Obviously back safely, and as promised, here are some pictures from Friday morning.
The seventh and final day of our week-long ad limina is now over and this will be the final posting as I will be travelling back to Tampa tomorrow all day. My flight leaves Rome at 655am EDT (1255pm Rome time) and I arrive back home at 1035pm EDT (435am Rome time) if all goes well. The layover in New York’s JFK airport is scheduled for two hours and ten minutes so I should be “at altitude” for thirteen hours approximately.
Our final day in the eternal city seemed to go on eternally. We began with a visit to the Congregation for Catholic Education, which is responsible for Catholic schools and colleges and universities, religious education and the catechism, and all seminaries throughout the world. The presentation by the Prefect, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, in this congregation was quite lengthy filling the whole hour and I had my cassock on throughout the meeting, was dying from the heat, and wishing for air conditioning somewhere, anywhere and soon. It came when we arrived at the Apostolic Palace for our visit with Pope Benedict XVI. More about that later. The bishops from the Atlanta province (Charlotte, Raleigh, Charleston, SC, and Savannah) had the rest of the morning off and were driven back to the North American College while the six bishops and one bishop-elect of the Miami province were driven to the Apostolic Palace.
The Holy Father lives on the top or third floor of a massive building to the right of St. Peter’s Square. His bedroom is a small room on the far right side which is accessed through a small parlor which is itself accessed through his private office where he sees no one officially but writes and works. When one has a private audience with the Pope, you go no higher than the second floor, which is full of formal reception rooms. His private quarters are small so the term “palace” is barely applicable. Also living on the third floor are his two priest secretaries, and the sisters who perform the housekeeping and prepare his meals. His very private chapel is there as well.
For an audience appointment of eleven o’clock which was our appointed time, one usually arrives at least thirty minutes early, passing a number of Swiss Guard who stand impressively tall and still. For the minutes leading up to being led into his presence, you can usually count on remaining for a time in about three reception rooms. As one person or group exits the waiting area and into the presence of the pope, you are moved forward one more reception rooms until you make the turn and are on the side facing St. Peter’s square. When I first started doing this routine in 1979, my knees would knock, my hands would sweat, I would begin to perspire all in anticipation of that final door. Today we were led directly to the final waiting room. Then we were ushered into his presence. The successor of St. Peter was standing this morning with a welcoming smile on his face and each of us was allowed to bring one priest or seminarian in with us to have a quick picture taken and then whomever we chose (Monsignor Bob Morris this morning) were ushered out and we were asked to take seats close to the Pope.
He was interested in hearing from each of us whatever we wished to share with him from our diocesan experiences and he would offer a brief reaction to whatever we said. All told with seven bishops present, we took about twenty minutes of his time. To me he seemed more tired than when I was with him in November, breathing a little more deeply and heavily but still so gracious and humble. This man, like Paul VI, is a very humble priest, despite his reputation sometimes to the contrary. I think I could capture the feelings of our group of seven bishops that we were genuinely grateful that he could still take the time to welcome each of us. Traditionally at the end of the Ad Limina visits with the popes, we receive some gift and it has been for the last four visits of US bishops a pectoral cross which we wear close to our heart as a constant reminder that sometimes shepherding the churches can be an invitation to carry a cross.
In the afternoon I had pranzo (aka “Lunch”) with Monsignor Gerald Cadieres, a student of mine at St. John Vianney College Seminary and the first South American to complete his theology work in Rome as a student at the North American College. He gave me the privilege of vesting him for his diaconate ordination here at St. Peters and it is always wonderful to see him during my visits. He works in the Spanish language section of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Later in the afternoon a highlight for me was meeting after a long absence Cardinal Agostino Cacchiavillan, former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America and a man with whom I worked during my six years as General Secretary of the Episcopal Conference of the United States. He was a wonderful friend and mentor then and remains such even today. It was a terrific penultimate way to say farewell to Rome.
The “proof sheets” of the several hundred pictures taken of us this morning by the one photographer were back at the North American College by two o’clock and the bishops behave like parents at confirmation trying to get the pictures taken of their child with the bishop. It was like Disney animal time at the Magic Kingdom with people ordering photographs by the score. I am supposed to get a digital disc tonight later and if it arrives, one of the seventy pictures taken in less than two minutes of Monsignor Morris and I and it should be on this blog.
