Posts Tagged ‘seminarian’

THE OLD MAN AND THE SEMS

Friday, October 28th, 2016

I spent a few days in Rome this week, attempting to take care of a couple of matters as well as claim some personal belongings which I have stored there for twenty one years, viz., a cassock which I only wear when I am in the presence of the Holy Father.

From the General Audience on October 26. Photo credit: L'Osservatore Romano

From the General Audience on October 26. Photo credit: L’Osservatore Romano

We also have four men studying in Rome at the present time, Joshua Bertrand and Ralph D’Elia, III at the North American College (preparing for ordination to the priesthood) and Fathers Victor Amorose and Alex Padilla, who are working on advanced degrees. Last Saturday was a “quiet day”, free of other obligations, and the two seminarians and I spent about eleven hours together, mostly just talking.

Seminarians Ralph D'Elia III on left and Josh Bertrand on right.

Seminarians Ralph D’Elia III on left and Josh Bertrand on right.

At one point I mentioned that an American bishop had delivered a talk within the last two days in which he publicly embraced a position that it might be good for the Church to clear its membership rolls of many people and perhaps start to rebuild the Church from a smaller core of a more orthodox, committed few.  I told the men that this was a largely unspoken and unpublished concept that had silently and secretly emerged in the late eighties and nineties, emanating from some US bishops serving in Rome. Now it seemed to me that the strategy was finally publicly articulated. I also told them that I was appalled then when  I first heard of it decades ago and am even more so now because it would seem to me to be  a rejection of the pastoral vision of Pope Francis which I find so challenging and exciting.

For the next hour, these two “yearlings” led me on a journey through constructing an approach to guiding the Church through the coming epoch of its existence. “Epoch” was an important word for them because they felt that the world, not just the world but also including the Church, was at the end of one cultural epoch and beginning another.

One asked me if I had read the Holy Father’s talk to the Church of Italy given in Florence on November 14, 2015. He then retraced for me this Pope’s vision for how the Church is to survive this epochal change. At its center must be Jesus, always Jesus, but not only the Jesus of rules, regulations and judgments, but even more so the Jesus of accompaniment, discernment, and discussion.”It can be said that today we do not live in an age of change but in a change of age. Therefore the situations we are living in today pose new challenges which for us at times are difficult to understand. Our times require that we live problems as challenges and not as obstacles: the Lord is active and at work in the world. Therefore you must go out to the streets and to the crossroads; call all those you find; exclude no one. (Cf Matthew 22.9) Above all, accompany the one who remained at the side of the street. The lame, the maimed, the blind, the dumb (Matthew 15.30). Where ever you are, never build walls or borders, but squares and field hospitals.” Pope Francis, Florence address to leaders of the Italian Church.

I knew the minute the seminarian opened the conversation that here was an answer to the “purity of the Church” protestors within our ecclesial community. If the Church is to sustain membership with the new children of the present, enormous cultural shift, it cannot continue to do so with casting aside those members who may not be perfect, but to present them with a Christ far more loving, patient, kind, supple and flexible when possible. In other words what God has given us are precisely those to whom we must pronounce the Gospel of Joy.  These two men said that they looked forward to the challenge of the new era, they were not afraid, thanks to Pope Francis. Earlier this week, the Holy Father in his morning homilies at daily Mass had positioned a full scale attack on rigidity, especially legalism proposed in some quarters by Church leadership.

So there is little to be gained and lots to be lost by continuing to fight cultural battles in an evolving culture with worn out logic and words that today’s younger Catholic membership does not wish to hear or rejects outright. We will be far more attractive to the future generations by not pursuing a pastoral approach that is angry at those who do not “buy the whole package” but still wish to belong to a community which evinces Christ’s compassion and understanding of the moment. Will we still teach sin and forgiveness? You betcha! But if you are a believer in the inspiration which is Pope Francis, then you do so always with his openness to those who may not get it, in sum or parts, but who also wish to make Christ present in the world. Be glad there is some fruit on the tree still! Read the Holy Father’s full talk in Florence by clicking here.

So as I enter the remaining months of my leadership of the local Church of St. Petersburg I do so with the knowledge that almost all of my seminarians are not pursuing priesthood for respectability, ambition, power and influence but to be comfortable with a pastoral strategy that makes sense in a changing world and culture. The teacher last Saturday sat at the foot of his disciples last and then shared a peek at what most excites them about being a priest in the next epoch. Ralph D’Elia before retiring for the night, found the Florence talk of Pope Francis and I read it substituting the words “United States of America” for “Italy” wherever it appears. Try it, you might like it. Saturday brought me a lot of joy, peace and contentment, not doom and gloom. The very best things I bequeath to my successor are the future priests he will ordain for your service and that of the Lord.

