By CINDY WOODEN, CNS | Published April 8, 2004
While bishops making their “ad limina” visits to Rome spend more time meeting than praying, the mood of the visits is set by concelebrated Masses and individual time with Pope John Paul II, several U.S. bishops said.
Whether ordained a bishop 20 years ago or five months ago, the bishops agreed that the visits they are required to make to Rome every five years underscore the fact that they are “brother bishops” and not branch managers of a global corporation.
And like brothers in a big family, accidents happen; one bishop—who will remain nameless—was left stranded in the pouring rain March 31 after the bishops’ buses left the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls following their Mass at the tomb of St. Paul.
But the bishops also looked after each other.
Bishop Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte, N.C., who was ordained a bishop in October, said the others helped him relax before his March 29 private audience with the pope.
“I wasn’t intimidated because the other bishops put me at ease,” he said. “They told me it is not a quizzing (about the diocesan report), but that it is a friendly conversation.”
The 47-year-old bishop said he was “very much in awe” at being alone with Pope John Paul, but the pope set the tone by commenting on his age.
“He asked when I was ordained,” Bishop Jugis said, and the pope explained how he became a bishop in Poland at the age of 38.
“It was a tender moment of sharing,” Bishop Jugis said.
The bishop also told the pope that the pontiff had ordained him to the priesthood in 1983.
“It was a very human exchange and conversation,” Bishop Jugis said.
At the same time, he said, the Masses and prayers, the meetings with the pope and Vatican officials also make it clear that “the church is a divine institution and that Christ is the head of the body.”
The “ad limina” visit, he said, “is a good exercise in ‘communio’—it underlines the communion of the pope, the Vatican officials and the bishops. We are all drawn together under the power of the Holy Spirit to further the mission of the church.”
Archbishop John F. Donoghue of Atlanta was making his fourth “ad limina” visit. He has been a bishop 20 years.
“All of the bishops would tell you the same thing: The Masses create a sense of community and of supporting each other,” he said.
“And staying together, eating together and going out together adds to that,” the archbishop said.
He presided and gave the homily at the March 31 Mass, concelebrated by the bishops from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services.
A group of pilgrims from Atlanta also attended the Mass at St. Paul’s.
In his homily, Archbishop Donoghue spoke of the apostle Paul’s courage in preaching the Gospel and living his faith even in the face of martyrdom.
“Christ is the only one who can free us to be brave, to be courageous for his sake and to make us worthy to teach and defend the church and the souls who shelter in her care,” the archbishop said.
“We bishops want to have that kind of courage, and we want our people and all the people in the church to pray to the Holy Spirit to send this courage into our hearts because there is so much in this world which rises against our faith,” he said.
The bishops began their March 28-April 3 visit with Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica.
Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., said the Mass at the tomb of St. Peter included prayers “to be strengthened, renewed and consoled by the apostle that Jesus designated to head the church.”
He said the bishops also prayed for the church in the United States “at this very critical hour and for the faithful and clergy of our dioceses, that we may all be renewed in the faith that Jesus handed down through the apostles, especially through Peter and Paul.”
The prayers, the bishop said, focused not only on the clerical sex abuse crisis, but also on the aftermath of Sept. 11, the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the safety of the U.S. soldiers, and the fact that this is an election year.
The bishops prayed that U.S. citizens would be “guided by responsible, informed wisdom in making the right choices,” he said.
Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien, head of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, said, “the Masses at the tombs of the apostles are very solemn, very sobering moments. They are strong reminders of our tradition and of the sacrifices that were made for it.”
The archbishop said the individual meeting with the pope “is a very exciting moment every bishop looks forward to” and that the meetings with Vatican officials provide a real opportunity to share concerns.
“The mood really is one of ‘Your sufferings are our sufferings, and we are here to help you,’” he said.
Contributing to this story was John Thavis at the Vatican.