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.