I touch down in Atlanta in five hours now and my thoughts turn again to Father Michael Morris, whom I will bury tomorrow in Dallas. I would love to share with you the comments and responses which people have sent since the previous blog appeared. They are from people who knew him and loved him and in many cases whose lives were changed because of him. May he rest in peace! Finally to the fearsome-less foursome in Rome, thanks for the memories.

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SUNDAY, SUNDAY

Monday, October 5th, 2015

IMG_1872I left Rome on Saturday to return to the diocese, mostly without interruption at least until the Christmas holidays. The “Roman Holiday” was not much of a holiday as I arrived in the Eternal City at 900 am on Wednesday and left at noon on Saturday – three days and three hours. The purpose of the trip was wonderful in that for the second year in a row one of our seminarians was ordained to the transitional diaconate, meaning that I will have the privilege of ordaining him to the priesthood this coming May. Alex Padilla, like Father Ryan Boyle who was ordained last year, has attended the Pontifical North American College for three years. During that time his studies have been at the Gregorian University (the Jesuits) and his formation at the North American College (NAC hereafter). He is among 270 seminarians enrolled this year at this seminary.

Alex is one of two early vocations coming from the diocese’s newest high school, Bishop McLaughlin in Spring Hill (well, really Hudson for everyone except the Post Office). Rajeev Phillip is the second vocation and he also is studying in Rome but for the Syro-Malabar Rite whose origin and strength is to be found in Southern India. His diocesan headquarters is in Chicago and there are two Syro-Malabar parishes located in Tampa so perhaps good fortune will bring Rajeev back to minister in his home area. Both McLaughlin graduates are outstanding candidates for the priesthood.

Alex was ordained a deacon on Thursday morning at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica by Timothy Cardinal Dolan along with thirty-eight other men. Twelve of his classmates were ordained deacons during the summer months in their own dioceses and by their own bishops. While his mother and father and brother were able to be present, only one other cousin who lives in Germany, and one other classmate from his days as a college seminarian at St. John Vianney were able to be present as well.

His rector from his days at St. John Vianney in Miami, Monsignor Roberto Garza, vested him in his diaconal robes during the ceremony, and his coach and mentor from Bishop McLaughin, Michael Zelenka, now principal at Incarnation Elementary School in Tampa, and I were able to be present.

Cardinal Dolan gave one of the finest homilies prior to the actual ordination ceremony itself I have ever heard. The ordination was lovely and the opportunity  to spend time with an ordinand and his family was special for myself as well.

On Friday and Saturday, the nine U.S. bishops who will be participating in the Synod on the Family, which began with a prayer service on Saturday night, arrived for their three hard weeks of work on a church event which, save for the Second Vatican Council, has captured the attention of the Catholic world. You may recall that almost two years ago I invited all of my diocesan family to complete a questionnaire on marriage and family life in the Church and world today.

More than 9,000 of you responded with a large majority asking for some type of relief for the divorced and remarried while maintaining the essential teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. You also spoke your minds and hearts in that survey about same-sex marriage, welcoming gay and lesbian Catholics back into the family if they felt estranged, cohabitation and many other matters.

I shared the results of the survey with all of you, even though I think I was not supposed to do that. That survey and its findings were sent to the Synod Office in Rome which prepared the working structure for both last year’s extraordinary Synod which led up to what starts tonight with a prayer vigil with the Pope in St. Peter’s Square and a Mass tomorrow morning. Then the “rubber will hit the road”. My suspicion is that there is sufficient division among the attending Synod members to bring about major change, but the Holy Father might well. He listens carefully and intently to what he hears, both the majority opinions and the minority opinions. If the minority has a point, whereas in the past it would never see the light of day at the conclusion of the Synod, he has minority opinions noted publicly and occasionally as he sees pastorally fit, useful and or necessary he implements some of the things he hears.

This man is not afraid of conflict. He has asked the Synod Fathers to speak the truth of their hearts and minds in love and to bear in mind that there is always “Peter” to make the final decisions. It is going to be an interesting and invigorating three weeks as the Francis wind continues to breeze through the Church and it could get seemingly ugly but I ask you “be not afraid” as the Holy Spirit is guiding us now as we seek to speak to the modern world. Keep your eye on this space during these three weeks for thoughts.

Congratulations Deacon Alex. As wonderful as Thursday was, May 21, 2016 will be even more joyous as a grateful church of St. Petersburg welcomes you, Bradley Reed, Jonathan Stephanz, Kevin Yarnell, and Felipe Gonzalez to the sacred priesthood.