Sunday I celebrate my thirty-fourth anniversary of priestly ordination and Monsignor Bob Morris celebrates his twenty-first a few days later, so with our colleagues from the Pastoral Center we had our final dinner in Rome and attempted to make it memorable.
I leave with some very strong, mostly emotional feelings. First, I took Pope Benedict’s leave with the very strong feeling that I likely shall not be seeing him again. It was that same feeling in the gut I had when as a child we would take our leave of our 80 and 90-year-old grandparents. Secondly, I am clearing out my closest in the Bishops Larkin and Lynch Suite and bringing almost everything home tomorrow, as I do not anticipate coming back again, at least for business. Thirdly, all of us had a hard time tonight saying goodbye to Ryan Boyle our seminarian here who has shared much of his time with the eight of us. If generosity, hospitality, and helpfulness are predictors of a successful priesthood, Ryan will do very well. The seminarians at the North American College could not have been more hospitable this week, unfailingly kind and solicitous. Likewise the staff, priests and domestics which have in the last six months watched two of their former rectors made Cardinals, fifteen regions of the US bishops pass through for at least a week and the normal flow of guests and visitors coming to Rome, they have all been just terrific. All of the bishops of Region XIV are grateful to them.
So it is arrivaderci Roma, good-by, farewell to Rome, city of a million moon lit places, city of a million smiling faces, far from home. I believe this is my forty-fifth trip to the Eternal City and the Italian language had a great single word for how I feel tonight, basta, “enough.” Thanks for reading these entries and now it is back to confirmations, ordinations, graduations, birthday and anniversary. Ciao for now.
P.S. The much anticipated disc with the pictures seems not to have arrived as of this writing and posting of this blog entry, so I will post some of them tomorrow or whenever. If you can’t stand the wait, the mother of all ecclesial blogs, http://whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com/ has them available for viewing. You can view more photos from the trip, graciously taken and shared by SueAnn Howell with the Catholic News Herald, the diocesan newspaper of the Diocese of Charlotte, here.
The sun begins to show itself here in Rome right now around 530am and I was up by 600am as the bus left for St. John Lateran Basilica at 645am for a 730am Mass. I was the celebrant and homilist this morning at what is in reality the Cathedral Church of the Pope in Rome. One of the four major basilicas, St. John Lateran is a beautiful place and we were in and out before the daily hoard of visitors arrived. You can view photos graciously taken and shared by SueAnn Howell with The Catholic News Herald, the Diocese of Charlotte’s newspaper, here. After returning to the North American College for a quick breakfast, we were back on the bus for our first visit to the Congregation for Religious (its abbreviated title). The prefect was not present but Archbishop Joseph Tobin, CSSR, the Secretary was present. The Congregation is very much pro-religious and understands well religious sisters, brothers and priests.
My group went on to the Pontifical Council for the Family but for the first time I absented myself so that Monsignor Morris and I might meet with another Council for a discussion of some plans, which I have for the diocese. Time is getting so short now for us (tomorrow is our last day and most of the morning will be taken up with meeting the Holy Father) that if we need to see someone else, it has to be at the expense of something scheduled for the whole group. I had lunch with an old friend who works in the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments and came home to be subjected to two different interviews, one with Catholic News Service and the second with Vatican Radio. Tonight I am meeting Father Richard Warner, CSC, Superior General of the Congregation of Holy Cross at their worldwide headquarters, hoping and praying for nothing more than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
My feet hurt. Indeed, my feet ache. One does a tremendous amount of walking here in Rome, even if one is bussed to a certain site. For example, yesterday at St. Paul Outside the Walls, the bus parks about a half mile from the sacristy so there is a mile and walking down the hill from the North American College using a moving sidewalk built by the Vatican (which never moves when you wish to use it) is about a mile. I know I have lost several pounds since arriving.
Our meetings continue to go well, some obviously more interesting than others and some better than others. If they are faking and I do not believe that they are, the congregations and councils seem to enjoy these moments. They not only hear some of the things, which are on our minds, but share their concerns as well. To anyone who thinks we are called upon the carpet on these occasions, it just does not happen. They are more of a “love feast.” We serve and love the same Church. I wish more of my diocese would have an occasion to meet here with those whom we are visiting. We pray well together and quickly learn how to pass the butter and jam down a thirty-foot table in the dining room.
Tomorrow we wrap it all up with an audience with the Holy Father, two more meetings, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and then it will be time to pack for the return trip.
Our day began with a visit to the first new Council created by any Pope in probably at least thirty-five years, the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. Pope Benedict XVI established and appointed as the President of the Council, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who made a believer of me in about thirty minutes. His passion for the task, his real world sense of the obstacles which would be met and his methodical approach to the task left me leaving his presence sensing that this man, give time, treasure and support, could make it happen. If we are to spread the Gospel successfully in our time, we must have a plan, which targets our own first, making missionaries of them. Successful at that, then it makes sense to go after those who have left our Church and those who are unbaptized or uncatechised or searching for the one, true Church. The three tools which must be put at the disposal of a successful New Evangelization are formation, homiletics, and lifestyle. We can no longer take for granted that Catholic children even know how to make the sign of the cross, much less understand Jesus as Lord. The delivery systems of the past are not present to the same extent as they once were. The principal moment of catechesis for people who are in Church is the homiletic moment. And what we do as fully committed Catholics for the communities, in which we live, work, pray and play must be welcoming to those to whom we reach out. It was a fast hour and I would wager that my brothers and I left inspired and desirous of now working in our local Churches to make this initiative alive.
Our next stop was at the Congregation for the Clergy and our dialogue there centered on the priests’ relationship with their bishop and questions concerning the permanent (married) diaconate.
We ended up the morning with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith where our own Cardinal William Levada greeted us as Prefect of perhaps the most important congregation in the Curia. It was a pleasure to spend the time listening in our native language of English.
In the afternoon, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami was the principal celebrant and homilist for our Mass at St. Paul Outside the Walls, one of two basilicas where each bishop must visit and offer Mass since it and St. Peter’s are the grave sight of the apostle/martyrs to whose threshold (limina) we have come. You can view photos graciously taken and shared by SueAnn Howell with The Catholic News Herald, the Diocese of Charlotte’s newspaper, here. Monsignor Morris, myself and my six pilgrims then travelled back to the North American College where we sat on the rooftop, which overlooks all of ancient Rome. It was a spectacular evening and sunset. Dinner was at a local neighborhood restaurant and bedtime was early for me as we have to be on that darn bus at 645am in order to celebrate Mass at the Church of St. John Lateran tomorrow morning at 730am. Since I am to be the celebrant and homilist for that liturgy, I need my “beauty” rest!
A famous quote always attributed to Blessed Pope John XXIII was when asked “how many people work at the Vatican?” he responeded, “about half.” Well today is a long work day at the Vatican and we visiting bishops on ad limina participated in the full day’s work. Normally, Monday though Saturday, Vatican offices are open from 8:30am until 1:00pm at which time they close for lunch and the day. However, on Tuesday and Friday, the offices of the Holy See reopen at 4:30pm and remain open until 7:00pm for a total thirty one and one half hour work week. But gosh do they get holidays and holydays and birthdays (at least the Pope’s), anniversaries (at least the Pope’s), and election days (at least the Pope’s)? Last week, Region XIII sat for a day while the Holy See shut down for the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. And by the way, I think that they get paid for fourteen months, not twelve. How did that happen, you might ask? Long ago all Italians started receiving an extra check at Christmas time and another at vacation time from their employer and the Holy See had no choice but to offer the same. They also have something entitled “severance” which accumulates for every year worked and is given at the time of departure from their employment for whatever reason and it is in addition to a pension plan. Please let me be clear that total salaries here are probably on par with the US but divided differently. How did I get off on this tangent anyway?
