Posts Tagged ‘Pope Benedict XVI’


Tuesday, February 11th, 2014
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

One year ago this morning I awakened to the startling news that our Holy Father, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had announced he would be relinquishing the papacy later in the month, stating that he felt no longer able to lead it as he thought the Lord might wish with failing health and diminishing stamina.

That action I described at the time was humbling, admirable, and one more jewel in his personal diadem stemming from his love for and service to Christ’s church.

After all the television interviews that day and meeting with the few local journalists scrambling to write a story, I “retired” to my residence and began to feel some personal sense of sorrow and loss that this good man would soon be exiting the world stage.

On his last day as successor of St. Peter, I was deeply moved when in a meeting with the hastily gathered College of Cardinals, Pope Benedict said that he was aware that his successor was likely sitting in front of him in the room, but he promised nothing but prayers and support for whomever might be elected to succeed him. Then, there was that final helicopter flight to Castel Gondolfo, the final appearance in the window there and then the closing shut of the doors on a life and a papacy.

I loved Pope Benedict for many of the reasons I have detailed here in the past and particularly a year ago. I knew we would likely not see him again in any public fashion and that he would never be a thorn of any kind in the side of his successor, despite the hundreds of articles written implying two living popes is a recipe for disaster.

Benedict (aka Josef Ratzinger) has admirably and predictably lived up to his promises. Were this not the anniversary day of his resignation, there would be  no need of me writing an article of any type. My personal experience (one more time) was that of a great listener, a brilliant mind, a loving and understanding pastor, a clear teacher and professor of the faith, and a man who from the “gitgo” was always willing to sacrifice his personal hopes and dreams for service to the Church. I have no doubt that historians will be kinder than contemporaries. But for this moment, join me in praying for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who set the stage for his successor to command.



Tuesday, February 26th, 2013
Pope Benedict XVI at his last general audience on February 27, 2013. Photo credit: Facebook page.

Pope Benedict XVI at his last general audience on February 27, 2013. Photo credit: Facebook page. Read the full text of his last general audience by clicking here.

I suppose almost everyone expects that bishops will “fall into line” and always praise popes. As I have mentioned before in this space, if I had a serious difference of opinion, I am certain that I would not rush to publicize it. When a subordinate criticizes his leader, he or she almost always weakens their own authority. Additionally, as I have mentioned here before, prior to our ordination as bishops we take a special oath of fidelity to the Holy Father and his successors in office. Usually papal transitions take place in the context of death, conclave, election and the beginning of a new chapter in the two thousand years plus of Church history. After the funeral and its concomitant outpouring of affection for the deceased Holy Father, all the critics come out to analyze his performance in office and the state of the Church which he left. We have no experience of how to behave when a pope resigns his office, remains alive, recedes into the shadows for prayer, meditation and reflection, and leaves everything to his elected successor. I hope the Church will be kind to Pope Benedict who on Thursday at 2pm EST will cease being the bishop of Rome and successor of St. Peter. He did not wish the job in the first place but humbly accepted it, probably not expecting to live long enough to watch his physical stamina take its slow leave of him.

But assume the position he did and he exercised his office with far more patience, love and tenderness than his critics eight years ago expected of him. I would say that he should be well-remembered for his work in bridging the gap between the long pontificate of Blessed John Paul II and whomever the Holy Spirit and the Cardinal-electors choose to succeed Benedict. His two encyclical letters are stunning, not just because of their theological insight, but because they address convincingly issues of charity and justice and peace. Eight years and a few weeks ago when the Catholic world was thinking still of the pontificate of Blessed John Paul II, his written legacy was one of long, most of the time challenging to comprehend encyclical letters. Benedict’s encyclicals were shorter, much easier applied to life and living, and challenging to one who wishes to live a fuller Christian life. In this case, the theologian probably bested the philosopher though Pope Benedict would be too humble to claim such. Think for a moment on the long series of Wednesday audience talks on what would come to be called Pope John Paul II’s “theology of the body.” In Benedict’s first encyclical letter, he succinctly and clearly spoke of human love in a few pages.