Also, please pray for all your priests who will be spending three days together this week in a special, mandatory convocation to reflect on what we have accomplished as a local church in the last two decades and what we would like to see shape a vision that we can share with the next shepherd of this great diocese.

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FUTURE NOW

Friday, March 21st, 2014

It has been my custom all these years to visit our two seminaries annually and when I can manage it, our seminarians also studying in Rome at the North American College and outside of Boston at St. John XXIII National Seminary (n.b.: I know, I am anticipating!).

Last year the seminary visitation was not necessary because we were all together for the extraordinary trip to the Holy Land during the New Year’s break from their studies. And, while my presence is needed twice a year at both Florida seminaries for meetings of the Board of Trustees, it is never possible to spend any quality time with the seminarians or those responsible for their formation on those occasions.

So, last week I resumed the custom again and visited St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach where our men spend their last five years of study and formation and St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami where they complete their college studies or pre-theology.

With our seminarians at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami. (First row, left to right): Alec DeDios, Anthony Astrab, Connor Penn, Patrick Lambert, Chris Grevenites, Manny Gozo, Ralph D'Elia. (Second row, left to right): Fr. Carl Melchior, Joshua Bertrand, Drew Woodke, Billy Augensen, myself, Msgr. John Cippel, Joshua Hare, Mark Yarnold

With our seminarians at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami. (First row, left to right): Alec DeDios, Anthony Astrab, Connor Penn, Patrick Lambert, Chris Grevenites, Manny Gozo, Ralph D’Elia. (Second row, left to right): Fr. Carl Melchior, Joshua Bertrand, Drew Woodke, Billy Augensen, myself, Msgr. John Cippel, Joshua Hare, Mark Yarnold

 

At the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. (First row, left to right: Msgr. Mike Muhr, myself, Father Carl Melchior, Deacon Jonathan Emery. (Second row, left to right): Elixavier Castro, Kyle Bell, Dan Angel, Deacon Kyle Smith, Tim Williford, Jackson Reeves. (Third row, left to right): Anthony Ustick, Chuck Dornquast, Curtis Carro, Lou Turcotte, Bill Santhouse, Deacon Brian Fabiszewski

At the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. (First row, left to right: Msgr. Mike Muhr, myself, Father Carl Melchior, Deacon Jonathan Emery. (Second row, left to right): Elixavier Castro, Kyle Bell, Dan Angel, Deacon Kyle Smith, Tim Williford, Jackson Reeves. (Third row, left to right): Anthony Ustick, Chuck Dornquast, Curtis Carro, Lou Turcotte, Bill Santhouse, Deacon Brian Fabiszewski

Our medium size diocese has been generous for some time in lending both seminaries some great priests for the faculty and for Spiritual Direction. As strapped as we are for priests, it only makes sense to most of us that we invest in the quality, education, spiritual and pastoral formation of our future priests. Currently both the Rector/President of St. Vincent de Paul (Monsignor David Toups) and the Spiritual Director of the same (Monsignor Michael Muhr) are from the St. Petersburg Diocese.

When two years ago, the Archdiocese of Miami was unable to provide a sufficient number of in-house priest spiritual directors, I asked Monsignor John Cippel, who had been retired from administrative duty for a few years, if he would pitch in and help by going to and living at St. John Vianney for two years as Spiritual Director (something he had previously done at St. Vincent de Paul before becoming pastor of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Spring Hill in 1995). He is completing those two years of heroic service and wishes to return to our area to continue his amazing retirement activity.

I mention this because I am aware that last week Father Arthur Proulx, pastor for eleven years at Nativity in Brandon, announced that he would be leaving that parish to begin a term of service as a Spiritual Director at St. John Vianney in Miami. I have already heard about the pain that announcement and the decision which preceded it has brought to many at Nativity. I understand it and acknowledge that it springs from great respect and appreciation which is held for Father Proulx.

But we have fourteen men at St. John Vianney in pre-theology and college and Miami (which owns and operates the seminary and promised when St. Vincent de Paul Seminary became provincially owned by all the Florida dioceses that it would cover the cost and staffing of the college) still has no one to provide at this time. If you sat where I sit, you would not stand idle either and deprive not just our men, but others in the 85 student strong resident college seminary community of spiritual direction during a very important part of their lives. The parishioners of Christ the King understand this, in their heart and from experience. They gave up both Monsignors Muhr and Toups to the seminary with the fond hope that young men being ordained would come back better for having these two guides and examples during their formation.

