Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS, and Auxiliary Bishop Michael Boulette traveled to Rome in late January with bishops of Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas for their ad limina apostolorum pilgrimage to meet with Pope Francis as well as Vatican offices.
Following is a daily dairy of the pilgrimage January 17 to 20 by Archbishop Gustavo and Bishop Boulette.
Arriving at North American College (NAC) on January 19, we learned, gratefully, that we would only need to wear our house cassocks (filletata) to our meeting the Holy Father. We were free to simply wear our suits to the rest of the meetings.
On January 20, we departed from “Firmum Est,” the foyer of the NAC, for the Basilica of St. Peter, where we celebrated Mass at the Altar of the Tomb with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston presiding and preaching. He offered a stirring homily on the place where we were, the significance of the Tomb of St. Peter and the Basilica built over it. He preached to us of our vocation as bishop as it was celebrated in the day’s readings. Following Mass we prayed the Creed as one, reminding ourselves of our calling to proclaim the kerygma and the magisterium of the Church. Then we prayed and venerated the bones of St. Peter while remembering our call of remain in union with the Holy Father.
We were then transferred to the Apostolic Palace by bus and were ushered to the Cortile San Damaso for our audience with Holy Father Francis.
We walked through room after room of the Papal Palace, each one more ornate than the last. There were “special” seats in many of the rooms that were like presidential chairs. We were lined up in a certain order, each ordinary was accompanied by his auxiliary, the priests who accompanied or with seminarians who were studying in Rome. The Holy Father greeted each group and the bishop introduced the people accompanying them, and photos were taken.
We were moved into chairs arranged in two lines, somewhat curved, with the Holy Father at the head of the lines. The pope was assisted by an interpreter, who did a wonderful jog all through the visit.
Pope Francis welcomed us with a joyful visage, pointed out where we could get water and use the restroom if needed, saying “we are all human after all.” He invited us into a completely open and free conversation. He looked among us for a “moderator” to keep some order, and finally Cardinal DiNardo volunteered.
The Holy Father became away that most of us knew Spanish, however, his translator did not know Spanish, so the Holy Father continued in Italian for the most part, which was then translated into English.
There were 25 of us in attendance and during the two hours and 40 minutes that followed, some 22 of us asked questions that he answered freely, some answers taking from 15 to 30 minutes.
We spoke of his leadership and the gratitude that we feel for his pontificate. We discussed the abuse of minors by clergy and its horrors. We spoke of the problems of certain aspects of the media that include: Disinformation, defamation, calumny and people loving bad news. He prefers not to dialogue with the “devil” since Jesus did not.
The Holy Father on more than one occasion indicated that he sympathizes with us, and is close to us.
We then discussed the issues of migrants. He was grateful for the work of each diocese and the work of the conference on this issue. We spoke of our gratitude for Evangelii Gaudium.
He was then asked to speak more fully of his understanding of “synodality” as it describes the Church. There is still much to be studied to understand fully what it means for the Church to be Synodal.
When asked, “Where do you find hope?” he answered. “In the encounters between the young and the old people.” He listed anecdotes to support his understanding.
The Holy Father spoke of the goodness of regional seminaries, rather than a formation program for only a handful of students. He invited us to ask women about our seminarian’s readiness for ordination. He said we must listen to their insights.
At one point the Holy Father himself poured a glass of water for his interpreter. It was such a simple human act!
Bishop Mark Seitz spoke of the blow to El Paso with the multiple shooting. The Holy Father was moved and sent for a bag full of rosaries to be given to the families. He did so when asked to send a blessing to the families.
Child trafficking and child pornography was condemned, and the Holy Father had anecdotes to share.
There was a discussion of the Blessed Stanley Rother and his life. The Holy Father was well acquainted with the story of this saint to be from Oklahoma.
We celebrated the joy of Our Lady of Guadalupe and he pointed out she was a woman, with child and a mestiza. Each make her a symbol of the New Evangelization. From this we spoke of the beauty of popular piety.
We ended with a reflection on the role of the Holy Spirit in the discernment necessary to be the Church and to follow Christ faithfully.
The Holy Father then greeted each of us individually and gave each parting gift of 10 rosaries and a sacred plague.
Our next meeting was at the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Msgr. Robert Oliver represented the Commission. He was well prepared for the task.
Bishop Michael Olson of the Diocese of Fort Worth was the lead presenter who summarized efforts and concerns.
The Commission was delighted about what we have been able to accomplish in the United States in response to this grave crime and sin.
We spoke of the need for survivors to be heard, even by panels. The work of the commission is expanding to religious communities and lay associations.