Ah, now I remember. Our day was supposed to begin with Mass at the Altar above the remains of Blessed John Paul II, now transferred from the crypt of St. Peter’s into the basilica itself. Including the priests travelling with us, precisely at eight a.m. we forty bishops and priests processed solemnly from the sacristy to the altar for Mass. Little did we know that a priest had just taken it upon himself to start Mass at that altar without permission and we heard the few people with him singing the Alleluia before the Gospel as we approached. So long to Mass at the tomb of Blessed John Paul II. Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte, North Carolina was the celebrant and homilist this morning. So what was planned for most of we bishops whom he had appointed and interacted with in so many ways during his pontificate, as an especially poignant moment found us scurrying to the Altar below which the remains of Blessed John XXIII rest. You can view photos graciously taken and shared by SueAnn Howell with The Catholic News Herald, the Diocese of Charlotte’s newspaper, here. Blessed John Paul II’s tomb is at the moment the most visited spot in the Basilica I would say, at least for prayer. More tourists take pictures of Michaelangelo’s “Pieta” just a few feet away but if there is a Hail Mary being prayed, it is more likely at Blessed John Paul II’s tomb and altar. Unlike yesterday’s chapel at the Tomb of St. Peter, this is right out in the middle of the Basilica and even though the church does not open for day-trippers until nine a.m. after the private Masses are concluded, there is still enough traffic near this altar to be aware of it.
From there it was a quick trip to the first of three congregations to be met today and an important one at that, the Congregation for Bishops. This congregation is solely responsible for processing nominations for bishops to serve as ordinaries in dioceses, as auxiliaries in dioceses, and as coadjutor bishops in dioceses (this category means that when the bishop dies or resigns or retires, he is immediately replaced by his coadjutor bishop). It was noted that the very table at which we sat and room in which we met was the “birthing” table on which we bishops were “born.” Now, the Congregation for Bishops is not the only “game in town” when it comes to making recommendations to the Holy Father for his ultimate decision on who gets what or goes where. A large portion of the world considered mission territory has its bishops processed and recommended by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Almost all of Canada, for example, is under the Congregation for Bishops, but parts of the far northwest Canada, like the Yukon Territory remains the province of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. A French-Canadian is presently the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, and he was bishop of Quebec City prior to being brought to Rome for his current responsibilities of Pope Benedict. He spent a goodly amount of time this morning meeting with us and we spoke openly and honestly of things which either concerned or were of interest to us. The Congregation, as you might expect and as I hope you pray for, is interested in receiving from all bishops good, holy, smart, gifted, compassionate, patient, loving, energetic and hardworking candidates. In earlier blogs I have described the process by which bishops are chosen so I will not repeat it here. I enjoyed the conversation with Cardinal Ouellet and the time spent together.
From there we walked to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity nearby. Cardinal Kurt Koch is the President of this Pontifical Council (Congregations are led by Prefects, Councils by Presidents). If there is a more sympatico Council in all of Rome, it has to be this one. It is extremely lonely most of the time out on the ecumenical limb and the Cardinal carries not only the responsibility of being the Holy See’s liaison to Protestant and other Christian religions, but also for Interreligious Relations with the worldwide Jewish population as well as Dialogue with the Orthodox Churches of the world. As a Church it always seems to some that we are doing something offensive or at least insensitive and Cardinal Koch and his staff are our first line of offense to mend broken fences and soothe raw nerves. Most bishops, I suspect, wish we had the time and the talent to be more ecumenically engaged in our dioceses and I know the Council would like this as well. We spoke generally about relationship with Churches, the bi-lateral dialogues which are still taking place between ourselves and some of the Protestant churches, and our continuing desire to strengthen the bridges built with our Jewish sisters and brothers. All in all, a great morning.
The North American College on the hill where I am staying did not begin up here. As a matter of fact this building was constructed on land given by Pope Pius XII following the end of the Second World War. It began under Pope Pius IX downtown very near the Trevi Fountain on via dell umilta (Humility Street – a nice place for those studying for the priesthood). That building is still in use by the College and is used for ordained priests from the United States getting their advanced degrees at Roman Pontifical Universities. Originally a convent for sisters, The Casa Santa Maria now is home to about 60 graduate priests and they invited us for lunch today but I chose to spend time catching up and preparing for the afternoon meeting with the Congregation For Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments for which I am the facilitator.
Our conversations so far with all whom we have met have been cordial to a fault and in some instances quite helpful.
Our first day of “work” started off with Mass at the Tomb of St. Peter at eight o’clock in the morning. You can view photos graciously taken and shared by SueAnn Howell with The Catholic News Herald, the Diocese of Charlotte’s newspaper, here. The altar of St. Peter stands right above what is believed to be the burial place for the first pope. At that time, the Vatican Hill was outside of the city of Rome, on the outskirts as it were, and was the traditional burial place for non-Romans and especially for those convicted and executed for breaking Roman law. After his crucifixion upside-down, Peter’s body was likely dumped into a common gravesite. It was not long before Christian converts in Rome began to come to this site to recall and pray for Peter.
