.- As their time in Rome comes to a close, the bishops of Pennsylvania and New Jersey say they like the new format for the papal audiences that take place during “ad limina” visits.
Earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI replaced brief one-on-one meetings with individual bishops with more prolonged group discussions.
Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson, N.J. told CNA that he thinks “the new way the Holy Father meets with all the bishops has led to a greater exchange between himself and the bishops.”
“And it has also allowed him to hear what the concerns of the bishops of the different regions are. He was attentive and responsive. It was a good visit.”
In total, 29 bishops from the two northeastern states have been in Rome Dec. 1-10 for meetings with Vatican officials, as well as their audience with Pope Benedict.
On the morning of Dec. 9, they visited the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity before celebrating Mass at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Pope’s cathedral, in the afternoon.
Bishop Serratelli was part of a group of 12 that met with Pope Benedict for over 30 minutes on the morning of Dec. 5. He said the new format permitted “a more lively discussion.”
When he was asked how much talking was done by the Pope and how much by each bishop, Bishop Serratelli laughed and said, “That depends on which bishop.” “It’s a different style but with same goal,” he said, adding that now “it’s more engaging.”
“The bishops each got a chance to speak, with each dealing with a different area of challenge in the United States,” he explained. Each bishop spoke “for about a minute,” which was followed by a response from Pope Benedict.
In that time, the topics discussed included the New Evangelization, the new English translation of the Mass, religious liberty in the United States, as well as “the great sense of vitality in the Church, with each bishop reporting an increase in vocations.”
Emeritus Bishop James Timlin of Scranton, Pa., who has been attending ad limina audiences since the reign Pope Pius XII, also said he approved of the new format.
“I thought it was a very interesting and very helpful interchange with the Holy Father,” he said.
“So I was delighted I was able to be here – although at my age I’m delighted to be anywhere.”
“I actually told him that you and I are the same age,” said 84-year-old Bishop Timlin.“And he was kind of surprised and taken aback, but he then talked to each one of us which is something that was never done before.”
He recalled how things were “quite different” under Pope Pius XII when there was “really no interchange,” a format that continued until Pope John Paul I. In fact, Bishop Timlin was part of the only delegation of U.S. bishops to have an audience with the pontiff who reigned for only 33 days in 1978. It was Pope John Paul II who “opened it up a great deal.”
Regardless of the evolving format, Bishop Timlin said the key thing is that the Pope “is the Vicar of Christ and whoever has that title has a special place in the hearts of all of us.” The bishop added, “he is who he is – the Vicar of Christ – and that’s what makes the difference.”
The dioceses represented on this latest ad limina are Newark, Philadelphia, Allentown, Altoona-Johnstown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Metuchen, Paterson, Pittsburgh, Scranton and Trenton.
This group of bishops is the third of 15 groups from the U.S. that will make its way to Rome in the coming months for the meetings with the Pope and their pilgrimage to the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul.