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the Gap

 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinApril 7, 2006 Issue 

Bridging the Gap: Meeting the Pope

Meeting with Pope brings home the universal mosaic that is the Catholic Church

By Bishop David Zubik

photo of Bishop David Zubik
David Zubik

It has been a distinct and humbling experience for me on several occasions in my life: meeting the Pope. This time, it was equally special and equally humbling, but uniquely different.

photo of Bishop David Zubik (right) meeting Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican, March 2006
FIRST MEETING: Pope Benedict XVI and Bp. David Zubik met in the Vatican last week during the bishop's trip to Rome to meet with seminarians from the diocese studying there and with a diocesan priest working at the Vatican. (L'Osservatore Romano photo)

Meeting the Pope this time was meeting this Pope, Benedict XVI, for the first time as Pope. While I was in Cardinal Ratzinger's company for meetings a couple of times since my becoming a bishop nine years ago, and while I was at the right place (St. Peter's Square) and at the right time (6:05 p.m. on April 19, 2005) when the former Card. Ratzinger was introduced for the first time as Pope Benedict XVI, this time I was literally several feet away from our Holy Father during his general Wednesday audience in St. Peter's Square.

What took me to Rome recently were my visits with our two seminarians at the Pontifical North American College, Joel and Ben Sember, several visits with our diocesan priest, Msgr. Frank Dewane, who serves as Undersecretary in the Office for Justice and Peace at the Vatican, and several scheduled meetings within the Curia. "Smack dab" in the middle of the visit was the audience with the Pope.

The day was absolutely breathtaking; not a cloud in the azure, blue sky. The sun was bright and warm; the temperature about 70° F. The crowd numbered over 50,000. There was a definite electricity in the air waiting for the Holy Father's arrival at 10:30. The crowd's applause and the waving of flags signaled that the "Popemobile" was making its way through the crowd, crisscrossing St. Peter's Square until finally it brought the Holy Father to the top of the Square near the entrance to St. Peter's Basilica.

The "stage" was set. The "Chair of Peter" was flanked by two others on either side for his Master of Ceremonies and his priest secretary. To Pope Benedict's left was a single microphone from which would be proclaimed several readings from the Bible. The Pope began the audience with the Sign of the Cross and a prayer. The Scripture readings were proclaimed in Italian, German and English. The Holy Father shared his beautiful and heartfelt message. He spoke of a theme contained in his recent encyclical Deus Caritas Est, challenging all of us, his listeners, to live lives of love modeled after the love of God Himself.

Thereafter, specific groups of pilgrims were introduced to the Holy Father in six different languages: Italian, French, German, English, Spanish and Polish. After each introduction, the Pope gave a brief ferverino to those introduced in each of the six languages. I marveled how flawless was his pronunciation, especially the English and the Polish.

Pope Benedict concluded the audience by leading the crowd in singing the Lord's Prayer. He then blessed the crowd and began the select individual meetings, starting with the bishops present, about a dozen of us. I was fifth in line. As I anticipated meeting the Pope, I was struck by his warm and personal manner. He didn't rush those ahead of me. He deferred to each bishop, giving each the chance to speak first.

My turn arrived. I was struck by the genuine warmth of his smile and the firm yet gentle double handshake. As a sign of personal respect for his office as the successor of Peter, as well as a pledge of my personal loyalty to him as my "boss," I kissed his pontifical ring.

It was then that I had the distinct pleasure of sharing you - all of you, faithful of the Church of Green Bay: laywomen and laymen, sisters and brothers, deacons and priests - with the Pope. I told him what a vibrant Church our diocese is. I told him what an honor it is for me to serve you as your bishop. And most important of all, in your name, I promised our prayers and our loyalty. Pope Benedict smiled and thanked you through me. Finally, I received a hearty laugh from His Holiness when I wished him, albeit early, a happy birthday (he turns 79 on April 16, coincidentally this year on Easter Sunday) and a happy anniversary (he marks his first year as Pope on April 19).

Following his visit with us bishops, the Holy Father greeted more than 100 persons with disabilities. Once again, he spent caring, careful and unrushed time with each person. For the better part of an hour, he went along the line of a number of pilgrims and did the same with them before leaving St. Peter's Square once again aboard the now famous white Fiat "Popemobile."

It is a pleasure to share this special moment in my life with you as I shared you with the Pope as well.

As I reflect on my special Wednesday, I can't help but think what a marvel our Catholic Church is, a Universal Church striving to be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. I can't help but appreciate the mosaic we are as people from all the nations of the world, people with different languages and people with distinct customs, yet people of one faith.

But most of all, following my "Meeting the Pope" I came away with a sense of the challenge we all face as the mosaic of the Church - to be the Body of Christ and most especially the hands, the face and the heart of Jesus.

Thanks for being part of that mosaic. Thanks for the privilege of working together with you to be the Body of Christ; His hands, His face and - especially - His heart.

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