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 Church.

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 bishops.

“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.”

Good Shepherds

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 charity.

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 celebrating.”

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 Sacraments.


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 occasion, too.

“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.”


Edward Pentin

writes from Rome.