The Holy Father has met with more survivors than anyone knows. We discussed the issues of who is precisely a vulnerable adult and who is disadvantaged.
The issues are world-wide and the Church, especially in the United States, will lead the way to bring about the changes needed. There are so many different views around the world about these matters. The United States is the only conference in the world which has received a “recognition” for our Charter. What we are doing works.
Archbishop Gustavo was the lead presenter to this Congregation for Bishops. Cardinal Marc Ouellet was the lead officer present. We came to discuss more fully the process of “vos estis,” the need for auxiliary bishops and the care and support of bishops under great stress.
Cardinal Ouellet then gave a quick rundown of material he gleaned from our reports. He invited us to broaden our support of the Holy Father, respond to the glory of creation, and be open to a culture of encounter.
He indicated that the Holy Father is very open to auxiliary bishops, however, many have not accepted the invitation. Solidarity is more important than ever. We are called to delicate and deliberate correction of each other. The metropolitan is called to be more pro-active in assisting suffragan bishops. He noted that there was a sabbatical program for bishops.
We are called to assist people to live lives of holiness in this day and age. We are called to insist on more effective preaching from our priests. We should rediscover and re-evangelize what it means to be baptized. We are called to a Cristocentric encounter.
From this meeting we moved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Cardinal Luis Ladaria was present for our meeting.
Bishop Steven Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter led our presentation to the Congregation. He indicated that we work to bring the faith to the public square and are facing challenges from the secular society and government. We express our firm commitment to the teaching of the Church. We brought three areas to consider: 1) the death penalty; 2) Work in favor of migrants and refugees; and 3) matters of the graviora delicta of the committed by the clergy.
The cardinal spoke of the change to the Catechism regarding the death penalty. It must be accepted as the Magisterium of the Church. There can be no appeal to a former reading of the Catechism. This is a moral, not political, issue.
Msgr. Bob Gaisinger, SJ, spoke with clarity regarding the norms of the Charter and of the canonical processes to move someone out of the clerical state. The number of cases is making life difficult for the congregation.
We must be aware of the new wave of concerns regarding “cover up” by bishops. They are aware of the issues regarding “vulnerable adults.”
We discussed matters of Eschatology and the need to catechize the Last Things: Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, and Judgment.
At the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, Archbishop Paul Coakley of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City led the Eucharist and preached of the life of St. Paul and the example that his leadership offered. We venerated the relics of St. Paul and prayed together for the same grace for our leadership.
On the second day we met with the Congregation of the Clergy and Cardinal Beniamino Stella was present with members of his staff.
Bishop Brendan Cahill from the Diocese of Victoria was our presenter. We sought some recourse in streamlining the process for special laicization. We sought new possibilities for priests who cannot be assigned. We wished to discuss further the Ratio Fundamentalis and the formation of priests.
As regards unassignable priests, the first choice is to ask them to request laicization. That is true for moral issues and for simply being not dedicated or profoundly inadequate for service as priests.
We spoke of the narcissism of the age.
The reality is that much of these difficulties stem from formation in the seminary and lack of sufficient discernment in the seminary, to be very careful about whom one ordains to the priesthood. We need to work harder to form the formators.
We discussed the issue of priests also being professional counselors. There are some issues, but clearly not forbidden. There must be caution about the two roles being mixed.
Various groups of bishops then proceeded to two other Dicasteries that were meeting simultaneously.
One group went to the Congregation for Divine Worship. Cardinal DiNardo was our presenter. Cardinal Robert Sarah and Archbishop Arthur Roche were the principal members of the congregation present.
We asked about approval for the new Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. They were in process and delighted that so many are seeking to join the Church. It is important to make sure that sound liturgical formation is occurring in the seminary. The bishop must stay focused on liturgy as the worship of God and not a performance.
The Cardinal reminded us that the main problem is a lack of faith. Are we preparing people for a life of faith? We are not worshipping ourselves but the God of all creation. The unity of the faith is a gift from God.
At the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints Archbishop Coakley was the presenter. The principal topic was the cause of Blessed Stanley Rother. Other issues of Holy men and women were discussed as well.
Later, at the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Cardinal Michael Czerny was present.
Bishop Joe Vasquez of the Diocese of Austin was our presenter. We expressed our concern about the punitive policies of the present American administration regarding refugees and migrants. Many of our people do not accept the Church’s teaching on this matter.
They were very grateful for our work in this area. The four key words of the Holy Father were reiterated: Welcome, Protect, Promote and Integrate. We are called to preach the seamlessness of life issues.
The world around us in much worse shape. A young migrate said: “I cannot live without the rule of law.” The section is producing a booklet on internally displaced people.
