My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
Earlier this month, I traveled to Rome with the bishops of our region (Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin) for meetings with the Pope Benedict XVI and other Vatican officials. These are periodic meetings that bishops are expected to make every few years to report to the Holy See on the various ministries of our dioceses. This is called an ad limina visit because one of its primary features is a visit to the tombs of the Apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul.
After Father Daren Zehnle and I arrived in Rome late on Wednesday, Feb. 8, our ad limina visit officially started on Thursday morning by concelebrating Mass with Cardinal Francis George and the bishops of our region at the tomb of St. Peter in the lower level of St. Peter's Basilica. I prayed there for all the clergy, consecrated religious and laity of our diocese.
We then had a meeting at the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. Whereas the word "evangelization" refers to bringing non-Catholics into the church, the term "new evangelization" refers to renewing the fervor of people who were baptized as Catholics, but who have grown lukewarm in their Catholicism or have abandoned the practice of the faith altogether.
An important component of the new evangelization will be the upcoming Year of Faith. This Year of Faith will begin on Oct. 11, 2012, and will conclude on Nov. 24, 2013, the Solemnity of Christ the King. The beginning of the Year of Faith marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
I intend to work with our Presbyteral Council and the offices of our Diocesan Curia to plan specific events and activities to observe the Year of Faith in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. Details will be announced in the months to come.
Also on Thursday, Feb. 9, the bishops of Illinois had our audience with Pope Benedict XVI and it went well. Each bishop was assigned a topic to speak about and, since I am the bishop of our state capital, I was asked to brief the Holy Father on the issues involved in our dealings with Catholic politicians. I told the Pope that it is a challenge when Catholic politicians take up positions that are contrary to the Catholic faith, such as supporting abortion and civil unions, and then invoke their conscience to defend their actions. I informed His Holiness of the action of our Catholic government officials that pushed Catholic Charities out of foster care and adoption services and I described for him the efforts we are making to continue serving the poor in other ways through Catholic Charities. I also summarized for the Holy Father the steps that we are taking to work with government officials through the Catholic Conference of Illinois, the recent meeting that we bishops had with the governor, and our efforts to educate the public on these matters through our diocesan newspapers and other media. The Holy Father expressed his gratitude for this information and his support for our efforts.
In addition to meeting with the Pope, a good part of the time that we were in Rome was spent meeting with various departments of the Holy See, called "dicasteries." These were occasions for Vatican officials to talk to us about matters that they consider to be important for the universal church throughout the world, but also provided opportunities for us bishops to raise topics for discussion about the life of the church generally in the United States and specifically in our respective dioceses.
These meetings included visits to the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, for Catholic Education, for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, for Ecumenism, for Bishops, Clergy, and Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the Pontifical Councils for the Laity, for the Family, for Social Communication and for Legislative Texts, and the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.
Cardinal George and I along with several other bishops also met with officials of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, where we inquired about the cause of sainthood of Father Augustus Tolton, the first African-American priest of the United States, who served as a priest in Quincy, where he is buried. We were given the status report that the Congregation is continuing to gather more information about his personal history and a possible miracle attributed to his intervention.
During our time in Rome, we also concelebrated Masses in St. Peter's Basilica at the tomb of Blessed Pope John Paul II and the tomb of Blessed Pope John XXIII, as well as at the Basilicas of St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran. Since I and many other bishops in our group were named bishops by Pope John Paul II, praying at his tomb had special significance for us.
There was also some time for running and enjoying some good Italian pasta. Our first few days in Rome saw quite a bit of snow. This was the heaviest snowfall in Rome in 26 years, since 1986. During the three and a half years that I was a student in Rome, from 1987 to 1991, I recall no more than one or two times that it snowed, but it didn't stick. So it was actually quite pretty to see St. Peter's Square and the Eternal City blanketed with a layer of snow. I didn't get a chance to play hockey, though!
Throughout my visit to the Holy See, the Christian faithful of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois were very much in my thoughts and prayers. I hope that these prayers at the See of St. Peter will bear fruit for our diocese and bring all of you many blessings.
May God give us this grace. Amen.