As I have said many times since the announcement of his resignation, his three volume series on Jesus of Nazareth will be on the bookshelves of preachers for a long time to come. His treatment of the “resurrected body” of Jesus opened my mind and answered questions which I have long thought of, like how does one enter a locked room by coming through the walls. That insight alone makes death even less to be feared. His talks in the United States and England during pastoral visits were very clear, well-done and educational and instructive. He managed to weave the thread of both faith and reason in a manner in which the secular world was largely unable to challenge. So what was the difference between the two popes: one was a phenomenologist by education who had the time to think and write while the other was a professor who had only so many minutes to teach his class in a manner in which the students could “get it.” There is room in the Church and the world for both.

Pope Benedict was neither grim nor humorless as some would have us believe. I remember one occasion when Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk was president of our Conference and Archbishop Keeler was Vice-President. We had our standard one hour meeting with the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith to raise issues of concern to the bishops of the United States and to listen to the concerns of the Congregation about something that they understood was happening or had happened in the U.S. At the end of the agenda, Cardinal Ratzinger noting the time and the fact that we had completed our working agenda asked if there was anything else which anyone wished to bring up before adjourning. The Secretary of the Congregation at the time, Archbishop Alberto Bovone, asked for the floor and asked this question of our President, Archbishop Pilarczyk. “Excuse me, Your Excellency, but would you know how many internal forum solutions to marriage are given in the United States?” Looking unusually perplexed, Archbishop Pilarczyk responded, “By their very nature, Archbishop, there should be no way of knowing how many internal forum solutions are given in our country!” The room broke into laughter, led by Cardinal Ratzinger who quickly said, “Basta” or Italian for “enough.” If an internal forum solution to a marriage is given by a priest to a penitent, it is done within the seal of confession and is afforded the same level of secrecy as the confession of a sin.

The Cardinal lived in the same apartment building outside Vatican City as Cardinal Pio Laghi, formerly Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America. On one occasion I entered the building elevator with Cardinal Ratzinger, who was returning from lunch to the office wearing his black beret and simple black cassock. “How is your visit to the Holy See progressing, Monsignor?” he asked, beginning a short but delightful conversation. Even as Pope, his humility was always evident.

So the history book on the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI ends tomorrow at two p.m. I think history will be kinder to him than some contemporary commentators. He did more than keep the chair of Peter warm for a successor, he gave it his all. I see that the PEW Research people have found that more than three-quarters of American Catholics have generally good feelings about him, not as high as his predecessor’s 90% plus approval rating, but then Benedict never set out to win a popularity contest, just to be a good shepherd of God’s people. I likely shall not write about him again, but if I were at the heliport tomorrow night at 5pm Rome time, I would be crying, I am sure. Nobody is perfect but Pope Benedict XVI in my eyes is about as good as it gets.



Monday, February 11th, 2013
with Pope Benedict XVI at the Ad Limina visit in May 2012. Photo credit: Servizio Fotografico de "L.O.R" Cita del Vaticano.

With Pope Benedict XVI at the Ad Limina visit in May 2012. Photo credit: Servizio Fotografico de “L.O.R” Cita del Vaticano.

Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation this morning and will be leaving the Petrine office on February 28, 2013. I arrived at the office today with the parking lot full of television trucks and a room full of reporters. I began with a brief statement which you can read by clicking here, knowing that the media gathered was likely looking for some hint of controversy or some deep, dark secret as to the “real” reason. For the full audio of the press conference, recorded by our Catholic radio station Spirit FM 90.5, please click here. I also knew I would have a better opportunity to share what I believe to be the truth here in this blog.

