By Bishop Greg Kelly
Special to The Texas Catholic
Every year in September, the Congregation for Bishops sponsors a course of formation for bishops newly appointed and ordained in the previous year. More than 150 bishops from 39 countries attended the course this year, including 13 from the United States.
The sessions were held Sept. 11-18 at the seminary of the Legionaries of Christ in Rome. Their priests and seminarians were very attentive hosts to us all.
Each day included an early celebration of Mass followed by breakfast, a session at 10 a.m.; a session at 4:30 p.m.; and on most nights a 9:15 p.m. session following dinner. Most talks were given in Italian with simultaneous translation into English, Spanish, Portuguese and French. Subjects covered included various aspects of the bishop’s ministry; the use of social media and its importance in evangelization; the protection of children and youth; and interreligious dialogue.
The highlight of the week was an audience with the Holy Father on Friday morning at the Vatican. This included, after his address, an opportunity for each of us to meet him personally and speak with him for a few moments. He was very gracious and welcoming to all.
The week concluded with a Mass at St. Peter’s on Sunday morning celebrated by Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada, the Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, a gracious host and moderator for the week.
Following the Mass, we were given a tour of the Sistine Chapel and surrounding rooms and chapels.
Being in Rome during the Year of Mercy also provided the opportunity to join thousands of people from all over the world passing through the Holy Door into St. Peter’s and praying for the grace of mercy, such a wonderful grace and opportunity provided for us by Pope Francis.
To know oneself to be a recipient of such a profound and precious gift, a gift at the very foundation of life, one that makes everything else possible, a source of hope; that was such an overwhelming reality. To be in the midst of so many people from so many places seeking to know this same mercy and traveling a great distance to be there: a great gift.
In his talk to the bishops on Friday, Pope Francis said, “The most precious richness you can bring from Rome at the beginning of your episcopal ministry is the awareness of the mercy with which you have been seen and chosen.”
So very true.
There was also the opportunity to pray at the tomb of St. John Paul II and ask for the grace of courage in carrying out this ministry, courage that he showed so consistently in his long papal ministry and in a particular way as he was dying. Also to pray for a few moments at the tomb of St. Peter below the main altar, recalling that the Lord had said to him and the other disciples the words of my episcopal motto: “Take courage;” words not just spoken 2,000 years ago and remembered as past; but the Word of God alive and active and able to summon and guide and inspire life and ministry now.
It was a gift to be able to be there in that place as a bishop, to come in personal contact with Pope Francis and brother bishops from all over the world, to renew confidence and hope that the Lord is with us still, pouring out his mercy on us in great abundance, and summoning us to be missionary apostles of mercy in the broken world of today. As St. Francis of Assisi was dying, among his last words was a call to continue the work of renewal and rebuilding the Catholic Church of his day. He said: “Let us begin to serve the Lord God, for up to now we have made little or no progress.”
So each of us can begin and do our share in the time left to us.
Bishop Greg Kelly is the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Dallas.