I have an opportunity on these visits to have some private moments with each seminarian. They share with me their joys as well as their trials and readily provide me with an insight as to how they are doing in their pursuit of understanding better God’s call in terms of their own vocation. Believe me, dear reader, it is not easy in today’s world to give up the love of a potential wife and the attraction of another profession. Some of our pre-theologians hold degrees in engineering from UF or FSU or UCF and USF to name a few. They once dreamed of something else and then felt this calling from the Lord, which they will test out right up until the moment of their ordination. I admire them so deeply and firmly believe that without exception you would be honored to have any of them as your sons and we will be honored, please God, to have them some day as our brothers in the priesthood.

They care for one another very well also. Our men, on their own, make it their personal duty to weekly pray together, share their life experience over the past week with their peers, and fairly regularly to recreate together. They are already a “band of brothers” and this augurs well for the future of ministry in this diocese. Priests today and more so since the sexual abuse crisis of the last decade need to support one another. Almost without exception I find them devoid of clericalism and in the seminary because they feel called by the Lord to serve His people and not themselves. They know how to gently “needle” one another but never in a manner or way that hurts someone else. In fact, at the dinner which I have with them during these visits, they can be quite fun. I don’t remember during my seminary days of ever being as open, unthreatened and casual with my bishop at the time. In the end, however, they are very respectful of authority and genuinely understand its place in the Church.

Before I leave both seminaries we celebrate the Eucharist together and it is then when I see their deep commitment to prayer. I pray that the men are learning that it is what they do after ordination as priests at Eucharist and not what they wear that is important. I pray that they will come to appreciate that the greatest privilege that can be accorded any priest is to be truly and genuinely called “Father” and not to worry about other honors, privileges and distinctions. I pray that they will understand that if they have truly become whom they have received in the Eucharist, they will yearn to walk out of that chapel or any Church like Jesus would and serve the poor, battle societal injustice, call to serve both women and men in our parishes, embrace the great gifts of women to serve in any and all ministries and offices open to them, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Yes, it is a tall order but something tells me that the men I spent time with last week will not repeat the mistakes of my generation and will serve the Lord with genuine gladness, sacrifice and dedication.

They are the future, now!

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FIFTY YEARS AND COUNTING

Saturday, September 28th, 2013
Most of the St.Petersburg diocese seminarians in the chapel following the anniversary Mass. Remember we have two men studying in Rome and one outside of Boston and we were unable to locate several other men for the picture.

Most of the St.Petersburg diocese seminarians in the chapel following the anniversary Mass. Remember we have two men studying in Rome and one outside of Boston and we were unable to locate several other men for the picture.

Recently Pope Francis in speaking to what we old-timer bishops call the “baby bishops gathering” (translated that means all new bishops created in the previous twelve months who gather in September in Rome for a week of instruction on how to be a bishop) suggested to them that they spend more time in their dioceses and less time at the airport. Good pastoral advice which I especially need to take to heart.

But, for the next three days no one will find me at the airport but rather on AMTRAK once again heading to South Florida for the twice a year meetings of the seminary board of trustees for both St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and the Regional Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul in Boynton Beach. To save time and travel money, we also add a half day meeting of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops. This leaves practically no time to visit with our diocesan seminarians so I make a third trip to each seminary later in the year to interview, encourage, and hopefully assist each of our seminarians individually. All trips to south Florida are on AMTRAK which is cheap, comfortable, usually always late, and different.

This week, however, there is an additional reason to be proud of one of our seminaries, St. Vincent de Paul, which is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of its founding. It has an interesting history for a still young institution. It was built originally as a seminary for the Congregation of Missions or as they are better known, the Vincentian fathers. St. Vincent de Paul whose name is appropriately assigned to magnificent works of charity throughout the US also had as a priority of his nascent religious order the formation and education of priests. In 1959, one year after the establishment and creation of the Diocese of Miami, they responded in the affirmative to a request from Miami’s first bishop, Coleman F. Carroll to begin a six year seminary program on property in southwest Miami, part of a 95 acre track of land purchased years previously by Archbishop Joseph P. Hurley, bishop of St. Augustine. As soon as three buildings and a swimming pool were completed, the Vincentians opened a high school and first two years of college seminary program .

