By BISHOP BERNARD E. SHLESINGER III | Published March 9, 2020
Editor’s Note: Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III reflects upon the recent “ad limina” pilgramge to Rome.
Having lived in Rome for four years (1992-1996) as a seminarian, the return to Rome for the “ad limina” visit was somewhat of a homecoming. Since I was not walking into unfamiliar territory, fond memories of places and experiences years ago flooded my mind. Both Bishop Konzen and I arrived a few days early in Rome before the official “ad limina” visit began. This allowed us to rest from the flight and time change, visit the city on our own and to visit the priests and seminarians of the archdiocese who were studying or visiting in Rome. We had quality time with them and also with the pilgrims from Atlanta who were in Italy during the same time that we were there.
What was very special and new for me on this visit was being with brother bishops from Region XIV. Together we made pilgrimage to the major basilicas, visited the curial offices of the Holy See and finally a shared a lengthy meeting with the Holy Father.
Pope Francis welcomed us with fraternal charity, which is a hallmark of his pastoral approach of encounter (welcoming), accompaniment (journeying) and sharing (evangelization). If I left the Holy Father with one experience that will forever remain, it is that of the Successor of St. Peter strengthening his brother bishops in reference to Jesus’ counsel to Simon Peter at the last supper (Luke 22:31-32).
Indeed, Pope Francis understands the trials that face Christians throughout the world and even in the United States and gave us great encouragement to not become discouraged. We are to be spiritual fathers as bishops rather than administrators. Like Pope Francis, we must not be eager to condemn or correct at the outset. We must consider the path that may lead one to hope, toward salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Indeed, Pope Francis instilled in me hope and joy.
Two of the major basilicas held greater meaning to me in my visits; the Basilica of St. Peter and the Basilica of St. Paul, Outside the Walls. My thoughts went back two millennia to the two Princes of Rome—Peter and Paul—who both left their homes and who received martyrdom in the Eternal City. Their witness as Apostles, martyrs and bishops have inspired me to consider how better I might serve the needs of God’s people, wherever they may be.
Finally, one of the lasting impressions that I have of this “ad limina” visit to Rome was the Mass that I presided at with Bishop Konzen and the pilgrims from Atlanta at the Church of St. Alphonsus Liguouri. In this church is the original image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Praying there brought me very close to the people of Atlanta, especially to those who are suffering from cancer and for those who care for them—the priests, Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne and staff at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home.
To hear Atlanta’s bishops speak about the “ad limina” experience, go to vimeo.com/395253589.