EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final 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 previous installments, you can read the last two week’s of “Along the Way” by going to www.catholiccourier.com and selecting the “Commentary” tab immediately under the “Catholic Courier.com” logo.
Friday, Oct. 8
We saw our Holy Father today — Edison Tayag, Fathers Joe Hart, Ralph Fraats and I. It was a joy to see him, of course, But it was a joy shaded by sadness at seeing the price in health this good man has paid over the years.
The protocol for the visit had it that I was led in first to see the pope, followed by the other three men. I took a chair to the pope’s right and presented Edison, Joe and Ralph to him. Each greeted the Holy Father and then took a place behind our chairs for a group photograph. When the photographer finished, the three men were escorted out and I remained for a brief conversation with our Holy Father. I conveyed to him the love, support and prayers of all in the Diocese of Rochester, I thanked him for ordaining me a bishop and for the kind letter of congratulation that he sent on the 25th anniversary of my ordination. Finally, I told him that I admired his witness to the faith even in illness. He thanked me for my comments and asked me to thank you for your prayers and support.
We spent the rest of our brief time together talking about vocations. I told him we have some excellent candidates but wish we had more, and are praying and working hard that such might soon be the case.
I did not put a watch to the session but it probably lasted no more that seven or eight minutes. The visit, as always, was a moving experience. To be in the presence of this successor to Peter is a reminder of the great community to which we belong. It also brings home with great force the awareness of his enormous responsibility to preside over the whole church, to be the human sign and guarantor of our unity in faith and charity.
The bishops from the Diocese of Rockville Centre followed our group. When they finished, all of the bishops of the province met with the Holy Father in a nearby room. Each of us was invited by name to step forward to greet the pope, who presented to each of us a beautiful pectoral cross and a copy of the address he was to deliver. There followed Cardinal Egan’s greeting to the pope on our behalf. Pope John Paul II followed the cardinal. As it turned out, the Holy Father did not read his talk — I think to conserve his strength. Rather he gave us each a copy and invited us to read it at our leisure. We concluded by gathering around John Paul II for a group photo.
<P>Saturday, Oct. 9
And so, tomorrow morning we return to the United States. It seems hardly possible that the days have passed so quickly. We had our last meeting this morning at the Congregation for Catholic Education, relating to seminaries, Catholic colleges and universities and Catholic schools. There was less exchange among us in this visit than was true in visits to other congregations. After Bishop Jim Moynihan of Syracuse presented an overview of our situation, the personnel of the congregation held the floor for most of the remaining time.
Several of us will leave North American College at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow for an 11:15 a.m. flight to Philadelphia. I’ll be glad to get home. But, I am glad to have come to Rome again. That is true because of the reminder this city is of our links to the Apostolic Church and because the successor to Peter, now John Paul II, reminds me that you and I — who are the Diocese of Rochester — are part of a communion of faith that is much larger than we are. We owe much to the people who have gone before us. It was they who kept alive and passed on to us the good news of the Lord’s redemptive love.
Thanks for the support of your prayers all through these days. You can be sure that you have been in mine, as you are every day.
Peace to all.