VICTORIA’S newest bishops are currently in Rome attending a seminar for recently ordained bishops, often fondly referred to as ‘baby bishop school’.
Bishop Pat O’Regan from the Sale diocese and Melbourne auxiliary bishops Terry Curtin and Mark Edwards OMI are attending the seminar, which includes a personal audience with Pope Francis for each bishop.
125 new bishops are participating in the seminar run by the Congregation for Bishops from Monday 7 to Wednesday 16 September. Bishops Curtin and Edwards have both graciously provided some lovely, interesting, and even humorous, reflections on their time at the seminar in Rome.
Bishop Edwards said the seminar consists of ‘formal talks, opportunities for questions in the plenary forum and small group discussions in language groups’. He said the topics covered at the seminar have included ‘the understanding of what a bishop is, spiritual discernment, care for the family, healthy affectivity for priests, evangelisation, finance and Eastern Rite Churches’.
The main highlights of the seminar are Mass celebrated at the tomb of St Peter and a personal audience with the Pope. Bishop Edwards said that meeting and forming bonds with the other new bishops has also been a highlight. ‘The meals with their connections, friendships and bonds with others from around the world may be the most important result.’
Bishop Edwards also said the seminar fosters greater understanding of the issues facing different countries. ‘The growth in understanding of the situation of the Church in places as various as rural Brazil, Ukraine, the Philippines, urban Italy, the USA and Porto Rica is huge,’ he said.
The bishops had their personal meetings with Pope Francis on Thursday 10 September at the palace building called Sala Clementina. According to Bishop Curtin, it was a very hot day and the bishops waited for the Pope in a corridor of the palace, all dressed in their ‘fillettata’, the official garb of bishops, consisting of a black cassock with red trim, purple sash, purple skull cap and pectoral cross.
‘The Pope was meeting the President of Kuwait before us, so we waited in a very hot Renaissance corridor, where none of the windows would open, until the Pope was ready,’ Bishop Curtin said. ‘Some of the other bishops decided that this must be a physical test for new bishops, climbing many stairs and then being subjected to extreme heat, to see if we were physically fit for office!’
When the Pope arrived, he spoke to the bishops on the topic of being ‘witnesses to the Resurrection’. The bishops then met with the Pope individually and Bishop Curtin had a lovely and amusing conversation with the Holy Father. He spoke to Pope Francis in Italian saying, ‘Holy Father, I believe I’m the oldest of the bishops here as I’m 70.’ The Pope looked at him with a serious expression and then said with a note of exclamation in his voice, ‘A bishop? At this age? But this Pope must be crazy!’ Bishop Curtin said he and the Pope then ‘had a really big laugh’.
On Sunday 13 September the bishops concelebrated Mass in St Peter’s Basilica. Bishop Curtin said, ‘As you might imagine a long line of bishops entering St Peter’s for Mass dressed in their mitres was a blessing for every tourist with a camera! Swiss Guards saluted everywhere.’
The gathering of new bishops is officially a pilgrimage to the tomb of St Peter and, following Mass, the bishops processed to the saint’s tomb in to pray. Bishop Curtin said, ‘This was a special moment to pray in pairs for the Church as a communion of faith and life across the world, the ministry of Pope Francis, the individual dioceses in which we are called to serve, and indeed for all those who have asked our prayers as we left Melbourne to come to Rome.’
The bishops were then taken on a guided tour of the Vatican, including the Papal chapels and the Sistine Chapel. Bishop Curtin said, ‘Even though I’ve been there before, there’s always something else to see and discover. I never noticed before that in the ‘Last Judgement’, Michelangelo has the angels holding two books, one smaller facing the saints being taken up to heaven with the names of the saints, and one much bigger facing those being taken down into hell with the names of the damned! Apparently he was very severe in such matters—a lesson for us all!’
Melbourne’s two new Auxiliary bishops then did a typically touristy thing to do in Rome—they climbed the dome of St Peter’s. ‘Afterwards Bishop Mark Edwards and I climbed up to the top of St Peter’s dome, discovering in the process that bishops don’t have to pay! The Pope was speaking to the people down in St Peter’s Square for the Sunday Angelus, so there was a big crowd there. After you take the lift to the roof there over three hundred steps to the top, so it’s quite an effort. We passed a scene on the way down where a little girl was frightened to come down the narrow circular staircase off the roof. Her dad was getting very annoyed with her which I didn’t think was the way to handle it. I wonder if she did make it down?’
We thank Bishops Curtin and Edwards for sharing with us their wonderful reflections on their time in the eternal city.