The Emperor Constantine in the third century after his conversion began an excavation to see if it might be possible to locate Peter’s remains. He also began construction on the first Basilica dedicated to the prince of the apostles. Through the years scholars have come to agreement on the site of the burial, the likely place of the body, and parts of the Constantinian basilica remain under the foundations of the present mega-basilica. Interested pilgrims can make arrangements to view the excavations under the present St. Peter’s Basilica and the tour is called the “scavi”. Reservations well in advance are required and there is a fee for the approximately ninety minute tour, many of which are conducted in the afternoons by trained seminarians from the North American College.
The altar where Mass was offered this morning is directly above the excavation site. It is, however, the place to which every bishop in the world returns once every five years to offer one of two required Masses during their ad liminavisits. So our working time in Rome began with Mass at the threshold of the place of Peter’s burial. Archbishop Wilton Gregory is the senior archbishop of the two provinces on this visit and it fell to him to offer the Mass and to preach the homily.
Immediately after Mass, we departed for our first and only curia meeting which was with the Apostolic Signatura. Think Supreme Court! The Signatura is the final court of appeal in Church Law. It hears appeals from decisions of other congregations of the Roman Curia such as the Congregation for Clergy which adjudicates right now the requests of bishops throughout the United States who wish to close a parish or sell a church building for some profane use. It also hears appeals of decisions arrived at in local diocesan marriage tribunals regarding nullity of marriages. One can safely posit that the Signatura is the responsible Vatican body for directing diocesan marriage tribunals throughout the world. A third task of the Signatura is to receive and adjudicate appeals concerning the removal of pastors if the procedure utilized to accomplish this did not conform to the law of the Church. An American cardinal is the head of the Signatura at this time, Cardinal Raymond Burke, originally a priest of the diocese of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and then its bishop, archbishop of St. Louis, and now the “chief justice” of our Church’s highest appeals court. The Cardinal and his principal assistant, the Belgium Bishop Daneels were most hospitable in welcoming us and spoke to and with us for about seventy-five minutes. Unlike the dioceses of the east and Midwest of the United States, our region is more interested in opening parishes to serve a growing population than in closing them so our discussion did not center on Church closures but mostly matrimonial jurisprudence. At the conclusion of this meeting, the province of Miami was free for the rest of the day. The province of Atlanta, however, had their audience with the Holy Father at eleven a.m. and returned to the North American College with a wonderful sense of having trust taken part in something quite wonderful and stimulating.
In the evening, we bishops were invited to a reception at the residence and embassy of the Ambassador of the United States to the Holy See. The current occupant is a long time friend of most of the Florida bishops, Ambassador Miguel Diaz. A Miami native, the ambassador is a graduate of University of Notre Dame with a degree in theology and he taught and was academic dean at our St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary before he left to join the faculty of St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. Appointed by President Obama as his representative to the Holy See, he is completing three full years in a position which is often described as one of the best listening posts in the world. With our far-flung diocesan and parish networks, the Holy See is often well aware of developments in nations before even the local embassies. Ambassador Diaz was most gracious is welcoming us and it was good to see him again.
Tomorrow portends to be a busier day for us and the pesky rain seems to be dissipating making it possible to more easily get out and enjoy this remarkable city. We will see.
Today was “turn-over” day at the North American College as Region XIII left for home and Region XIV arrived en masse. We held our first “organizational meeting” this afternoon and assigned leadership roles to bishops for the meeting this week with the dicasteries of the Holy See (dicasteries is a formal name for “offices”). Offices in the Vatican Structure have an order of importance: Congregations are the most important, followed by Councils, followed by Offices, etc. And within Congregations and Councils there is also a certain “pecking order”: the Secretariat of State is preeminent among the Congregations, followed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, followed by the Congregation of Bishops, and so on. Councils also have the same pecking order, Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, followed by the Pontifical Council for the Laity and so on – more than you ever need or want to know. We will be meeting with a number but not nearly all the Congregations and Councils during the coming week and this afternoon we chose a leader to introduce both our group and our topics, which we assigned to interested bishops.
