of Albany, the dean of the bishops of New York State, was first invited by the Pope to share his concerns, followed by Bishop Kmiec of Buffalo. Next, the Holy Father turned to me. I spoke of our deep affection for him and of the strong faith of the people of the North Country. I told him that our faith has been tested and challenged by the crises of: the culture of death; clergy sex abuse; secularization; a decrease in the participation of Catholics in the sacramental life of the Church; a decrease in Church vocations; and ongoing economic distress suffered by so many in our North Country. Still, ours is a vibrant, persevering, life-giving faith.I felt that the Holy Father heard, felt and understood the struggles I shared. He inquired about our diocesan efforts to promote the family. He said that so much of the challenges before us stem from the breakdown of the family.
He concluded our meeting by reminding us that Jesus Christ is the answer to life’s struggles. He reiterated the point several times: we must have a relationship with Jesus Christ. It begins in our families.
The Holy Father affirmed our ministry and encouraged the bishop to remember that hope is real only through Jesus. He offered his prayers and blessing as Advent approached.
With the other bishops, I had the graced opportunity to be welcomed by the Successor of St. Peter to his home and share concerns about the flock entrusted to our care. It doesn’t get any better! Thanksgiving Day 2011 was truly a day in which I felt especially blessed. The pilgrimage was off to a tremendous start.
In next week’s issue of the North Country Catholic, I look forward to sharing with you more about the ad limina experience.