EDITOR’S NOTE: Every five years on a rotating basis, the bishops of the world travel to the Vatican for ad limina (Latin for "to the thresholds of the Apostles") visits, in which they report on the status of their dioceses. Earlier this month, Cardinal Edward Egan, leader of the Archdiocese of New York, led the ad limina visit of the New York delegation, which includes Bishop Matthew H. Clark and the six other bishops who lead New York state dioceses, as well as auxiliary bishops from throughout the state. Bishop Clark’s journal of the trip is being presented in installments in this week’s "Along the Way" column and those of the next two weekends.
Friday, Oct. 1
The journey to Rome and the ad limina experience began this afternoon at the Greater Rochester International Airport. It continued from Philadelphia on US Airway No. 2 which arrived in Rome at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday.
Bishop Howard Hubbard, my friend from Albany, was on the same flight, although we did not sit together on the way over. We were picked up at Leonardo Da Vinci Airport and driven to the North American College where seven bishops in our New York state delegation are staying. The others are staying at Domus Santa Marta, a conference center and hotel in Vatican City.
I did not sleep much on the overnight flight. I never have had much luck in that regard. During the long hours I thought about other times that I had headed for the Eternal City. I thought of my first trip to Rome in September of 1959. Most of my 90-plus classmates sailed on the S.S. Constitution, a trip I shall never forget. We were 22 years of age. The ocean voyage was a first for the great majority of us. We were about to begin our theological studies in preparation for ordination in the rich and fascinating city of Rome.
I remembered two other times — sailing again for Rome to begin two years of graduate studies in 1964; and, again in 1972, to begin seven years of service on the staff of the North American College. There were some other crossings during those years, and there have been quite a few since 1979 when I was ordained a bishop.
My three sojourns in Rome totaled 13 years, so the experience of that city has been significant in my growth and development. As a seminarian, graduate student and staff member my experience in Rome has taught me many lessons, raised up many challenges and consoled me in many ways.
On the way over, I wondered what might be the lessons, challenges and consolations of this ad limina visit.
Saturday, Oct. 2
When we arrived at the North American College we were shown to our rooms on the fifth floor of the building. That floor had been left unfinished since the opening of the new seminary in 1953 until just a few years ago.
I am staying in quite an elegant suite of rooms. In the marble lintel above the doorway is inscribed: “The Bishop Lynch and Bishop Larkin Suite.” Both are friends. Bob Lynch is Bishop of St. Petersburg. And, as many readers know, Tom Larkin, one of Bishop Lynch’s predecessors, proudly calls Mount Morris his hometown. What many may not know is that Tom and I — and 24 others — were ordained bishops together by Pope John Paul II in May of 1979.
Today was a de-jet-lag day. I hooked up with Father Joseph Hart, our vicar general, who arrived a day earlier, and with Edison Tayag who studies for the priesthood for our diocese. Edison is beginning his second year of theological studies. The three of us had lunch together. I spent the afternoon on a siesta, exercise in the well-equipped workout room of NAC, unpacking and reviewing some of the information about the week that was presented to us upon arrival here. In the evening, Joe, Howard and I walked across the Tiber to have a bite to eat at a trattoria we have all enjoyed in the past. It was a fine night, and we hoped to eat outside. Unfortunately, they were crowded and could only accommodate us inside.
Sunday, Oct. 3
I just returned from the Domus Santa Marta. All of the bishops of New York gathered there for supper together and for a brief orientation meeting about the schedule and other details of our week.
Father Bob Evans, a priest of the Diocese of Providence and a staff member at NAC, is serving as coordinator of our visit. Bob has been most gracious and helpful in many ways already.
Earlier in the afternoon, I participated in the community Mass, scheduled later than usual to accommodate people who had flown overnight to be in Rome for the ordination to the diaconate on Thursday of 11 members of the college’s student body.
Kevin McCoy, the rector of NAC, presided at the liturgy. In his words of welcome to all, he kindly named Bishop Hubbard and me, and added the detail that I had served as his spiritual director when he was a student. He included in his comment the reminder that any communication between him and me in those days was, and remains, privileged. So far, no inquiries from students!
The liturgy was celebrated with great solemnity and obvious reverence. The experience was for me a reminder of the ebb and flow of the church’s life, especially as reflected in its liturgical celebrations. I could not help but think that with recent liturgical regulations and a more conservative approach to some of the externals of seminary life, NAC is more like the NAC of my student day than it was during my tenure on the staff.
At the meeting at Santa Marta, tonight, we learned that Bishop Hubbard and Bishop Bob Cunningham of Ogdensburg will be seeing the Holy Father at 11 a.m. The rest of us will learn through the week when our meetings will take place. Usually we hear no more than 24 hours in advance.
Monday, Oct. 4
We launched into our Roman agenda today. Bishop Hubbard and Bishop Cunningham went to meet with our Holy Father. The rest of us were off to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. When we arrived at CDF, we were disappointed to learn that Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, prefect of the congregation, would not be with us. Archbishop Amato, the secretary (second in command, in the language of the Roman Curia) would be with us instead.
Archbishop Amato was a gracious presider at our 80-minute meeting, which covered a range of topics. These included an exchange of ideas about how best to continue work on the painful issue of sexual abuse of children by clergy in such a way that children would be protected and the rights of all would be observed.
We also spent some time discussing a range of external threats to the Catholic identity and sense of ministry in Catholic health-care institutions. In addition, Archbishop Amato expressed the hope that we would do all that we can in the United States to ensure the peaceful and pastorally fruitful reception of documents issued by the Holy See and, especially, of those presented to us by the Holy Father.
The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life was our next morning engagement. Cardinal Rode from Slovenia is prefect and presided at the meeting, assisted by several of his staff.
Items that came into the conversations were the great importance of the gift of religious life in the local church, the need to present that vocation clearly and in all of its beauty, and some of the difficulties faced today by many congregations whose numbers are dwindling. It is difficult to convey a solid sense of the conversation because we didn’t converse for any length of time on any particular point.
The Honorable Jim Nicholson, U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, hosted us at his residence in the afternoon. After a brief time for refreshment on the patio, Mr. Nicholson invited us into a parlor where he spoke of his work, especially about those areas in which he felt it very important for our country and the Holy See to be in collaboration. He listed several items, all of which he judged to fall under the rubric of respect for the dignity of the human person: the effort to combat HIV/AIDS; providing food for the hungry in conjunction with helping nations to become self-sufficient in food production; warring against trafficking in human beings; ensuring religious liberty for people of all nations.
When we returned home, there was some supper waiting for us in the faculty dining room. It was pleasant to relax with the other bishops staying there at the college. It was an ordinary but significant experience of what the church frequently reminds us; that is, when we are ordained bishops we are ordained to the College of Bishops who with the pope as our head, share with him the pastoral care of the whole church. That will happen all the more effectively when we know one another as human beings, when we can support and encourage one another in our common ministry.
After some prayer, I read Eats, Shoots and Leaves until I fell asleep. I never knew that a book on punctuation could be so much fun.
To be continued next week.