It has poured rain most the day and the same is predicted for tomorrow, followed by clearing weather for later in the week.
We exchanged money (dollars to Euros – ouch it hurt), talked some more about transportation to the Churches where we will be saying Mass, assigned celebrants and homilists to the Masses throughout the week (I have the honor of being celebrant and homilist at the Basilica of St. John Lateran which is the Pope’s Cathedral in Rome) and attended to other technical details. Tomorrow we start but as I mentioned, the Province of Atlanta has their tete-a-tete with the Holy Father tomorrow morning.
Sundays in Rome are nice days if the weather is favorable. The Holy Father appears exactly at noon from his window in his living room to lead the Regina Coeli, which is the Easter season replacement for the Angelus prayer. He also always adds a brief message and then imparts his blessing. I would say that there were about 10,000 in the Piazza San Pietro at high noon to see and hear him. It always bugs me when we have such hearing problems in our US and diocesan churches with the sound system and this man with his somewhat weak voice can be heard for two miles away. When it comes to sound amplification: Americans 2 – Italians 10.
We had Mass this evening with the seminarians at the North American College at 530pm and Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta was our celebrant and homilist and he is simply superb at both.
Monsignor Morris arrived this morning by way of Miami and Madrid. He had First Communions at his parish of St. Catherine of Sienna on Saturday and was unable to travel with us yesterday. So now my party is complete and the work of the week is about to begin.
To the thresholds of SS. Peter and Paul
Delta delivered us to the threshold of SS. Peter and Paul almost on time this morning. Leaving JFK in New York the captain was almost delirious about what an absolutely glorious day today would be in Rome: seventies, not a cloud in the sky, gentle breezes out of the southeast. As we were bouncing our merry way along Newfoundland, he repeated his weather forecast like Santa Claus on the night before Christmas. Couldn’t see the ground when landing, bumpy on the way down from brisk winds and temps in the low sixties. But we were here, thank God, safe and sound.
I am accompanied on this trip by several of my long time, long suffering staff: Joan Morgan, Chancellor and her husband, Dick; Elizabeth Deptula, Secretary of Diocesan Administration and her husband Stan, Paul Ward, Diocesan Chief Financial Officer and his wife Claudia, and Monsignor Bob Morris, my long-suffering Vicar General. All but the Morgans have been to Rome before so there will be no surprises for them.
The Holy Father this morning met with the bishops from U.S. Region XIII (Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona) to give them the fourth in a series of five talks which means that in all likelihood we will not have a second meeting with him next week. There are fifteen episcopal regions comprising the Church in the United States and Region XV consists of all the eastern and oriental rites, which are in communion with the Holy See – it appears they will get the last word. We also know today upon arrival that the province of Atlanta will meet with the Holy Father on Monday leaving us likely candidates for seeing him on Thursday or Friday. He must be tired of the string of American bishops he has been seeing almost every week since the fall.
Ryan Boyle, our seminarian completing the first of his four years as a student here at the North American College met me at the front door when the car turned in. I have come here so often in my life, found my room number at the front door and just gone right to it that it was a pleasure to have Ryan at my side with the suitcases. He beams when describing his first year here at the College and at the Gregorian where he studies. Himself a graduate of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs; he is no stranger to discipline and good order. We “co-sponsor” Ryan with the Archdiocese of the Military Services and this means that after three years in a parish in the diocese, he will be released to return to the Air Force, this time as a priest-chaplain. I am looking forward to spend some quality time with him this week. He will be joined in late summer by another of our diocesan seminarians, Alex Padilla from Spring Hill (and our first vocation from Bishop McLaughlin High School) so next year we will have two and each will have a brother to share life and experiences with.
