.- A bishop’s love for Jesus Christ and the Church can overcome all his fears, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said at St. Peter's tomb on Feb. 9.
Cardinal George is visiting the Vatican along with the bishops of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, who began their “ad limina” visit today.
“In the responsorial psalm we asked the Lord to protect us, to take away our fears, which means that the psalmist and the apostles were afraid at times – as are we. There is reason to be afraid. But, nonetheless, stronger than fear is faith, and stronger than both is love,” he said.
Cardinal George was the main celebrant and homilist at the early morning Mass in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica. He told his brother bishops to take heart from today’s psalm, which proclaims, “I sought the Lord and he heard me and he delivered me from all my fears.”
He also reflected upon the martyrdom of St. James the Greater and the imprisonment of St. Peter.
“We bring our local churches to this most sacred spot, we bring our knowledge of a faith that is born of love and that is perfected by our love for our people and for Christ himself and his apostles,” said Cardinal George.
“And so we take from the tomb of Peter the mission that was given to him, and his successors, even as we prepare this morning to meet his successor, Pope Benedict XVI.”
Over the next nine days, the bishops will meet with the Pope and various Vatican departments to discuss the health of the Church in their respective dioceses and across the United States. The "ad limina" visit takes place every five years and also involves the bishops making a pilgrimage to the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul.
The issue of religious freedom is likely to be near the top of the agenda throughout, due to the Jan. 20 announcement by the Obama administration that it will force nearly all religious and secular institutions to pay for sterilization, contraception and abortifacients as part of their health insurance coverage.
Prior to the rule being finalized, Pope Benedict described it in January as a “grave threat” to religious liberty in the United States.
In their prayers of intercession this morning, the bishops prayed for “all Americans during the election year,” that God may “inspire voters to choose leaders who respect the freedom of their people to worship the one true God.”
Cardinal George also recalled a comment by Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York who, at the last gathering of U.S. bishops, highlighted how “the conversion of St. Paul taught the early Christians that Jesus and his Church are one.”
“We cannot separate Jesus from the Church,” said Cardinal George. “When that is done and the Church is lost, inevitably Jesus is lost. And when Jesus is lost, God is forgotten.”
After a post-Mass breakfast at the Pontifical North American College, the bishops of Indiana and Illinois had an audience with Pope Benedict XVI. Meanwhile, the bishops of Wisconsin met with officials at the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.