‘A very encouraging encounter’: Region’s bishops meet with Pope Francis

| January 14, 2020 | 0 Comments

Pope Francis greets Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda, during a meeting with U.S. bishops from North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Jan. 13, 2020. The bishops were making their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican to report on the status of their dioceses to the pope and Vatican officials. CNS photo/Vatican Media

Archbishop Bernard Hebda called the Jan. 13 meeting of the regions’ bishops with Pope Francis “a wonderful opportunity for the local Church.”

“It was magnificent. It was very informal,” he said. “The Holy Father was very open. We could talk about anything with him. He was very forthcoming with us and very supportive, very fraternal.”

The bishops from U.S. Region VIII, which includes the dioceses in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, met with Pope Francis for their visit “ad limina apostolorum” — to the threshold of the apostles — which are formal meetings between the pope and a regions’ bishops held every five years or so. The U.S. bishops’ last “ad limina” visits were eight years ago in 2011-12.

The visit, considered a pilgrimage, was a first for Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens, who was ordained a bishop in 2013. Archbishop Hebda previous attended an “ad limina” visit as bishop of Gaylord, Michigan.

Accompanying them was Bishop-elect Donald DeGrood, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis slated to be installed the ninth bishop of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Feb. 13.

Apostolic administrators represented the dioceses of Duluth and Rapid City, two dioceses in the region currently without a bishop. Although the discussion between the pope and bishops is confidential, Bishop Cozzens said Pope Francis began the meeting acknowledging the Dec. 1 death of 59-year-old Bishop Paul Sirba of Duluth, a former priest of the archdiocese who suffered a heart attack.

“He started and said, ‘I know you’ve had a great loss in your region with the death of Bishop Sirba.’ And he said, ‘Can we just begin by inviting us all to pray together for Bishop Sirba.’ He knew all about the situation,” Bishop Cozzens said.

Pope Francis greets Auxiliary Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens, during a meeting with U.S. bishops from North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Jan. 13, 2020. The bishops were making their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican to report on the status of their dioceses to the pope and Vatican officials. CNS photo/Vatican Media

He added: “He’s aware also of the different struggles we’ve been through as a region.”

Archbishop Hebda said Pope Francis did want people to know that he’s praying for victim/survivors of clergy sex abuse.

Before the bishops and the pope began their discussion, the bishops introduced members of their delegation to Pope Francis. For Archbishop Hebda and Bishop Cozzens, that included five seminarians studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, four transitional deacons from the St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, two Pro Ecclesia Sancta seminarians and two college seminarians from St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul.

“That was a great moment for them to have that opportunity to meet the successor of Peter. The pope seemed really happy to meet them and spoke about how many seminarians we have,” Archbishop Hebda said.

Bishop Cozzens said Pope Francis joked that “when people tell me there’s a vocations crisis in the United States, I’m not going to believe them anymore because there are so many seminarians here.”

Pope Francis greets Bishop-elect Donald DeGrood, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis slated to be installed the ninth bishop of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, during a meeting with U.S. bishops from North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Jan. 13, 2020. The bishops were making their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican to report on the status of their dioceses to the pope and Vatican officials. CNS photo/Vatican Media

Also accompanying Archbishop Hebda and Bishop Cozzens to met Pope Francis were Msgr. Aloysius Callaghan, rector emeritus of the St. Paul Seminary; Father Charles Lachowitzer, vicar general and moderator of the curia; Father Evan Koop, a SJV faculty member and Father John Gallas, a formator at SPS.

After meeting each seminarian studying in Rome from each diocese in the region, Pope Francis meet alone with the bishops and apostolic administrators for more than two hours. 

“He was very generous with his time,” Bishop Cozzens said. “There was a deep sense of fraternal support, and the sharing that brothers share with one another, and it was very much that kind of experience — the Holy Father sharing from his experience, us sharing from our experience. There was a sense of we’re all pastors in different parts of the world trying to deal with problems that we have in different ways. He was very encouraging. It was a very encouraging encounter.”

Pope Francis talked about his time as bishop of Buenos Aires, “in terms of how we deal with some of the responsibilities that we have and how prayer supports us in that,” Archbishop Hebda said. “It was very beautiful.”

Bishop Cozzens added: “He just has a different perspective because of his worldwide perspective, and so it was beautiful to hear and exchange around various questions and comments.”

Archbishop Hebda said he was struck, on the other hand, by the personal nature of the pope’s perspective. “He certainly has that broad view, but he frequently spoke about being a bishop in Argentina, so it’s an experience that he very much shared with the bishops and administrators who were gathered around. It was very low-key, very humble and very engaged.”

Bishop Cozzens noted that the Region VIII leaders are blessed to be a small region, with only 11 bishops and administrators. Some regions have more than 20 bishops, he said.

“We were only 11 in the room with him for two hours. All of us got to participate in various ways,” he said.

Part of the reason for the visit is for Pope Francis to learn more about the Church in the region. Prior to the visit, each bishop prepares a report on his diocese for the pope.

Asked his takeaway for the local Church, Archbishop Hebda said, “The Holy Father is supportive of us and he prays for us, and he very much modeled for the bishops that openness that we hope to have with people in the archdiocese, so that people are able to speak to us about the things that are important. The pope says don’t hold back from saying something just because you think the pope doesn’t want to hear it. I think for Bishop Cozzens and for me, that sets a good example of how we have to be open to dialogue.”

Archbishop Hebda, Bishop Cozzens and Bishop-elect  DeGrood arrived in Rome Jan. 10 accompanied by 25 young adult pilgrims from Minnesota. The group, whose members range in age from 21 to 35, responded to the bishops’ request for young adults to join them in Rome.

The bishops spent Jan. 11 in Assisi with the pilgrims, which included Mass at the Church of St. Clare and adoration at the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

“They’re very inspiring,” Bishop Cozzens said, noting that the young adults had to apply to be part of the trip. “They’re some of the most inspiring people from the archdiocese” and region.

Archbishop Hebda said he hopes the pilgrims take away “a closeness” to their bishops and a connection to the universal Church and Pope Francis. He noted that for many of them, the pilgrimage was a response to Pope Francis’ 2019 exhortation on young people, “Christus vivit” (“Christ is Alive”).

“One of their particular desires in coming was to pray for the pope, which I thought was really beautiful,” he said. “We hope that they have a sense that the Church is theirs, and they certainly have a big role to play as we move forward, that we’re counting on them to continue to be so generous with their gifts in building up our Church.”

The pilgrims joined the region’s bishops and seminarians the morning of Jan. 13, prior to the meeting with the pope, for Mass at the tomb of St. Peter in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Celebrating Mass at the crypt and professing the Creed there are requirements for the bishops making their “ad limina” visit.

“It’s the idea of the bishops going and renewing their profession of faith, and being in the presence of Peter and Paul and Peter’s successors,” Archbishop Hebda said.

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