.- The highly anticipated meetings between the bishops of Ireland, the Holy Father and leaders of Vatican congregations began on Monday morning. Before the first of the three closed sessions, Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone presided at Mass with the Irish bishops in the Vatican grottoes, where he called for humility and trust in God, saying "this is all the Lord expects of us."
Near the tomb of St. Peter, in the crypt below the altar of the Vatican basilica, Cardinal Bertone and 24 bishops from Ireland celebrated Mass to prepare for two days of meetings. The gatherings are intended to inform the Pope of their concerns regarding the current state of the Church in Ireland and receive feedback from him and members of various congregations of the Holy See.
In his homily, the Vatican's Secretary of State invoked the aid of the Holy Spirit so that "this encounter be the height of charity in truth and bring about a renewed commitment of community and of unity between the Shepherds and the faithful entrusted them."
Noting that trials can come from inside and outside the Church, the cardinal said that "both are painful, but those that come from within are naturally harder and more humiliating."
Although, as St. James affirmed, "every type of test can become a reason for purification and sanctification for the Community of believers, provided they are illuminated by faith," Cardinal Bertone preached.
He also emphasized how important it is to pray and ask God for wisdom, which with "true and sincere humility" will allow the grace of God to "act profoundly and realize a true rebirth."
"Thanks to the humiliation of Christ, the Holy Spirit, that resurrected him from the dead, can also resurrect us from our humiliation and give us new life," the cardinal told the Irish bishops.
The Secretary of State also noted that "storms" like the one that threatened to sink the boat carrying the apostles and Jesus on the Sea of Galilee and "those that rock the boat of the Church through the fault of the sins of some of its members," present an opportunity to "entrust ourselves totally to Him, to the Lord."
"The most dangerous storm," he continued, "is that which touches the heart of believers, shaking their faith and threatening their capacity to entrust themselves to God, to trust in his overabundant providence."
"Dear and venerated Brothers," concluded Cardinal Bertone, "humility and trust: this is all the Lord expects of us."
Pope Benedict is scheduled to hold two sessions of individual meetings today with the Irish bishops. They will be joined by the prefects of five Vatican congregations, including that for Bishops and for the Doctrine of the Faith. A handful of other leaders within the Roman Curia are expected at the meetings, among them the Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza.
The first session was held from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and the second from 4:30 to 7:00pm. Tuesday's meeting will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and be followed by a press conference at Vatican Radio's headquarters.
Martin Long, director of communications for the Irish Bishops' Conference told CNA that there would be no immediate press release regarding Monday's discussions.