Texas Bishops Report On Meeting Pope

ROME — Keeping abreast of the concerns of 1 billion Catholics around the world takes a tremendous amount of administrative organization, and one Texas bishop said the Vatican has begun doing a very good job of keeping in touch with the pulse of local churches.

“This is my fourth ad limina visit to Rome, and the one this year is so far the best-organized one of all,” said Bishop Michael Pfeifer of San Angelo, Texas.

“There's a new awakening in the center of the Church to the needs in the local churches. There's a new effort to understand their needs and questions,” he said May 20 in an interview with Catholic News Service.

Bishops are required to make ad limina visits every five years to meet with the Pope and curial officials and to report on the status of their dioceses.

Bishop Pfeifer attended the May 16-22 visit with 22 other bishops from Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

“We bishops, as a group, were most concerned about education, and we made sure to point out all the lay efforts” under way in the dioceses, he said.

But Vatican officials brought up the need for new types of education for seminarians, “in particular, human formation and the psycho-sexual dimension,” he said.

Bishop Pfeifer said the bishops constantly have updated their standards for new seminarians.

He said the Church uses a special team of people to recruit new candidates.

“The team is also present in the seminary itself to help candidates know themselves as human beings and where they are with their sexuality,” he said.

“We use psychological testing, we look at their faith development and where they are with their calling from God,” he said. “We are using a lot more of the sciences” in screening and counseling programs.

“I was impressed with how well the Vatican was prepared and ready for our concerns. We felt free to express what we feel and the [Vatican] staff was very aware of what was going on in our dioceses,” Bishop Pfeifer said.

One reason Vatican officials are well prepared is that the bishops fill out and turn in a questionnaire to the Vatican prior to ad limina visits. Another reason, the bishop said, was that staffers in Vatican departments come from all over the world.

“There are Americans in the dicasteries, and so that helps because they are aware of our culture and situation,” he said.

One source of inspiration for most bishops on their ad limina visits is their meeting with the Pope.

“I made a special request to meet with John Paul on May 18, his birthday, because it's my birthday, too,” Bishop Pfeifer said.

“They actually granted my request,” he said. “So I learned how to say ‘happy birthday’ in Polish, which is actually saying, ‘May you live 100 years,’ which he just might do. And then I gave him birthday greetings in English and Spanish, as well as a gift that he really appreciated.”