The bishops of several southern U.S. states say they are returning home from their “ad limina” visit to Rome refreshed and ready to evangelize.
“I think we just felt so energized by being present with the Holy Father,” Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile, Ala. told CNA on Jan. 27.
“He is such a gracious man, a great man, a welcoming man. And I just feel very affirmed in my role as a bishop and now look forward to returning to Alabama so I can share that with the people of God.”
Archbishop Rodi and 21 of his fellow bishops have been in Rome since Jan. 22 for discussions with Pope Benedict and Vatican officials on the health of the Church in their dioceses. The group comes from the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. They are the fifth delegation of U.S. bishops to visit to Rome in recent months, and on Feb. 1 they will return home.
“The Holy Father is obviously very concerned by evangelization in our world that is becoming increasingly secular and at the same time so hungry for the Word of God,” said Archbishop Rodi, who was part of a group that met Pope Benedict on Jan. 27.
“He made it so beautifully clear,” recalled Archbishop Rodi, “that the foundation of evangelization must be the calling of people into a personal relationship with Christ – those were his words, a personal relationship with Christ.”
He said the Pope told them that he knows their “flocks are small but they are important,” and that he wants them to be welcoming all those who seek to enter the Catholic Church.
Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Ala. said the meeting with Pope Benedict gave him inspiration for the forthcoming Year of Faith, which begins Oct. 2012.
“I mentioned to him that he has already written encyclicals on hope and on charity and that we look forward to his next one on faith so that trilogy shall be complete,” he said.
Bishop Baker explained how his diocese is already “cranking up in different ways,” ahead of the Year of Faith. The diocese’s preparations include the creation of a new “catechetical institute” to help certify those who teach the Catholic faith in schools and elsewhere.
Pope Benedict was also eager to hear from Bishop Baker about the Eternal Word Television Network, the global Catholic broadcaster based in the Diocese of Birmingham.
He said the Pope was particularly interested in the “efforts towards the new evangelization that are going on through EWTN.”
Pope Benedict also asked Bishop Baker to encourage the station in its “continued collaboration with the Holy Father, the Vatican and bishops across the United States.”
Bishop Baker explained to Pope Benedict how “the flavor of Catholicism in the South is drastically changed” because of the increased numbers of Latinos migrating to the area in recent years.
He related to the Pope how the local Church has stood in solidarity with the immigrant population, particularly over proposed new immigration laws in Alabama which he feels need to be “softened in terms of religious freedom.”
They also discussed the challenge that changing demographics present to the Church’s mission to evangelize.
“It calls us bishops into responding ourselves by learning Spanish and about the cultures of Latin America. And then having our priests and seminarians learn the Spanish language, too,” said Bishop Baker.
The challenge is “not just to learn the language but embrace the peoples and the cultures,” he explained.