Ad Limina: Meeting Pope Francis: "you in your turn must strengthen your brothers"


Meeting Cardinal Turkson - Justice and Peace
We celebrated Mass together at 6.15. It was presided by Bp Graham Rose (Diocese of Dundee). Soon after breakfast one group left for the meeting with Pope Francis while the other one left for the first meetings with the different "dicasteries" and "offices". I was part of this second group.

Our first meeting was at the "congregation for institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life". We were welcomed by archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo OFM who invited us to feel at home and feel free to share. In fact, this was the characteristic of all the meetings of the day. In different ways, each archbishop or cardinal asked us to share with them our joys and struggles. 

Our conference has a tradition of having regular meetings between the bishops and the religious. Sometimes it is with the leadership of our two bodies (bishops' conference and religious life), sometimes with all the religious superiors and the bishops of a metropolitan province, sometimes... all the bishops and all the religious. 

Together with our appreciation for the presence of so many religious in our dioceses (without forgetting that a good number of us belong to different religious congregations: OMI, OFM, Comboni, Consolata, Sacred Heart...) we also spoke about our concern regarding the identity of the religious life, the lack of local vocations, the struggles of the diocesan institutes...

We were encouraged to continue working together and give particular attention to the dimensions of the formation and discernment of vocations.

* * *
Our next meeting was at the dicastery for the Charity of the Holy Father (Cor Unum). This dicastery expresses the Catholic Church's care for the needy, so that human brotherhood be fostered and the charity of Christ manifested. 

It was, somehow, a continuation of yesterday's meeting with Caritas which works under this dicastery. In Pope Benedict's words: "the Church's deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God, celebrating the sacraments and exercising the ministry of charity. These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable" (Deus Caritas Est)

* * *
In the meantime half of our group was back from meeting Pope Francis. The bishops were delighted with the time they spent with him. 

  • "He leaves you feeling that you are the celebrity" wrote Bishop Risi on Twitter;
  • "What a privilege to meet Papa Francis this morning,a humble man who really listens. We spent over 45 minutes with him, a truely fraternal sharing, a warm big hearted pastor of God's people. We all wanted to stay longer as he was so unassuming and real I thank my God when I think of him and when I pray for him I pray with joy" wrote Bishop Barry Wood on Facebook
  • "Audience with Pope Francis today was moving and touching. He is a humble, gentle and listening pontiff. Pray for him" were the words of Archbishop Brislin on Twitter
  • "His attitude reminded me of Jesus' words to Peter: you in your turn must strengthen your brothers" said Bishop Wustenberg. 

They all agreed that it was a very open and fraternal sharing and we are looking forward to our own meeting tomorrow morning.

* * *
In the afternoon we left for two more meetings: the first one with the "Pontifical Council for the family", the second one with the "Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace". Once again both archbishop Paglia and Cardinal Turkson started by asking us to share with them our journey in Southern Africa. "We deal with issues on the ground... help us to know what we need to do" were the first words of Cardinal Turkson. 

Time was short in both places. We had allocated an hour in each place... or we would never be able to have all these meetings!

Family is a theme we are dealing with in a special way as our Conference has chosen it to be our main concern for the next three years. Pope Francis has called for an extraordinary synod on the family to be celebrated later this year. 

Justice and Peace has been very much present in our Conference since 1967, being our Conference one of the first ones to implement the recommendation of the Second Vatican Council regarding having a Justice and Peace office in every bishops' conference in the world.

* * *
In the evening we had "a guest": Fr Piero Trabucco IMC who has been instrumental in the preparation of this visit. When we were told about the visit, we were also advised to find someone in Rome who could make all the necessary phone calls to set up these appointments. Fr Trabucco generously kept in touch with us all these months and made sure everything was ready. 

This evening he had supper with us and in our name, archbishop Brislin thanked him and gave him a copy of the book: "Conversations with myself - Nelson Mandela" as a token of our appreciation.

Fr Piero Trabucco IMC & Archbishop Steven Brislin

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Bishop of the Diocese of Manzini (Swaziland)

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