Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis exhorted his brother bishops to stay close to Mary and recalled that when they became bishops they received both the crosier and the cross.
“This mother, our Mother, says to us, ‘Behold, I stand with you. I will never leave you. I will never run away from you. I have stood with my son and my Savior even unto death, and I will stand with you. I will never forget you,” he said March 5 in Rome.
Archbishop Nienstedt was the main celebrant at a Mass in the Borghese Chapel of the Basilica of St. Mary Major.
The liturgy marked the beginning of the ad limina visit for the bishops of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota to Rome. March 5-11 they will meet with the Pope and Vatican officials to discuss the health of the Church in their dioceses. As part of their visit to the “thresholds of the apostles,” the bishops will also make a pilgrimage to the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul.
Archbishop Nienstedt began his homily by singing the opening verses of the Stabat Mater, the traditional hymn recounting Mary’s sorrow at the foot of the cross. He then said it was good to be in “this magnificent church dedicated to the Mother of God,” who is also “Mother of us, who are unworthy bishops.”
He explained that Mary is the personification of how “communion with God” requires a willingness to “grow in communion with the cross.” For bishops, he said, this cross can come in the shape of “personnel issues,” “allegations of abuse,” “a schedule no longer our own” or a “sense of our own inadequacy and frailty.”
Through all of these experiences, bishops “come to know that it was not only the crosier that was handed to us on our ordination day, but it was also the cross.”
This cross, however, should be born together with Mary, who “will not run away from her duty of love.” Instead, she “continues to stand by the cross in solidarity with us,” the bishops, “in our own difficulties,” as well as with “our people in their particular and unique trials” and with “our Holy Father as he experiences the great burdens of his office.”
Bishops should “never forget the presence of this loving Mother,” who has been given to them “out of the depths of Christ’s love.” She was his “final gift” before his death, such that “she is his final will and testament, a gift given to St. John, but a gift given to us as well.”
These bishops are the eighth group of U.S. prelates to come to Rome for their ad limina visit since November 2011.
They began their visit March 6 with Mass at the altar of Blessed John Paul II in St. Peter’s Basilica, before going onto meetings with the Congregation for Clergy, the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Council for the Laity.
On Friday they will meet with the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, where the forthcoming Year of Faith is likely to top the agenda.
Archbishop Nienstedt described the year, which begins in October, as “a grace-filled opportunity to refocus on the person of Jesus Christ, who is always and everywhere the light of the nations” and “a sure source of hope in a darkened world.”
“So many in our world do not know this great gift, this invitation to radical communion with God,” he said to his fellow bishops. “But it is our privileged mission as bishops to proclaim this message of goodness and salvation to all.”