Greetings from Rome! This week of April 22 I find myself in Rome with the bishops of Region XII for our ad limina visit. These visits usually take place every five years, but the last time we were asked to come to meet with the Holy Father and to report on our stewardship of the local churches we have been called to serve was back to 2004. Then it was Pope John Paul II who greeted us, prayed with us and spoke to us.  This is our first visit with his successor, Pope Benedict XVI.

All the active bishops of the Northwest will be present, including those serving in Seattle, Spokane, Yakima, Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks, Boise, Helena, Great Falls-Billings, Baker and Portland. Archbishop Alexander Brunett, Archbishop Emeritus of Seattle and Bishop Carlos Sevilla, Bishop Emeritus of Yakima will be joining us together with Bishop-elect Liam Cary of Baker. This year we will not be having individual meetings with the Pope but will gather as a group and share some of our thoughts about ministry here in the great Northwest.  We will be in Rome on the anniversary of the Holy Father’s installation, April 24. Seven years have passed since his election on April 19th, 2005. I remember traveling to Rome for his installation with the then Archbishop of San Francisco, Cardinal William Levada. One week after the installation, Cardinal Levada was asked by the Pope to replace him at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In addition to meeting with the Pope, we will be spending our time from Monday through Friday, April 23 through 27, in conversations with several of the Vatican congregations that help the Holy Father in his responsibilities of governing the universal church.  The schedule may shift a bit, but the plan before departure includes: visits to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and the Pontifical Council for the Family on Monday, April 23; visits to the Congregation for Bishops, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Congregation for Divine Worship and Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life on Tuesday, April 24; visits with the Congregation for Clergy and the Pontifical Council for the Laity on Wednesday, April 25; a visit with the Congregation for Promoting Christian Unity on Thursday, April 26 and visits with the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization on Friday, April 27. I shall be arriving in Rome on Sunday afternoon, April 22 and returning home on Saturday morning, April 28.

In addition to all these meetings, we shall gladly carry out our primary responsibility in coming to Rome and that is to pray for the dioceses we have been called to serve at the major basilicas.  Masses at St. Peter’s Basilica will be on Wednesday, April 25, and Friday, April 27, first at the Altar of the Tomb of St. Peter and next at the Altar of Blessed John Paul II.  On Monday, April 23, we shall be celebrating Mass at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.  On Tuesday we travel to Saint Mary Major Basilica for an afternoon celebration of the Eucharist and on Thursday, April 26, we travel to St. John Lateran Basilica for another afternoon celebration of the Eucharist.  The bishops have all been invited to concelebrate Mass on Sunday evening, April 22, with the seminarians and faculty of the Pontifical North American College in the seminary chapel.

During these days we are also invited to receptions with the faculty of the North American College, the American priests working in Rome at their residence, Villa Stritch, and with the United States Ambassador to the Holy See, Miguel Diaz, at his residence.  Cardinal Levada has also graciously invited the Portland clergy for luncheon at his home.  Father John Henderson, our Vocations Director, will be in Rome and join me for that luncheon, together with Bishop-elect Liam Cary of Baker and the three priests from the archdiocese now serving in Rome, Father Jeremy Driscoll, OSB, of Mount Angel Abbey, Msgr. John Cihak and Father Joseph Betschart.  Father Betschart will be returning to the archdiocese to assume his new responsibility as Rector of Mount Angel Seminary, effective July 1.

A visit to Rome is always a nostalgic event for me.  I spent my final four years of preparation for ordination in Rome from 1958 to 1962 as a student of the North American College and the Pontifical Gregorian University. Those were exciting days as preparations were underway for the Second Vatican Council. While we are in Rome I know that many of our conversations will focus on the progress or lack thereof that has been made in our local churches in implementing the teachings of the Council. Pope Benedict XVI has called for a Year of Faith to begin on the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Council this coming fall, October 11th.  Our own Presbyteral Council will be reviewing ways in which we might more meaningfully celebrate that Year of Faith at our next meeting in May.

There are always some surprises when I visit Rome. One event that will not be a surprise will be a gathering for dinner with the Portland seminarians. Presently we have five men at the North American College who are preparing themselves for ordination to the priesthood, two of whom, Rev. Mr. Jeff Eirvin and Rev. Mr. Matt Libra, will be ordained priests at our cathedral on June 9th.  The students always say they look forward to the visit of their bishop. I know that they really are looking forward to enjoying a good meal at one of their favorite Roman restaurants on the bishop’s dime!

All of you will be uppermost in my prayers and thoughts as I spend those days in Rome. This, of course, will be my final ad limina visit as Archbishop of Portland.  It is the fifth time I have traveled to Rome for these visits as a diocesan bishop, twice while serving in Winona and now three times as the Archbishop of Portland.  I am grateful that I have this opportunity to return to the Eternal City one more time as your archbishop.  The report I submitted on the state of the archdiocese last year, which was reviewed for you in earlier columns in the Catholic Sentinel, hopefully gives the Holy Father an idea of the needs of the diocese and the directions that will need to be taken under the leadership of our new archbishop.  This is also a good time to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as this archdiocese prepares to welcome its new shepherd.  He too will be in my prayers.  God knows who he is and God knows better than any of us what will be his greatest challenges.