The North American College is a monstrous building erected after the close of the Second World War to house the expected increase in American seminarians who would be studying in Rome. Sitting on Vatican owned property directly above St. Peter’s and the Vatican City State, it commands a sweeping view of the city of Rome as well as the Vatican City State. I have often thought what would Conrad Hilton or J.W. Marriott have been willing to give for a spot like this. The almost two-hundred and fifty seminarians living here basically just sleep, study, pray and play here. They walk thirty to forty minutes each day to one of the several Pontifical Universities in city for their education. Oldest among the universities are the Gregorian staffed by the Jesuits, the Angelicum staffed by the Dominicans, the Anselmo staffed by the Benedictines, Holy Cross staffed by Opus Dei, and many others. U.S. seminarians usually attend one of the first two aforementioned. Here at the North American College the staff is comprised mainly of diocesan priests from the United States of America with some religious sisters included. Monsignor James Checchio has served as Rector for about the last seven years and has presided over a major increase in enrollment making the NAC the largest diocesan seminary-training priests for the United States.
One more piece of nonsense. I am writing these words while staying in the “Bishops Larkin and Lynch Suite” at the North American College, a beautiful four room suite looking right at the dome of St. Peter’s. Other “suites” on the hall are devoted to the late Cardinal’s Bernardin of Chicago, Sheehan of Baltimore, Wright of Pittsburg, Hickey of Washington, D.C., and Cooke of New York. What, you might ask, is Lynch doing among the dead cardinals and he is (a) alive and (b) just a lowly bishop?
In 1996 when I was in my first year as bishop, my friend Timothy Michael Dolan was Rector of the North American College. He asked me if I would gather together some people of means from the diocese so he could meet with them and make a plea for money for the North American, which he led. Fool that I was, I quickly agreed and Dolan came to my house for the first time to raise money. That night he left with about $750,000 in pledges and gifts. There was money for a new gymnasium so the men could safely and seriously exercise (c. $200,000), there was money for a new computer lab ($100,000) so the men could write papers, send e-mails etc. which was not possible then from their rooms, there was money for two new vans which could help the seminarians get to and from their apostolic work ($100,000) and finally there was a gift for a new suite of rooms being built on the roof of the college which would house bishops when they were in Rome. The diocesan donor of that gift wanted the suite to be named the Monsignor Timothy M. Dolan Suite but the Chancellor and Chairman of the Board of Directors at the time said it would be unseemly for a sitting rector to have a monument to himself dedicated while still in the Rector’s Chair. So the diocesan donor from St. Petersburg reluctantly gave in and insisted that it be named for Bishops Larkin and myself. So there is my name in marble above the “threshold” just like two others we have come to venerate and recall. If the kids on the block could see me now! My humble home away from home.
Before I even board the airplane tomorrow (Friday, May 4, 2012) to fly to Rome for my Ad Limina Visit, a full report measuring some two inches thick was several months ago forwarded to the Holy See. It is called the “Quinquennial Report” taking its name from the fact that every five years normally each bishop reports on the status of the diocese entrusted to his care. Compiling and preparing these reports is laborious work and all of us should thank Joan Morgan, the Chancellor of the Diocese, and Deacon Rick Wells, the Vice-Chancellor, for their efforts. I thought you might be interested in seeing a snapshot of what has at least statistically happened in the diocese since the last report. The information which follows is from January 1, 2004 through December 31, 2010:
|Catholics in Diocese||398,702||425,610||+7%|
|Ordinations to Priesthood||9||12||+33%|
|Ordinations to Permanent Diaconate||1||19||+1900%|
|Catholic Schools/Centers (52)||12,678||11,528||-9%|
Within the diocese:
|Number of abortions||11,562||10,824||-6%|
|The Sunday Mass Average was about 32% of the total Catholic Population|
|The ratio of priests to Catholic Faithful was about 1:1,428|
This is nothing more than a statistical snapshot of the diocese at the end of 2010 but it does contain both good news (for example, vocations/seminarians), as well as bad news (the decline in the number of Catholic weddings, baptisms, etc.). It was interesting that yesterday, data drawn from the 2010 census showed that nationally there were 5 million less Catholics (a three percent decline) yet we know that the number of Hispanic Catholics in the country is rising exponentially and this diocese is ill prepared to deal with this reality at this moment in time.
I hope you found the above interesting. As I mentioned, I will be blogging every day from Rome for the next week but I will not be sharing all the details of conversations held which I know will disappoint some of my readership. To do so would be unfair to my colleagues, the other bishops who will share the meetings with me as well as our hosts. Nonetheless, I think I can manage to give you a sense or feel of my time there or at least I will try to do so. So until the first report from Rome on Saturday, it is ciao for now!