Liturgies, meetings, catching up with friends highlight trip

Catholic Courier    |    12.19.2011
Category: From the Bishop


EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the final installment of a two-part column on the New York state bishops' ad limina visits in Rome.

We were housed at the Casa O’Toole, formerly a convent on the grounds of the North American College. The Casa O’Toole is now the home of the Institute for Continuing Education of the Clergy, a program that over the last 40 years has hosted more than 2,500 American priests for continuing education. Many of the priests of our diocese have participated in the program -- most recently Father Joe Catanise, pastor of St. Leo the Great in Hilton, who with his group left the Casa O’Toole the day before we arrived.

Each day we had breakfast at Casa O’Toole. For the main meal -- in that environment, at 1:15 p.m. -- we went to the dining room in the seminary building and had a chance to meet some of the students. A special memory of that main dining room was the college’s Thanksgiving feast. The custom at that meal is to be seated with people from your own state. I would guess that New York state -- supplemented by our visiting group -- was the largest group that day. Our Rochester delegation -- seminarian David Tedesche, Father Joe Hart and I -- were able to share the meal close by one another. It was turkey and the traditional trimmings, all beautifully done.

In the evening we ate in the faculty dining room or visited a local restaurant. It was good to visit two old Roman favorites of mine -- Il Duodici Apostoli for rigatoni carbonara and Il Ristorante Galeassi for zuppa di pesce. What a delight those dishes always were and still are!

Such meals, wherever shared, are special opportunities to renew and deepen friendship. Joe, David, Bishop Hubbard and I went out one evening. Another night it was the bishops of upstate with our brother priests. And I was happy that, in keeping with a custom of long-standing, I was able to have dinner with Archbishop James Harvey, who is prefect of the papal household. I first met him when he was a seminarian and I was on the staff of the North American College. For many years we’ve gone out to dinner whenever I have visited Rome.

Celebrating the Eucharistic Liturgy together was for all of us, I think, a very rich part of our Roman experience. In keeping with a long-standing tradition we celebrated in the four major basilicas of the Eternal City: St. Peter’s, St. Paul Outside the Wall, St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran.

It was my privilege to preside at the Tomb of Blessed John Paul II at St. Peter’s. I found it a deeply moving experience to celebrate Mass at the tomb of the man -- now declared blessed by the church -- who ordained me a bishop more than 32 years earlier in that same basilica. As you might expect, the moment evoked a flood of memories not just of the day of my ordination but of all the years between then and now. I expect that in days ahead I’ll revisit that moment often in prayerful memory.

As a footnote to that memory, I add that it was the first time I presided at a liturgy using the new Roman Missal. If it’s of any consolation to you, please know that your bishop finds it just as hard to change old habits as you do.

When we weren’t off to one of the Roman basilicas we celebrated in the Chapel at the Casa O’Toole or with the seminarians in the main chapel at the college.

Through the business days of our visit we spent most of our time visiting the offices established to assist our Holy Father in his service of the unity of the church in faith and charity. We visited the congregations of Doctrine of the Faith, Sacraments and Divine Worship, Education, Bishops, Clergy and Religious. In addition to those sessions we met with the Pontifical Councils for Family Life and the New Evangelization. Last but not least we paid a call to the Signatura, which is akin to the Supreme Court of our church.

The format of these meetings varied from office to office but, generally speaking, they followed the model of our sessions with the Holy Father. Our host greeted us, introduced senior coworkers, said a word about their work and then invited us to share with them any questions or concerns we may have had in the pastoral area of particular interest to them.

The sessions were cordial and constructive in many ways. It was clear that the people with whom we met are well-informed and care deeply about their areas of competence, and certainly are committed to the service of the church.

Yet I felt that, with a couple of exceptions, they and we bishops -- because of our differing day-to-day experience -- did not have the kind of meeting of the minds about the matters at hand that would have made the sessions more rewarding for all concerned. Without question we share the same ideals and have the building of the Kingdom as our common goal. The difference may be that, because our friends in the several offices deal with the whole church, they speak of these commonly held values and goals in more general ways than we bishops. Our day-to-day pastoral task is to help the people in our respective dioceses to live the values and ideas in the demanding, complex environment of today’s world.

All that said, I think that our visits were important. They are reminders that we belong to a vast and varied community of faith; that it is foreign to our tradition to think of an individual Catholic, a parish or a diocese standing alone, as not needing to be connected to that larger communion. At our best, we are beautifully interdependent, called to learn and grow through what we share in our communion of faith.

I confess that the visits were a healthy reminder to me to be extra careful in what I ask of or expect from my coworkers in the Lord’s vineyard. We too share the same deep values of our Catholic tradition. Our common goal to build up the Kingdom is the same. The visits remind me that when I call coworkers to focus on a particular project or cause I need always to understand that it can’t and won’t always happen at the same time, or in the same way or with perfect results. Life just doesn’t work that way. Yes, it’s important for me to call the community together to common and important purposes. It’s no less important to encourage and support everyone in the effort, and to be happy with the good fruit of everyone’s honest effort.

I have written these words at Leonardo Da Vinci Airport at Fiumicino and on board Alitalia flight No. 610 bound for New York.

Remembering the days of our visit ad limina Apostolorum has been a blessing in its reminder that we are deeply joined by bonds of faith and charity not only to those who walk the road with us today but also with all those who have gone before us in faith. Encouraged by their example, may we never lose heart no matter how many difficulties we face or setbacks we experience. They have been through it all and remained faithful because they held strong in their belief that the Lord is always faithful to his promise to remain with us always in the power of the Holy Spirit.

I also return with a renewed sense of how deeply I have been blessed to serve as bishop of the Diocese of Rochester for so many years. Daily I have experienced the faith and generosity of all who give life to this local church. Daily -- and especially when things aren’t spinning in the way I would like them to spin -- do I draw strength, courage and inspiration from coworkers and God’s faithful people.

In this time of transition I have been praying that we would all take stock, review our households, do all that we can to provide as dynamic and honest a welcome as possible to the person fortunate enough to be named the ninth bishop of Rochester. This is the very least we can do for him and the least we can do to be faithful to the rich tradition of this extraordinary diocese.

Peace to all.

Copyright © 2011 Catholic Courier, Inc. All rights reserved. Linking is encouraged, but republishing or redistributing, including by framing or similar means, without the publisher's prior written permission is prohibited.

Sign up for our FREE weekly e-newsletters!

Choose from news (Monday), leisure (Thursday) or worship (Saturday) — or get all three!