Week of prayer focused on movement of the Spirit

By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, Clarion Herald Commentary

At the request of Pope Francis, more than 250 bishops from across the country gathered at Mundelein Seminary outside Chicago for a one-week retreat Jan. 2-8 to reflect on the issues surrounding the sexual abuse of minors. Can you offer a few thoughts on how the retreat went for you?

There was a very good spirit throughout the retreat. It was a silent retreat. We gathered every day for morning prayer, which was followed by a talk by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, a Capuchin Franciscan priest who has served since the 1980s under Pope John Paul II as the “preacher to the papal household.” He’s a very learned and holy man. His responsibilities include offering retreats to the pope during Advent and Lent. He also has spoken many times in the Archdiocese of New Orleans at conferences sponsored by the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. After Father Cantalamessa’s morning talk, we had quiet time until 11 o’clock Mass, where he preached. That was followed by a silent lunch, a break in the afternoon for private prayer and rest and then another talk at 4 p.m. We had evening prayer together, supper and then a Holy Hour from 7 to 8. It was all prayer and reflection – no business discussions at all.

Did Father Cantalamessa have a theme to his reflections?

He was very strong in reminding us that our personal lives, our ministry and our shepherding are to be discerned in light of the movement of the Holy Spirit within us. There was a very good spirit, a very prayerful spirit. We also received an eight-page letter from the Holy Father in which he reminded us of our special responsibilities in general, and he said where there is abuse and injustice, we have to respond in a spirit of justice, honesty and responsibility. We must constantly remember the victims of abuse in prayer and reach out with pastoral care.

This was considered a historic gathering.

Yes. This is the first time we have met in retreat at the request of the Holy Father. When Cardinal (Daniel) DiNardo and the other members of his staff met with Pope Francis to talk about the sexual abuse of minors and the difficulties therein, the Holy Father thought it was very important for the bishops to gather together for a week in retreat. We weren’t able to do that in November because it was such short notice, but we decided to do it in Chicago at the first of the year. This gathering wasn’t simply to fulfill the Holy Father’s request but it also allowed us to refocus ourselves and the mission of the Church on Christ and on Gospel values.

The pope has called for a summit of the presidents of all Catholic bishops’ conferences around the world Feb. 21-24 at the Vatican to discuss sexual abuse issues. How will the U.S. bishops have their input?

There are 114 conferences of bishops and 21 Eastern-rite patriarchal synods, councils of churches and assemblies of ordinaries around the world. Each will send its president. Cardinal DiNardo will represent all U.S. bishops. Cardinal (Blase) Cupich of Chicago is part of the organizing committee that is preparing for the summit. Cardinal (Sean) O’Malley of Boston is head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, so he will be there as well. It will be a very challenging, four-day meeting because the bishops will be discussing the issue of sexual abuse of minors throughout the world, and how that is dealt with is different from one nation to the next. One of the challenges will be finding a common denominator that can somehow be applied in each bishops’ conference throughout the world. It’s safe to say that the United States is ahead of other nations in dealing with these issues. A few countries are only just beginning to talk about this and become aware of the issues, so we can’t expect them to be where we are. We don’t yet know what the agenda will be. Cardinal Cupich and others are working on that right now.

What is your overarching feeling about the Mundelein retreat?

The retreat allowed us to pray together and gave us the opportunity to at least, by mere presence if not by words, say we are sharing these struggles together and asking for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us. 

Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to clarionherald@clarionherald.org.

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