Pope encourages Australian bishops

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Pope Francis greets Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney during a meeting with Australian bishops on their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican June 24, 2019. Photo: CNS photo/Vatican Media
Pope Francis greets Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney during a meeting with Australian bishops on their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican June 24, 2019. Photo: CNS photo/Vatican Media

Bishops experience a moment of grace

Australia’s Catholic bishops have described their long-overdue meeting with Pope Francis in Rome as ‘frank’, ‘emotional’ and ‘deeply encouraging’.

Almost 40 bishops spent more than two hours with the Pope on 24 June as part of what is meant to be a five-yearly Ad Limina Apostolorum visit (translated as ‘To the Threshold of the Apostles’).

However because of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation and subsequent changes in procedure, this week’s visit was the first since 2011. Much has happened in Australia since then.

Pope Francis poses for a photo with Australian bishops during their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican June 24, 2019. Photo: CNS photo/Vatican Media
Pope Francis poses for a photo with Australian bishops during their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican June 24, 2019. Photo: CNS photo/Vatican Media

Among the issues the bishops raised with Pope Francis were progress in the Church’s work to eliminate child sexual abuse and to accompany survivors, its ministry to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the hopes for the forthcoming Plenary Council and the need to find new ways of witnessing to Jesus Christ in a country deeply influenced by secularism and a growing indifference – including hostility – to the Church.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP said the encounter was “moving and deeply encouraging”.
Posting to social media shortly after the meeting, he wrote that “Pope Francis clearly understood our situation in Australia.

“[It] shows the real plus of the Petrine ministry of being our solid “rock” and “confirming the brethren”. A real moment of grace!”

The meeting with Pope Francis was the high point of the opening day of the week-long Ad Limina, which began with the bishops celebrating Mass at the Tomb of St Peter.

“To celebrate the Eucharist at the tomb of Peter and then to engage in pastoral dialogue with his successor was a unique and grace-filled way to start our week in Rome,” Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge said.

Australian bishops pray the Lord's Prayer as they concelebrate Mass in the crypt of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican June 24, 2019. Photo: CNS photo/Paul Haring
Australian bishops pray the Lord’s Prayer as they concelebrate Mass in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican June 24, 2019. Photo: CNS photo/Paul Haring

“There was an ease and a fraternal warmth in the way Pope Francis spoke and an attentiveness in his listening to the questions the bishops asked,” Archbishop Coleridge said.

Darwin Bishop Charles Gauci, the most recently ordained of the Australian bishops, said he was “deeply impressed” by Pope Francis.

“I was impressed by his humanity, his compassion, his sense of collegiality, his passion for working with all the people of God in a synodal Church and his true commitment to the Gospel,” Bishop Gauci said.

“I felt a deep sense of connection with the Holy Father as a fellow member of the College of Bishops, as bishops in service of the People of God and in partnership with the People of God.”

Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli posted on social media that the meeting with the Holy Father was “an extraordinary conversation, brother to brothers”. He said it was “spiritually intense, deeply honest, pastorally astute, free and frank”.

Earlier, at Mass at St Peter’s Tomb, Archbishop Coleridge said in his homily that as Church leaders continue to face the reality of the clerical sexual abuse crisis this is “a time of humiliation” for them, but he is convinced that God is still at work.

Bishop Gerard Holohan of Bunbury, Australia, left, and Auxiliary Bishop Richard Umbers of Sydney and other Australian bishops exchange the sign of peace as they concelebrate Mass in the crypt of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican June 24, 2019. Photo: CNS photo/Paul Haring
Bishop Gerard Holohan of Bunbury, Australia, left, and Auxiliary Bishop Richard Umbers of Sydney and other Australian bishops exchange the sign of peace as they concelebrate Mass in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican June 24, 2019. Photo: CNS photo/Paul Haring

“We as bishops have to discover anew how small we are and yet how grand is the design into which we have been drawn by the call of God and his commissioning beyond our betrayals,” he said.

The Ad Limina visit continues until Friday 28 June. The Australian bishops will meet in the coming days with the various departments of the Holy See with responsibilities for different aspects of Church life.

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