A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Rome, where I joined 24 other bishops from the Upper Midwest. Every five to seven years we are asked to do a thorough review of the state of each of our dioceses and send a written report to the Vatican. The report is followed by a visit to the Vatican offices and to meet with the Holy Father himself.
This is my third “ad Limina” visit. The term means “threshold” because, while in Rome, we cross the thresholds or doorways of the four major basilicas in the city. They are St. Mary Major; St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, where St. Paul is buried; St. John Lateran, which serves as the Cathedral for the Diocese of Rome and was the center for the pope for centuries; and St. Peter’s, where the tomb of St. Peter is located. We celebrated Mass in each of these places and renewed our profession of faith as bishops and successors of the apostles. These Masses were very moving and I had the privilege of being principal celebrant at St. Mary Major.
Outstanding in our visit was the meeting with the Holy Father. He gave us almost two and one-half hours of listening and honest conversations and dialogue. He told us of some of his experience as a Jesuit priest and diocesan bishop in Argentina. He explained that some of his “controversial” comments are taken out of context by the press and used to manipulate and to cause division. It is also clear that the Holy Father is calling the church to change and become more “missional” in reaching out to help people discover and follow Jesus.
I had a chance to describe to him the cultural change we are undergoing in the diocese, which is gathering momentum in helping more of us reach out to others with the joy of the Gospel. I asked him about the role of the Holy Spirit in all of this. He thanked me for the question and said that we need to pray and have more faith in the power of the Holy Spirit. He also said that we need to remember that it is not so much that we bring the Holy Spirit to others; the Holy Spirit is already there. We simply help the people realize how close God is to them already and help them to respond to God’s love. What a beautiful way of expressing the truth of God’s love for us!
He told me to read through the book of Acts thoroughly and prayerfully and the Holy Spirit will give us the next best steps, usually one step at a time, as was true for the apostles and early Christians. As I said farewell to the Holy Father, he said: “Very good! Keep moving forward!”
Being with him and hearing him reminded me of so many conversations I had as a young priest with my bishop, Bishop Arthur Tafoya of my home Diocese of Pueblo, Colo. He was a real spiritual father to me and to many priests of the Diocese of Pueblo. He was very much like Pope Francis, especially in his desire to be close to the people of God as their pastor.
I prayed ardently and deeply for all of you, lay faithful, priests and religious. I gave great thanks for being assigned as your bishop for the last 11 years and asked the Lord, the Blessed Mother, and the Twelve Apostles for their blessing on this diocese. And I have returned home even more energized to continue to lead our diocese to be missionary disciples striving to lead all people to the Kingdom of God.
Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter at @BpDavidRicken.