I believe the Holy Father has served the Church incredibly well throughout his entire life. Brilliant, patient and pastoral as priest, bishop, cardinal-prefect and pope, he has given his unique gifts to the Church and we have been enriched by them for many years prior to his election as the successor to St. Peter. He loves the Church and the Church should love him as he exits “stage right” to spend what time he has left in prayer, reflection, and hopefully writing. Ever the superb teacher, I would hope that there might be enough energy left in the man to continue to open the worlds of theology and scripture to us as he has done so beautifully with his three books on Jesus of Nazareth.

Seventy-eight years old when called to the chair of Peter as bishop of Rome, he summoned forth enormous personal energy to lead us for eight years. No one who has been in his presence, as I have had the privilege of being, could be anything but happy that his desire to withdraw from the physical, mental and emotional demands of the office have led him in his 85th year to wish to relinquish the office and all its demands. Wishing to spare us anything resembling a “death watch” and sensing that he has done what God has asked of him, he has given the Church one last gift. And, as I mentioned during the press conference, it should not have been a surprise to anyone. He said several times he would resign if he felt no longer able to lead the Church as God might wish of him or as he personally wished. Most all Popes today are selfless servants of the Gospel. Believe it or not, they live simply. There is no “rush” derived from the exercise of power and most dread the demands of administration. If elected, they must choose to serve, and if they choose to serve, they must sacrifice so many things that we hold important in our daily lives.

Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict are entirely different but I believe that the latter has survived very nicely any comparison to the former. They were good friends and held each other in esteem. Benedict did not try to be John Paul because it would not have worked. Comfortable in his own skin, Pope Benedict XVI led the faithful according to the mandate given to Peter by Christ and came to serve and not to be served. He has been a wonderful leader who has often been wounded by the actions of a few which have called into doubt the relevancy and credibility of the Church. Let me add here, knowing that this will upset some of his critics, that the bishops of this country and of the world have had no greater friend in addressing the issue of sexual misconduct than Josef Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. He got it early on and knew what was required for the ultimate purification of the Church.

Popes mean a lot to bishops. We recognize them as the supreme heads of our family of Roman Catholic Christianity. We wish to assist them in spreading the Gospel and shepherding Christ’s church. We do not wish to become simply another problem to them and we take an oath of loyalty to them. I have always admired and esteemed Pope Benedict, before and after his election. He was generally easy to serve, support and admire. I will miss him as will many other people in the Church and I wish him well in his final years, happy to have been in his service and the Lord’s when this humble successor of St. Peter decided to step aside and let another succeed to the throne which is really a cross.

Thank you, Pope Benedict, and may God give you strength and health for the remaining part of your earthly pilgrimage.



Friday, August 17th, 2012

There is little to be said for getting old, as I am sure many people my age would admit, and one of the challenges of aging while remaining in position is saying farewell to esteemed and great friends. Recently it was announced that Pope Benedict XVI had accepted the resignation of Bishop Donald W. Trautman as bishop of Erie, Pennsylvania, and had named his successor. I have long admired Bishop Trautman for reasons I will offer in a few moments but in a sense we grew up together in the episcopal conference and he is one more person of my generation to be moving on. For him I am happy, but for our Church a strong and brave vote for the continuing implementation of the vision of the Second Vatican Council will be lost (but perhaps not the voice).

For those readers who do not know Bishop Trautman, a few facts may be helpful in understanding my sense of passing with his retirement. Post-ordination, graduate degrees in the Church are not easily gained. They require intellect, hard work, dedication and study, sometimes even exceeding secular degrees at our major universities. Bishop Trautman has one of those degrees which is extremely challenging, a Licentiate in Sacred Scripture (SSL) which has such strict requirements for facility in the biblical languages that few American priests pursue it. After gaining that degree, he also studied for and received a doctorate in sacred theology (STD). Early in his priesthood, he put that background at the service of the Church of Buffalo for which he was ordained by teaching in the seminary. Upon becoming a bishop, our conference twice elected him as chairman of the Liturgy Committee (generally regarded then and now as a “death wish”) and once as chairman of the Committee on Doctrine. In other words, on three occasions, the body of bishops of the United States turned to Bishop Trautman to lead us through difficult moments. Not as well known but equally important has been his service as official episcopal liaison to the Diocesan Fiscal Managers Conference where he has also been a strong voice for transparency, accountability and procedures which will safeguard against fraud and embezzlement.

