Published October 20, 2005
This week, several friends from Atlanta will visit Rome, and I can’t wait to see them! A few of our priests are coming over for a vacation and some members of an Atlanta family that I have come to know quite well will be here for a couple of days. It represents a wonderful opportunity for me to show some of the people that I have come to love a bit of a city that I also deeply love. While I will not have a lot of time to visit with them because of the schedule of the Synod of Bishops, I am anxious to have them see some of the places that remain important in my life from the four years that I spent here in Rome as a young priest.
Rome should enjoy a special place in the heart of every Catholic. This is the city of Peter and Paul where they gave the ultimate witness of their love for Christ Jesus. It is also the diocese of the Successor of Peter. The Holy Father presides in charity over all of the Churches from the See of Rome. Our present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has spent more than a quarter of a century in this city that he now serves as Bishop and Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church. Last Saturday afternoon he met with a large group of youngsters many of whom had made their First Holy Communion this past year. He was delightful as he greeted them, prayed with them, and listened to their questions. One young girl by the name of Julia told him that her parents could not always bring her to Sunday Mass because they were often busy with other things on Sunday, although she wanted to go. I am sure at that very moment, her mortified parents just wanted to die! However, the Pope was magnificent in his response. He told the youngster that she must always love and respect her parents and then told her that perhaps her grandparents might be able to help her get to Mass on Sunday. It was a very good recovery in the face of a delicate situation, but it reminded me of the kinds of statements that youngsters can make on such occasions. Art Linkletter, the American television personality, developed a charming program that Bill Cosby has emulated entitled “Kids Say the Darndest Things!”
The gift of Faith is usually quite intense and sincere in the hearts of children. They take their religious practices quite seriously and that is one of their charming and endearing qualities. We adults must help them to strengthen their young Faith. This is an important responsibility that we all share. Benedict XVI was very much being the Bishop of Rome when he encountered that youngster. He was helping a young member of the flock to understand that she must always love and appreciate her parents. He was also giving a good lesson to all parents. The encounter was wonderful as the little girl opened her heart to the Pope. The question was innocent yet profound since everyone knows that youngsters that age are unpredictable in what they might say. The Pope’s message was tender yet challenging for all parents. He was truly the Bishop of Rome in his response and in his love for this little one.
These past two and a half weeks have been wonderful, as I have met many of the 260 bishops, some of whom were already friends and many more of whom are now. Nevertheless, the best part of being a bishop is being with your people. That’s why I am so looking forward to visiting with the Atlanta folks who will be coming to Rome this week. I am even more looking forward to being back at home where I can meet the youngsters from our own diocese who ask similar questions of their bishop and who need the same type of tender care that Benedict XVI provided for the crowd of little ones that met him last weekend.