Talking to Pope Francis is like talking to a brother

By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, Clarion Herald

What was your ad limina visit to Rome and your meeting with Pope Francis and Vatican officials like?

It was a spiritually moving experience. “Ad limina” literally means “to the threshold” of the apostles, so we as bishops prayed before the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, who were great leaders of the Church and surrendered their lives as martyrs. We also had the opportunity to meet with the Holy Father to talk about our ministry and to discuss some of the joys and challenges in the church.

How many ad limina visits have you made?

This was my fourth.

How often are they held?

It’s averaging about every seven years now. By the time the Holy Father goes through and meets with all the bishops in the world, it takes seven years. I went as part of Region 5, which includes the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. We had 15 bishops from our region attend.

How would you compare this ad limina with ones you have been on previously?

In previous times, many of the meetings with the various congregations and dicasteries began with a presentation from the Vatican officials about what they were doing, and then we would be allowed to ask questions. This year was very different. Pope Francis has told the prefects of the congregations and dicasteries that they are primarily there to listen to what we’re doing so that they can learn from us what the state of the church is in the United States. It became an open-ended discussion, and we could ask anything we wanted. I found the prefects of the various congregations to be extremely open in sharing our joys and also empathetic as we discussed the challenges that the Church is facing.

How many different Vatican offices did you meet with?

We met with the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life; the Congregation for the Causes of Saints; the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development; the Pontifical Council for Culture; the Congregation for Consecrated Life; the Congregation for Catholic Education; the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization; the Congregation for Bishops; the Secretary of State; the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors; the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity; the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; the Secretariat for Communication; the Congregation for Clergy; and the Congregation for Divine Worship.

Were you able to check on the beatification cause for Venerable Henriette Delille and the canonization cause for Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos?

Yes, the prefect of the congregation was very informative. For Henriette Delille, they mentioned what we recently found out –  that there is another healing that is being examined by doctors to determine whether or not they think it was a miracle. We await the decision of the doctors. As far as Blessed Seelos, they are waiting for a presentation of the possibility of another healing.

Did Pope Francis speak in English?

No, he spoke in Italian, and there was a priest sitting next to him who gave us a simultaneous translation. When we went in to meet with the pope, we weren’t sure how long the meeting would last. Other regions had told us it would be about two hours. He met with us for two hours and 45 minutes.

What was he like?

I found Pope Francis to be extraordinarily relaxed with us. He has a good sense of humor. He was well aware of what is going on in the United States, and he asked us specific questions regarding our teaching, our pastoral care and our daily ministry. He sat with us truly as a brother. I just felt that in that conversation, we experienced his wisdom, his holiness and his tremendous dedication to Christ and to the teachings of the Church. He is calling us to be enthusiastic evangelizers.

You were the principal celebrant of Mass at the tomb of St. Peter. What was that like?

One of the bishops from our region was the coordinator of our visit, and he asked me if I would be willing to serve as the celebrant of that Mass. Obviously, I was privileged, honored and humbled to do that. It’s humbling to stand at the tomb of Peter, recognizing that he was the first pope, and just two days before that, we had met with one of his successors, Pope Francis. Peter was chosen by Christ to be the leader of his Church. He was a man of great strength and great holiness, but he also was a humble man who knew his weaknesses. He denied Jesus, and, at one time, Jesus said, you don’t understand what I’m saying. Get behind me because you’re an obstacle. He was a holy man of strength and the foundation of the Church, but he was also human. As we stood at the tomb of St. Paul, we recognized that he had to go through an extraordinary conversion. He was killing Christians and then became a Christian and one of the greatest of preachers following the time of Jesus. We could feel Peter’s spirit and Paul’s spirit as we stood at their tombs. We prayed to them to ask them to pray for us, as bishops, so that we can be as Peter was – a great shepherd – and as Paul was – a great preacher.

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

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