Bishops, Vatican 'exchange gifts' - Catholic Courier
Matthew H. Clark Matthew H. Clark

Bishops, Vatican ‘exchange gifts’

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second installment of Bishop Matthew H. Clark’s journal on his ad limina visit to the Vatican. The world’s bishops make ad limina visits every five years, on a rotating basis, to report on the status of their dioceses. If you missed last week’s “Along the Way,” you can read the first installment by going to www.catholiccourier.com and selecting the “Commentary” tab immediately under the “Catholic Courier.com” logo.

Tuesday, Oct. 5


Rome holds many memories for me. This evening we were guests at the Graduate Department of North American College, located on the Via dell’ Umilta. It is a gorgeous building not far from the Piazza Venezia, and near to both the Gregorian University and the Trevi Fountain.

I spent a total of three years there as a graduate student and treasure to this day friendships that began or blossomed during that time. But what I remembered most during the Evening Prayer that concluded our visit was that I had celebrated my first Mass as an ordained priest in that chapel. My father served the Mass with some kind assistance from Howard Hubbard. My mother, sister, several aunts, uncles and friends enriched the celebration. Most of those who were present are with God now, but I have no doubt that they were with me in the chapel this evening.

Cardinal Giovanni Re welcomed us to the Congregation for Bishops for what he hoped would be an “exchange of gifts,” his way of saying that our meeting would be an opportunity to share our experience, vision and pastoral concerns with one another.

I appreciated his encouragement to all of us to be people of prayer, and to reflect often and deeply on the responsibilities that are ours by virtue of our ordination to the episcopal office. His words about our priests also pleased me very much. His encouragement was to be “father, brother, friend to all and good Samaritan to any who may be wounded.”

We spent some time once again on the recent scandals we have suffered. But even here the cardinal called us to a spirit of hope, based on our confidence that the Lord can forge something good and life-giving even from the deepest pain. During the course of the visit, I thought often of my friend, Father Tom Powers, who for many years has named Cardinal Re as his pick to succeed Pope John Paul II.

We next crossed St. Peter’s Square, entered the Bronze Doors and went to the third floor of the Vatican Palace to talk with the head of the Foreign Affairs division of the Vatican Secretary of State, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo.

Our visit was shortened because the archbishop was detained by an issue that demanded his attention.

He began on an intriguing note, saying that Vatican diplomatic efforts are often like John the Baptist, a voice crying in the desert.

Their theme is always the same, he said. They constantly speak to the 175 nations with whom the Vatican has diplomatic relations of the dignity of the human person and the constant call to love and pardon one another.

A couple of other points he stressed: the critical importance of developing constructive, respectful relationships with the world of Islam, and of the need for our nation to lead the world in consensus building around issues that will advance the causes of justice and peace.

On our way back from the Casa this evening, Joe Hart, Howard Hubbard and I stopped for a bite to eat and then took a bus home. As we entered NAC we met David Hulshof, a priest of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in Missouri who was a student here when I was on staff in the ‘70s. Rome is a city of endless connections and memories.

At the end of this interesting day, I am going to thank God for all of it and then smile with Eats, Shoots and Leaves until sleep comes.

Wednesday, Oct. 6


Pope John Paul II held a general audience today, as is his usual Wednesday practice. The weather in Rome these days is splendid, so the audience was in St. Peter’s Square.

We were not able to attend the audience because we were scheduled for visits to two Congregations — Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacrament and Clergy. But in the comings and the goings we experienced the joy of watching pilgrims from the four corners of the globe stream up the Via Conciliazione into the square.

Women and men, girls and boys came in many shapes and sizes. They were people of many colors and modes of dress. Whatever their place of origin or cultural background they seemed united in their enthusiasm to pray with the Holy Father and one another near the burial place of Peter.

One of the delightful features of the morning was the sight of newly married couples walking here and there among the river of people. The women wore their elegant, long wedding gowns; the men sported tuxedos or dark suits. There is a special place reserved for the newly married close by the Holy Father who blesses and stands for a photograph with each couple.

I have always enjoyed watching people gathering for that experience. The presence of the tomb of Peter places the pilgrim in touch with the depth and breadth of our tradition all the way back to the Apostolic Era. And the great flow of pilgrims puts one in touch with the universality of our faith communion. To me it is that dual reality — the tomb and those who come to profess and be strengthened in their faith there — that makes Rome the magnetic place that it is. Surely, there is great art and rich history and a glorious culture here. But at root, the attraction is a deeply spiritual one that touches the heart of a person of faith — and often sparks faith in the unbeliever.

Our visits to the two congregations were quiet and stayed fairly close to the themes we had discussed in the past two days. I won’t go further into them here.

This afternoon the bishops from Long Island’s Rockville Centre Diocese and I received notice of our personal visit with the Holy Father. We are to arrive at the Apostolic Palace by 10:30 a.m. on Friday morning for audiences beginning with the Pope at 11 a.m. Father Joe Hart and our seminarian, Edison Tayag, will come with me and have a chance to greet our Holy Father.

Shortly after our private audience, we’ll join the rest of the bishops of the province for our group session with the pope. He will address us. Cardinal Egan will respond to him on our behalf, and the Holy Father will move to each bishop for a word of farewell.

I am quite happy that the luck of the draw put my opportunity for an audience at the end of the week. To me, that moment is the highlight of the ad limina. It has been pleasant to anticipate that experience through these days.

Thursday, Oct. 7


When we went to St. Paul Outside the Walls yesterday, Gary DeLallo served as deacon at the liturgy. Gary is part of a pilgrimage group that accompanied Cardinal Egan on his ad limina visit. He is also a deacon of the Diocese of Rochester. At this time, Gary serves as a prison chaplain near Beacon, N.Y., which is in the archdiocese. The wags refer to Gary as the deacon from Beacon. It was a pleasant surprise to see him, and a joy that he ministered at the altar at that beautiful liturgy. I reminded both Gary and the cardinal that we look forward to Gary’s return.

Today we visited the Council for the Care of Immigrants and the Council for Justice and Peace. Both of these groups are located at the Palazzo di San Callisto in a section of Rome called Trastevere. The visit to the former group provided a strong reminder of the great influx of people into our state, especially from nations to the south of us. At Justice and Peace we spent most of the time talking about human rights; the controversy about genetically modified food; the cancellation of the international debt of struggling countries and factors complicating that issue, such as corruption and lack of social equilibrium in some affected nations.

A special event in the life of the North American College took place while we were off at our meetings — the ordination to the diaconate of some of the members of the fourth theology class. The ordination was celebrated at the Altar of the Chair at St. Peter’s. The rite was followed by a reception back at the college. An added note of joy for me about the ordination was the fact that Peter Sartain, bishop of Little Rock, presided. Peter was a student here at the college when I served on the staff.

Joe, Howard and I took a walk back to Trastevere in the evening for a bite to eat. We ended up sitting next to five other members of our group at an outdoor restaurant. It was a glorious evening filled with good conversation, laughter and music. I was thinking as we walked home that one of the very positive features of this visit has been the opportunity to relax and socialize with other bishops. So often we come together just to work. It’s a gift to be able to relate to one another as friends in ministry, not just as co-workers.

Look for the final installment of Bishop Clark’s ad limina journal next weekend.

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