Bishops should imitate St. Peter as leaders of the Church by following the word of God instead of shifting popular opinion, said Archbishop Jerome Hanus of Dubuque, Iowa.

“According to Jesus’ words, a leader in the manner of Peter must be solid as a rock; he cannot be fickle; he cannot change with the winds of popularity; he must subject himself to God’s word,” the archbishop said at St. Peter’s tomb on March 7.

Archbishop Hanus is one of 21 bishops from Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas who are beginning their ad limina apostolurum (to the threshold of the apostles) visit in Rome.

The visit kicked off with an early morning Mass on March 7 in St. Peter’s Basilica. Over the next six days they will meet with the Pope and Vatican officials to discuss the health of the Church in each of their dioceses. The bishops’ schedule also included a meeting with the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops and reception hosted by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

Archbishop Hanus preached about Matthew 16:18, in which Christ proclaimed, “You are Peter; and on this rock I will build my Church.” He noted how “Jesus assigns the leadership responsibility to Peter only after Peter proclaims his faith in Jesus,” adding that “any leader must begin service by professing faith in Jesus.”

He also said that the way Peter “did not choose to be a leader” is still the way leadership is given in the Church today. It still comes as “a gift, a call from Christ.”

In terms of the papacy, “what Jesus entrusted to Peter is entrusted to the successors of Peter, the bishops of Rome, and in our day to Pope Benedict XVI,” he explained. This is because since the days of the early Church “someone had to decide” on matters of faith and morals.

“According to the meaning of today’s Gospel, that responsibility of ultimate decision was given by Jesus to Peter and his successors.”

This is why Christians, and particularly Catholics, have always “understood that Peter’s leadership role in the Church is so essential; it is an essential component of the Church,” he said.

“It is part of what we believe, what we profess in our faith.”

Like any leadership role in the Church, it is also a ministry based on service, so that “episcopal leadership, papal leadership, is for Christians, and particularly for us Catholics, a source of appreciation, assurance, guidance, peaceful acceptance.”