As they prepare to head back to the United States, the bishops of New York are calling their visit to Rome and time with Pope Benedict a positive, encouraging and challenging experience.
The bishops wrapped up their trip by celebrating Mass Nov. 30 at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Pope’s cathedral.
“It’s been a very positive experience for us all,” said Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, the main celebrant at today’s Mass.
“To be with Pope Benedict at this time has been a special grace, his words to us were uplifting, they were challenging but by the same token they were also confirming,” he told CNA.
Bishop Murphy is one of 20 bishops from the Empire State who have been in Rome for the past week to discuss the health of their dioceses with Vatican officials and to meet with Pope Benedict XVI.
On Nov. 26, the Pope told them that “despite attempts to still the Church’s voice in the public square, many people of good will continue to look to her for wisdom, insight and sound guidance.”
Bishop Edward U. Kmiec of Buffalo said he was “greatly encouraged,” by those words because it “affirmed” what the bishops of New York have been attempting to do, despite being “criticized very often for intruding into the public domain.”
“If it’s a moral issue, then we belong and we’re going to be there and we’re going to talk about it,” Bishop Kmiec told CNA. “We’ve done so in the past and it was nice to hear from the Holy Father, saying, ‘keep up the good work.’”
As a Polish-American, Bishop Kmiec said he found great parallels with Pope John Paul II’s message to the enslaved people of Poland in 1979—“Be not afraid.”
“Fear is useless, what we need is trust in the Lord, and that drives us all. And so it was a great little impetus that we received here,” said Bishop Kmiec.
Bishop Murphy drew the same historical parallels, saying that “Pope Benedict, in a different way, has continued that same kind of confidence.”
He explained that such confidence is not rooted in “ourselves or in our talents” but in “what the Spirit of the Lord gives to us.”
“So that we know we have the most important message that the human heart needs to hear and, regardless of how others may interpret us, we have to be firm in the faith, founded in Christ and witnesses to the world,” the Rockville Centre bishop said.
The dioceses represented this week in Rome were New York, Albany, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Ogdensburg, Rochester, Rockville Centre and Syracuse.
All 20 bishops have had a series of meetings with various Vatican departments that concluded on the morning of Nov. 30 with visits to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Council for New Evangelization.
Among the issues discussed during the visit was the health of family life in New York, following the state’s legalization of same-sex marriage in June.
Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Brooklyn explained that their meeting with the Pontifical Council for the Family focused on the need to continue opposing the redefinition of marriage but to also to address the larger misunderstandings fueling acceptance of the change.
“It’s not so much that people misunderstand marriage, which they do,” said Bishop DiMarzio. “But it is more that they misunderstand individual freedom, which is the real problem as people think that means they can do whatever they want to do. So that’s our challenge we have today.”
The New York delegation is only the second of 15 episcopal delegations from the United States that will make the ad limina journey to Rome in the coming months.
The next to visit, which begins Nov. 30, is by the bishops of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.