Bishop's Column

A visit ‘to the thresholds of the apostles’

For 10 years I worked as a priest in Rome on the staff of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops.  I was blessed to serve under two popes, to celebrate Mass at the tombs of martyrs and to be formed as a priest in the heart of the Church.

It was a wonderful period of my life and I had some powerful experiences during that time in Rome—encounters with Jesus Christ present in and through his Church.

But last week I had a new and different kind of experience in Rome.

I was there for the visita ad limina apostolorum—the visit “to the thresholds of the apostles.”  Diocesan bishops in the Catholic Church are required to visit Rome every five years to present a quinquennial (five-year) report to the Holy See on the state of their diocese, to venerate the tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul, and to personally present themselves to the Holy Father.

I made the trip this year as the apostolic administrator of Denver, along with nine of my brother bishops from Region XIII of the United States, which included all the bishops from Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Wyoming.

It was a truly ecclesial experience—Catholic in the best sense, united around the vicar of Christ in the Eternal City.

My brother bishops and I had meetings with officials in the offices of the Vatican, including the very office where I used to work.  We were impressed with the warm greeting we received, with the pastoral and Christian zeal of the Vatican officials and with their deep loyalty to the Church.

We also celebrated Mass at the four major basilicas of Rome. To be present at the tombs of the martyred apostles is, for a bishop, an extraordinary call to holiness.  And it is a privilege to celebrate and receive the Eucharist in places of sacred beauty and holiness, where the sounds of pilgrims worshiping for thousands of years are almost audible.  In the basilicas of Rome the history of our Church becomes real and palpable. We were all humbled to be, in some small way, a part of that 2,000-year pilgrim history.

For me, there were three highlights I would like to share with you.

The first was the collegial experience I had with my brother bishops from our region. We prayed and celebrated Mass together every day. We ate together, laughed together, rode in the van together through the crazy streets of Rome, and we discussed the challenges and joys of being bishops and successors to the apostles in 2012. The bishops I traveled with are wise and virtuous men with a profound love for Jesus Christ and his Church.  The Catholic Church in the Rocky Mountain West is led by men who are wholly dedicated to Jesus Christ and we should be grateful for that.

The second highlight was being in the presence of the Holy Father.  We met with him twice, once in a very personal and informal way and then, on the following day, in a more formal way. During the first visit I was able to bring with me Father Matthew Book, a Denver priest who is now studying in Rome. The Holy Father spoke highly of Denver. He immediately recalled World Youth Day 1993 and its historical significance. I then spoke to the Holy Father about the increase in vocations in Denver and across the United States. I told him about the incredible growth of our two seminaries and about the extraordinary men who study here. I shared with him that our seminarians are men of deep faith, orthodoxy and an eagerness to learn. His eyes lit up as he listened intently. He said, in his distinct German accent: “This is positive news and it makes me very happy.  Zank you, very much!”

The fondest memory I have was our concluding Mass on Saturday celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica at the tomb of Blessed John Paul II.  Blessed John Paul was incredibly influential in many of our spiritual lives. I attribute my own vocation to the priesthood to an encounter I had with him at a Mass he celebrated in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1979 during his first pastoral visit to the United States. So many of the apostolates, itineraries and new movements in Denver grew through his influence and support.  He was a man who showed Jesus Christ to the world.  At his tomb, I prayed for you and I prayed that each of us would mirror his extraordinary holiness: that we would know Jesus as he did and that we would serve him with all that we are.

Few Catholics are able to have the kind of visit to Rome that I had.  It was a rare grace and privilege for which I will always be grateful.  But all of us are sons and daughters of the Catholic Church.  We are not alone in the journey of the Christian life.  We live it in the company of our brothers and sisters, those alive in the Church today and those who pray for us in heaven.  May we take comfort in the love of the Church for us and may we build up the body of Christ through our constant witness to him who makes us one.

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