By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published May 10, 2012
I positively love going to Rome! It reminds me of my youth, as I arrived in that blessed city for the first time in early September 1976 as a young priest embarking upon what would eventually prove to be an adventure of study and ongoing priestly formation that has changed and completely shaped my life.
I am especially pleased to make this particular trip with Bishop Zarama, my beloved Auxiliary Bishop. It is our first trip together to Rome, and in addition to the many official meetings, I want to show him some of the places and to introduce him to some of the people that I recall with fondness from those years from 1976 to 1980.
On our first day in Rome, we unexpectedly ran into a young woman from All Saints Parish in Dunwoody who is currently studying at the Dominican University of the Angelicum. She warmly greeted us and identified herself as an Atlanta Catholic, and that particular chance meeting reminded me that Rome is a place where people gather—from faraway places as well as from nearby communities.
Later that very same day, we had a casual encounter with a Brazilian Archbishop who promptly told us that he spoke no English, and while we spoke no Portuguese, we did manage to greet and converse with one another using a little Italian and a little Spanish. Faith and friendship ought never to be restrained by language.
The Ad Limina Apostolorum visits (to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul) are not simply periodic bureaucratic requirements to submit lengthy statistical and data reports on the state of a diocese, but even more importantly they are opportunities to strengthen and emphasize the fraternal bonds that unite the Roman Pontiff with the College of Bishops throughout the world. They are also occasions to strengthen the affection and highlight the unity of the churches represented by those bishops who come to Rome during these scheduled meetings.
This round of Ad Limina visits are the first that Pope Benedict has had with the bishops of the United States, and he has added his own flavor to the meetings. We meet with him in provincial groups so that our conversations can focus on the issues of an entire ecclesiastical region and provide him with a broader context of the life of the Church in our nation.
There are also opportunities for conversations with the officials of the Roman Curia (the Holy Father’s Chancery staff) regarding matters of importance that touch the life of the Church in our nation and in our particular region. I have always found those dialogues both helpful for me to understand the concerns of the Curia and for them better to grasp the issues that individual bishops face in their service to their local churches.
This will be my fifth Ad Limina visit—I went in 1988 and 1993 as an Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, in 1998 and 2004 as Bishop of Belleville, Ill. and today in 2012 as Archbishop of Atlanta. I will obviously compare this visit to others from my past, but I will also be open to experience new opportunities for fraternal discussion that are present in this new moment. One of the benefits of visiting the Holy Father is the chance to introduce him to one priest or seminarian who can accompany us into the papal audience. I brought Matt Dalrymple, one of our Atlanta seminarians at the North American College, and Father Luke Ballman from Atlanta, serving on the faculty of the North American College. All of the other Atlanta seminarians have previously had a chance personally to meet the Pope except Matt. He was so excited when I invited him to accompany me and Bishop Zarama into the meeting with the bishops of the Province of Atlanta. He willingly (might I even suggest enthusiastically) agreed to miss his morning classes at the Gregorian University for this opportunity to meet the Successor to Peter the Apostle.
I must admit, I was also a little excited to introduce Pope Benedict XVI to the Church in North Georgia and to share with him some of our hopes, our developments and our joys.
We met with him and the other bishops of our Province earlier today, and the exchange was wonderful. He was most gracious and quite interested in how the Church is growing in our region, and he sends his blessings and affection to all of you, conveyed through Bishop Zarama, Father Ballman, Matt and me!