But it is precisely in his love for the liturgy that I love this man. His was the liturgy committee which in the mid-nineties convinced the body of bishops with only thirty-three in the negative to adopt a new ICEL English Translation of the Roman Missal. That translation was a 100% improvement on that which we had used right up through the Solemnity of Christ the King last year, elegant, understandable, prayable (I know, a new word). Some in the minority appealed to Rome and we know the rest of the story. As General Secretary of the then NCCB (now the USCCB), I accompanied Bishop Trautman and others on his Committee to the Congregation for Divine Worship to make the strongest case for gender sensitive (aka “inclusive”) language only to have him treated very shabbily by an American Jesuit either still in or just finished graduate education at Rome’s Gregorian University. That was an awful moment that the bishop took far better than I did. In the so-called “liturgy wars” that marked the USCCB’s decade from 1999-2009, Bishop Trautman was on the floor often asking his brothers for prayers that could be recited in one breath, understood in one moment, and vocabulary choice which had one clear meaning for the listener. He knew by then he was fighting a lost cause but his voice was not to be stilled. Like that proverbial dog with a bone in his teeth, this lion of the liturgy soldiers on, even today. Happily for some of the rest of us, his voice can still be heard in future discussions, even though his vote has now been lost.

As most of you know, with the exception of one year (1995), I have been associated with the episcopal conference of the United States as either principal staff or member since 1984, soon to be thirty years. It is sad for me to see my living heroes like Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, Bishop Anthony Pilla, Cardinal William Keeler, and Bishop Donald Trautman leave the stage of our national ecclesial theatre. That does not mean that Christ’s church is in any danger for the younger generation of bishops will also leave their mark and it is Christ’s church and not mine or my like-minded friends. But to Bishop Trautman I wish through this blog to say “thanks for the memories” of battles fought and both won and lost. You have been and will continue to be a “gift” to the Church in this country. Enjoy the rest from your labors that is rightly yours.



Sunday, May 13th, 2012

Each bishop was allowed to bring one priest or seminarian in for a photo-op. Since our seminarian Ryan Boyle had accompanied Archbishop Timothy Broglio a few months ago, I asked my right and left arm, Monsignor Robert Morris, to accompany me. Photo purchased from L'Osservatore Romano.


The bishops and bishop-elect of the province of Miami meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. Photo purchased from L'Osservatore Romano.



Sunday, May 13th, 2012

Obviously back safely, and as promised, here are some pictures from Friday morning.

Photo purchased from L'Osservatore Romano.


Photo purchased from L'Osservatore Romano.


The province of Miami bishops and bishop-elect with Pope Benedict XVI. Photo purchased from L'Osservatore Romano.




Friday, May 11th, 2012


Monsignor Robert Morris and I in the Cortille San Damaso awaiting the audience with the Holy Father

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.

The pectoral cross given to us by Pope Benedict XVI today

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, 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.

AD LIMINA APOSTOLORUM – DAY FIVE, Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

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.

Mass at the Altar of the Chair, St. Paul Outside the Walls, Photo kindness of Ryan Boyle

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!




Monday, May 7th, 2012

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.

Opening Mass at the North American College celebrated by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta - photo kindness of Ryan Boyle

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.



AD LIMINA APOSTOLORUM – Day One – Saturday, May 5, 2012

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

To the thresholds of SS. Peter and Paul

One does not have to be a dead pope to find one's name inscribed in marble in Rome - the story of this follows in the post

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.

The view of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica from the screen-end porch of the "Bishops Lynch-Larkin Suite"

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?

The living/dining area of the "Bishops Larkin-Lynch" Suite

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.