PNG/SI Bishops meet Pope Benedict XVI in Rome
By Fr.Victor Roche, SVD - CBC General Secretary (Part 3). (See below Part 1 on 4 June and Part 2 on 9 June). From 1-3 June, 2012 the Holy Father was in Milan with the International Gathering of Families. We were able watch some of the events live on TV in Domus Internationalis Paulus VI, where we stayed. It was an uplifting experience especially for the Catholic Church in Italy and throughout the world.
On Saturday, 2nd of June we visited the Pontifical Commission for the Laity and the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. It was good to see a Lay woman sitting among the clerical leaders addressing us. There were lots of issues that were of great importance to us.
In the afternoon we had a gathering of all the bishops of PNG/SI with the students, priests and religious who are studying or staying in Rome or who were working in PNG/SI before. It was good to meet them to share our stories. There were some 19 Bishops and some 15 priests and religious. Mipela i amamas tru!
During the next three days we had busy meetings with the officials of the different commissions. The bishops showed great interest in these meetings. The meeting rooms were well set up with good public address system, private microphone for each member and also with simultaneous translations where necessary.
On Tuesday 5th June at 7.15 am we had Mass near the tomb of St. Peter the Apostle, under the Basilica of St. Peter. As the bishops were processing through St. Peter’s Basilica, the biggest Catholic Church in the world, we could see many groups of pilgrims having Masse at different altars. As the Bishops of PNG/SI were on the Ad Limina visit, they were given the preference to celebrate Mass near the tomb of St. Peter. Abp.J ohn Ribat MSC of Port Moresby, the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference, was the main celebrant. He gave a short and well prepared homily as how privileged the bishops are to follow the footsteps St. Peter and the other Apostles.
On Wednesday, 6th of June, some of the bishops went for the General Audience which takes place in St. Peter’s Square. There were almost 20,000 people waiting to see the Pope and to hear his message. He is one of the few leaders whose speeches are well listened to. Some of the Bishops were able to meet the Pope and shake hands with him. These personal meetings are memorable and unforgettable.
In the afternoon, we went to Nemi, south-east of Rome, where the Divine Word Missionaries (SVD) have a Renewal Centre. It is beautifully situated near a lake. Here the Sabbatical and Bible Courses are conducted every year. Fr. James Uravil, SVD, Former President of the Catholic Theological Institute in Port Moresby, and the SVD confreres of the community were the hosts. It was good to experience a serene setting outside of Rome.
On Thursday, 7th of June, Vatican celebrated the Feast Day of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Domini). It is a holiday for the offices of the Vatican. So, we went to the Catacombs in Rome. Catacomb is an underground cemetery consisting of passages or tunnels with rooms, where early Christians from Rome were buried. We visited Catacombs of Santa Domitilla, which is looked after by the SVDs. We celebrated Mass in one of the underground Chapels. It is a great experience to celebrate Mass in these holy grounds. Fr. Liam Dunne, SVD, once a missionary in Wewak, PNG was a concelebrant at this Mass.
Then we went to another Catacomb called San Callisto, looked after by the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB). Here some of the early Popes and saints are buried.
In the night, there was a Mass by the Pope in the Lateran Basilica and thousands of people went on a Eucharistic procession to the Church of St. Mary Major. It is a traditional procession held every year and led by the Pope.
The last two days of the Ad Limina were reserved for the visit of the Bishops to the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. The 22 bishops of PNG/SI were divided into two groups of 11 each. The first group went on Friday, 8th June. The Papal Audience was scheduled for 11.45 am. But the bishops had to be in the Vatican one hour earlier to go through the security checks and the instructions. The security is surely very tight, but not threatening.
As the bishops were waiting in the hall for the Pope to arrive, they were very relaxed taking pictures of the hall, the beautiful paintings and sculptures. They also took pictures of one another because they were all dressed in Black Sutan (long robe) and the clothes of the Bishops for official functions. They all looked majestic and at the same time very humble leaders. They were eagerly waiting to meet their Chief Shepherd and the Servant of Servants, Pope Benedict XVI.
When the Pope entered the hall the Bishops were asked to come one by one to meet him and to talk to him. Bp. Peter Ramsden, the Anglican bishop of Port Moresby who had travelled with us, also met the Pope and had a good chat with him. Of course lots of photos were also taken.
Then the Bishops were seated in front of the Pope and they were asked to share their views of the situation in their respective dioceses or country. The bishops shared well and the Pope listened to them with keen interest. The session with the Pope lasted about 45 minutes.
On the next day, the second group of Bishops met the Pope. After a session of 45 minutes, he met all the 21 bishops of PNG/SI as a group. First of all Archbishop John Ribat, the President of the Bishops Conference addressed the Pope on behalf of the Bishops. Then the Pope addressed the Bishops. In his well-prepared speech, he mentioned about the importance of the family, the Eucharist, the National Pastoral Plan etc. He also mentioned about his joy over the celebration of Blessed Peter To Rot on his 100th birth year. He encouraged the Bishops in their ministry as shepherds of the people. The Bishops came out with a great sense of joy and satisfaction after having met their leader, the successor of Peter and the Vicar of Christ on earth.
In the evening of the same day some bishops started their journey to their destinations. Some travelled to Europe, some to their home countries for short holidays and some back to PNG/SI. The Ad Limina visit to Rome was indeed a joyful and a fruitful experience.