At roughly the same time, this same province of Vincentian Fathers was given by Bishop Carroll a larger tract of land in Palm Beach county (also purchased by Archbishop Hurley of St. Augustine), over 100 acres in Boynton Beach, so far west in the county that at the time it seemed to many to be in the middle of the Everglades. Here they were to open what they envisioned as a Philosophy/ Theology seminary for their own seminarians as well as those of any other diocese which might choose to send their men there. The Vincentians were already running seminaries of this nature in St. Louis, Seattle, Denver, near Allentown, PA, Los Angeles and in the post war period there were more than enough vocations to consider opening new houses of formation. So in 1963 St. Vincent de Paul Seminary opened its doors on Military Trail in Boynton Beach and welcomed its first class. The Vincentians used an architect from Albany, New York (their provincial headquarters was near Albany) who designed a series of buildings having never been to Florida. All he knew was that it was hot in Florida and he had a collection of postcards of motels along A1A on our state’s east coast to guide him in his design. Thus the student and faculty wings all looked like motel units BUT the bathrooms could only be accessed by walking outside to a common area and no one told this poor architect that even in Florida it can get quite cold at night from December through March.

Those motel like wings of which I write/

Those motel like wings of which I write/

The seminary did well from the start with student enrollment and a faculty largely consisting of Vincentian priests and a few diocesan adjunct professors. Note that the seminary opened its doors at precisely the same moment as the universal church opened the Second Vatican Council. Later it was thought by the archbishop that some things had gotten a little out of control at the seminary; the rector and one or two other priests left to get married so by then Archbishop ColemanF. Carroll (Miami was made an archdiocese in  1968) got quite nervous about the seminary and told the Vincentians that they had to give it to him, free, no exchange of money. They rightly refused claiming it was their money that built the seminary in the first place. That did not dissuade Archbishop Carroll (he was a man who did not take “no” to his wishes well) who went to Rome and basically asked for permission to confiscate [the kindest verb I could come up with] the seminary (the Vincentians to this day would say “steal the seminary”), and assume responsibility for its operation and staff. The Vincentians withdrew and a new cadre of priests from the Archdiocese of Miami began to be trained to take their place. A priest from Boston, Monsignor John O’Connor was brought in to be the first non-Vincentian Rector, then a Dominican, Father Urban Voll who is still alive today, then the first Miami priest to serve as Rector/President, Bishop Felipe deJesus Estevez in 1980. Father Joseph Cunningham from Brooklyn, Father Arthur Bendixen from Orlando took over for a short time. He was followed by my classmate, Monsignor Pablo Navarro, then Monsignor Stephen Bosso, then Monsignor Keith R. Brennan and presently from our own diocese, Monsignor David L. Toups.

Fifty years later, the seminary is enjoying a renaissance in enrollment, now with ninety students and more predicted for the next few years based on enrollments from other near-by dioceses and men in the final two years at the college seminary in Miami. It is the nation’s only truly bi-lingual, multi-cultural seminary where a native Spanish speaking seminarian can take all his courses in Spanish and English speaking seminarians pray and study at times in Spanish. In 1981 St. Vincent de Paul was incorporated as a regional seminary when all of the dioceses except one agreed to pay immediately into an endowment fund and assume responsibility not only for funding but also for staffing. Later in the early part of the last decade, that one diocese which had held out initially also joined so the seminary is owned by the seven dioceses of Florida whose bishops sit as members of the Corporation. I have always as bishop supported both of Florida’s seminaries. Transparency requires me to note for the reader’s benefit that I served as Rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami for five years from 1979-1984. We have in the past shared some of our finest priests with both seminaries and in the seventeen and one-half years I have been bishop of St. Petersburg, not one man ordained from St. Vincent de Paul or who attended St. John Vianney College seminary has left the active ministry – a testimony to great work done by our Vocations Admissions team and the seminary formation programs.

DSCN4132The papal nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano returned to the sunshine state yesterday (Friday) for the anniversary Mass, joining the bishop owners from around the state, and over 600 people jammed into the beautiful seminary chapel for Mass principally concelebrated by Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami who serves the seminary as its Chancellor. The seminary is now in the Diocese of Palm Beach since 1984 and its local bishop is the Treasurer. Those motel units will soon be renovated and for the first time in fifty years will have bathrooms and showers in each room and a new residence building for the students should begin construction within the next few months. The seminary endowment fund now sits at about 14.5 million dollars but the bishops agreed that over the next decade, we will all raise enough money for seminary formation to increase the endowment to about thirty million. So a very good first five decades give way to another form of Florida’s “bright future” in the decade which began this month with the new school year. Congratulations are due to Monsignor David Toups, his staff, administration, faculty, students but in a special way to those Vincentian and early diocesan pioneers that had the vision to build, sustain and maintain the seminary. Ad multos annos the saying goes, or loosely translated “here’s to many more years.”

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AD LIMINA APOSTOLORUM – DAY SEVEN – Friday, May 11, 2012

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.

+RNL

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.