Bishop John Gaydos of Jefferson City, Mo., was at the Vatican this week visiting with Pope Benedict and reporting on the health of his diocese, but the trip also brought back memories of seeing John Paul II in 1997.
Bishop Gaydos said it is “really heartening” for him to meet with Benedict XVI.
“Peter is listening to us, wanting to make sure that we know that we are working with him and that he is praying and working with us,” the bishop told EWTN News March 12 outside the Congregation for Divine Worship in Vatican City.
This visit drew U.S .bishops from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.
“We spoke of vocations, of seminary work, of the new opportunity we have with the Hispanic people coming into our dioceses, Bishop Gaydos reported. “We spoke about the importance of Catholic education; we spoke of the challenge of the present culture.”
Pope Benedict “confirms us all in our mission,” he said.
The bishop still finds it “amazing” that Benedict XVI is the Pope. He visited then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on his two previous ad limina visits to talk about various pastoral matters and concerns.
“Now, to have him as chief Shepherd of the Church, I look at him and realize that his whole life has been spent in scholarly work and in such clear teaching. The fact that we now have him as the Pope is such a great grace. It’s amazing how the Holy Spirit continues to bring just the right person.”
Bishop Gaydos also reflected on his first ad limina visit. In 1997 he met with Pope John Paul II, just 10 minutes after he was ordained a bishop.
“In those days you had lunch with him, you had Mass with him, and you had a 10-minute session.”
He and his predecessor, Bishop Michael McAuliffe, met with the John Paul. The new bishop showed John Paul where Jefferson City was located and spoke about some of the initiatives he hoped to establish.
There was one particularly humorous exchange.
“I told him, ‘Holy Father, I just realized there are only three people left in this world who tell me what to do: you, Bishop McAuliffe and my mother. And all three of you were born in 1920.”
“And he looked at me and he said, ‘You are very young,’” he recalled.
Bishop Gaydos, as secretary to Cardinal John Carberry of St. Louis, had been in Rome for John Paul II’s election in 1978 and stood directly below the balcony when the Polish Pontiff was first announced to the world.
“The night he was elected was just electrifying,” the bishop said. “His whole demeanor, his whole witness; he poured himself out completely in service of the Gospel. The heart of the New Evangelization is to engage all of us who are baptized in that same kind of Gospel generosity.”
Bishop Gaydos still has the pectoral cross Blessed John Paul II gave to all the bishops who made ad limina visits in 1997.
“It is a very special thing for me right now.”
On the morning of March 12, the Missouri bishop presided at Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Chapel of St. Sebastian, where the beatified Pope is interred under the altar.
He said the daily reading “perfectly reflected the power of God’s grace in the New Evangelization that Blessed John Paul II was launching for us.”
In the reading, Jesus speaks to a Nazareth synagogue about the reception of the prophets in their own lands.
Bishop Gaydos said this is a challenge to realize that God’s salvation “isn’t something that’s way off in the distance. It’s something right here, right now.”