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“Bishops 101” course — an intensive week of seminars aimed at equipping recently consecrated bishops to face their new challenges.
BY EDWARD PENTINRegister Correspondent
VATICAN CITY — You could call it a
“Bishops 101” course — an intensive week of seminars aimed at equipping recently
consecrated bishops to face their new challenges.
Held Sept. 17-25 at the Regina Apostolorum
University, the Legion of Christ university just outside Rome, the course provided an opportunity for
132 newly minted bishops — some no more than two weeks into their ministry — to
meet each other, share experiences and get an overview of their new service to
The week, which is the brainchild
of Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, has
been a yearly event since its inception in 2001. The Congregation for the
Evangelization for the Peoples also provides a similar event for new bishops
mainly from Africa and Asia.
“You could say that it’s been like going back
to school,” Cardinal Ersilio Tonino
told the Italian bishops’ newspaper Avvenire Sept. 22. “Here, they have lived the experience of
collegiality; they’ve seen their soul broadened; they’ve understood that the
bishop is not an ‘employee’ of the Pope but with the Pope in the service of his
diocese, sharing the concerns of the whole Church.”
Brought in as one of the “old
bishops” to offer his juniors a helping hand, the cardinal was joined by
experts and heads of Vatican offices who
offered instruction on a wide variety of issues ranging from health care,
bioethics and liturgical practice to the handling of priests and the merging of
parishes. The presentations revolved around the three main roles of a bishop:
to teach, sanctify and govern.
But although bishops found these
talks helpful, the highlight of the week was simply being able to share each
others’ experiences and to absorb a sense of fraternity with their brother
“These new bishops feel like my
classmates,” said Bishop Alexander King Sample of Marquette, Wis.
“I’ve been struck by the different problems bishops have to face in different
parts of the world but also the many things we have in common.”
Along with this sense of
communion, the bishops also treasured experiencing the universality of the
Church that came through meeting their counterparts from all over the world. Praying at the tomb of St. Peter, celebrating Mass there and
meeting Pope Benedict XVI were other aspects of the week that gave participants
encouragement to face the challenges ahead.
Bishop Frank Dewane,
co-adjutor of Venice,
Fla., said such events served to
“deepen our experience.” Particularly encouraging was that the Pope, although
running late, took time to greet each of them and present them with a gift.
For bishops such as Auxiliary
Bishop Frank Caggiano of Brooklyn,
N.Y., this was their first trip back to Rome since they studied
there as seminarians.
“Just being here gives me a sense
of history that I can easily forget, coming from New York where we measure history in terms
of days,” he said.
The Church has gone through many
challenges in the past, such as the Reformation, but bishops have always met to
find a way forward, Bishop Caggiano noted.
Said the bishop, “People could
have said then that the world was ending but it didn’t, and even though we may
have enormous challenges, the world will not end here either — the Church will
endure because of the apostolicity and guarantee of the Holy Spirit, and that
gives me a tremendous sense of hope.”
In his discourse to the bishops at
his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo Sept. 21, Benedict urged them to
“follow Christ’s example,” to nurture their flocks, to become “all things to
all men,” to present the truth of faith and to bear witness to the Lord’s
Bishops, the Holy Father said,
should be in “constant contact with God,” adding that “living in intimate union
with Christ will help you to strike that vital balance between inner meditation
and the exertions required for the multiple occupations of life, avoiding the
danger of excessive activism.”
He also reminded the bishops they
are called to “judge and discipline the life of the people of God entrusted to
their pastoral care, with laws, indications and suggestions, in accordance with
what is laid down by the universal discipline of the Church.”
The Holy Father called this duty
“absolutely vital” so that the diocesan community is “internally united” and
able to “progress in profound union of faith, love and of discipline with the
Bishop of Rome and with the entire Church.” Building ecclesial communion, he
stressed, “must be your daily duty.”
Benedict’s message resonated with
the participants. Engaging and confronting a culture of secularism and
relativism, said Bishop Sample, requires unity. If that is lacking, he said,
“then we’re not really able to evangelize that culture.”
In particular, Bishop Sample
alluded to obedience to liturgical norms.
“Our people have a right to
receive from the Church and her pastors the liturgy of the Church that is
authentically, beautifully, reverentially and faithfully celebrated,” he said.
“It’s an act of obedience because it makes present the obedient will of Christ.
When we’re disobedient to liturgical norms, we contradict what we’re
Many of the bishops praised the
clarity of liturgical instruction from Cardinal Francis Arinze,
prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the
Also given high marks was the
hospitality provided by the Legionaries, who have hosted the event since its
inception. The bishops slept in beds vacated by seminarians at the Legionaries’
seminary, the Center for Higher Studies, located adjacent to the university.
“It’s been phenomenal,” said
Bishop Sample of the hospitality extended by the Legionaries. “They’ve tended
to every little detail — we’ve been well taken care of.”
The Legionaries enjoyed the
“We’ve done whatever we could to
serve them and it’s been an honor for us to be able to do it,” said Legionary
Brother Mark Haydu. “It’s a great grace and a great chance to have such a
gifted group of people of such spiritual quality in your house and to be able
to deal with them on a day-to-day basis.”
writes from Rome.