Bishop Michael Mulvey of the Diocese of Corpus Christ, an alumnus of NAC, was the presider and the preacher at a concelebrated Eucharist with the seminary community there. He reminded us of the role of bishop and the gift of the vocation to the priesthood. He celebrated the gift of seminarians for the Church and the need for discernment of our vocation.
The following day, at Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, Archbishop Gustavo was the presider and preacher. He proclaimed in English and Spanish the great gift of Mary, Mother of the Church, to us all. At the end of the Mass we sang the “Salve, Regina” in veneration of Mary, Mother of Jesus. We prayed at the relic of the manger of Jesus.
After Mass we went to the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life. Cardinal Kevin Ferrell, former bishop of the Diocese of Dallas, was in attendance. Bishop David Konderla of the Diocese of Tulsa was our presenter.
We spoke of the defense of marriage issues, including the horrific divorce rates in our dioceses. We spoke of a “catechumenate” for those preparing for marriage. We are called to find more ways and new ways to accompany people.
We are called to let the laity use their talents and their duties that follow their baptism. We need to wrap ourselves around the laity. We spoke of programs for the elderly and for the young. We spoke of the need for local regions to set policies for marriages that are not in sacred venues.
We were told to support, with the usual cautions, lay ecclesial movements. The need for formation of the laity is exceedingly important. We were given contact information for each department or section.
We then moved to our meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
After introductions, our presenter, Cardinal DiNardo, asked about the situation of the Church in China.
Thereupon was launched a lengthy discussion about the area. Archbishop Paul Gallo, an anthropologist, went into great detail describing the processes and the hopes of the Holy Father regarding China.
We discussed Lebanon and many other areas of the world.
We spent some time speaking of the political realities of our country. We are reminded that our call is to the Gospel and not to a political party.
One evening, some of the bishops went to a dinner and reception hosted by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate at their Generalate and others went to a reception held at the Villa Stritch, a residence for American priests who are working at various Dicasteries in the Vatican. Both events were truly blessings.
Our final day of meetings began with a visit to the Congregation for Consecrated Life. Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz was present. They were truly grateful to meet with us. There were many staff people present.
Bishop Mulvey was the presenter for our group.
Issues that immediately arose were the need to pay great attention to the formation of candidates to religious life; the need to understand the true meaning of authority and its use in religious life; the many dimensions of male and female relationships in religious life are to be understood; and finally the issues of the economy of religious life, the care of goods and their management.
We hoped for a renewal of religious life in our country while we are grateful for the many religious from other countries who serve us.
It is important that we help small orders who are reaching the end of their lives to preserve and protects their assets, their goods. We seek to help them manage these resources for the sake of the Church.
It was suggested also that when religious come to be professionals, e.g., nursing and teaching, they need to be assisted by formation programs that will assist their development and integration into these professions.
Several members of the group proceeded the final Dicastery meeting at the Congregation for Catholic Education. Bishop Daniel Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville accepted the presenter role. The undersecretary of the congregation led the meeting.
We spoke of the rapidly growing Church of our region. There are six Catholic colleges and universities which are doing great service to the Church.
All of the dioceses have Catholic schools. The general weakening of the faith makes is difficult to keep up the numbers necessary to maintain a school properly; however, that is all the more reason for us to seek their faithfulness and success.
We spoke of issues regarding transgender ideology and we were appreciative of the contributions of the congregation on this matter.
We noted that the decline in vocation in service of Catholic education has made the costs prohibitive for many. We are called to remind the faithful of the value of a Catholic education and formation.
The congregation is working on a document regarding the role of the bishop and Catholic schools.
Various pros and cons were mentioned. We need to ask: 1) What is the identity of our Catholic institutions? We cannot take this for granted; 2) Diverse groups need to be involved and play a part in the school; 3) formation of all involved, especially teachers needs to be emphasized; and 4) we must read the signs of the times in the preaching of the Gospel.
In the afternoon we travelled to our last Mass together at the Basilica of St. John in the Lateran. Bishop Michael Sis of the Diocese of San Angelo was the presider and homilist. He preached a rousing note on the role of the bishop. He reminded us that we are part of the stream of history that will have others following us. We are called to be faithful to our time in leadership.
At the end of the Mass we prayed and the symbolic Chair of the Bishop of Rome, since this is the pope’s cathedral. With this we ended our pilgrimage.
On January 25, the archbishop went to stay for four days with the sister community of the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit. He led a retreat for them as well.
Bishop Mike went on a journey to discover some of his ancestral roots in the south of Italy, first the very poor area of Avellino from whence his grandmother emigrated in the early part of the 20th century, and then to the Amalfi coast with its winding roads and incredible vistas.