My days in Rome were quite wonderful and filled with the Holy Spirit in so many ways. It seems appropriate for me to give you something of a briefing on my visit to the Eternal City at this time.
Visiting with seminarians in Rome
In the first place, we have three seminarians living at the North American College and studying at the Roman universities. My first priority was to spend time with them and to encourage them in every way. For this reason, Msgr. James Bartylla joined me for the first part of my visit. All of us went together to Venice for a few days to check out what the summer pastoral assignments would be for Greg Ihm and David Carrano. I should report at this point that Ben Kessler, our third seminarian in Rome, will be taking at least a temporary leave of absence from seminary formation and studies at the end of the school year.
I must say that I am very proud of Greg, David, and Ben for their full investment of themselves in the seminary program at the North American College (NAC), in their academic studies, and in their apostolic work this year. I frequently tell Monsignor. Bartylla that when young men enter the seminary in their early 20s, we should not be surprised if there would be temporary leaves of absence or departures - in fact we should rejoice when our young men are aggressively seeking the Will of God.
On Ascension Thursday our three seminarians and myself celebrated Mass together at St. Peter's Basilica early in the morning and then - after providing them with a good American breakfast - we walked for a few hours in the Vatican Gardens speaking of the happenings in our diocese, the needs and problems in our Church, and the wonderful contribution that they will make according to God's Will.
Consultations concerning cathedral
My second priority was to consult people who are wiser than myself regarding the final decision about the future of our cathedral-church. I was able to do so and to receive significant enlightenment and encouragement from many sources. I will have a final word with our Priest's Council on May 22 and will announce that decision at the conclusion of our Corpus Christi procession and celebration on June 10.
I hope that as many of you as possible will be present for the Stational Mass at 11 a.m., followed by the solemn outdoor procession from St. Patrick's to the site of the former St. Raphael's, with a stop at the State Capitol for some remarks about the proper and friendly relationship of Church and state, which I hope will be embodied in our future Cathedral.
Visiting tombs of Peter and Paul
Lastly, but certainly not least in importance, a visit to Rome is always very good for the spiritual renewal of the bishop as he visits the tombs of Peter and Paul, who laid down their lives for the faith.
As I visited St. Peter's Basilica to pray on one occasion, I ran into a young couple from the United States who were not Catholic. I had just planned to spend some time in silent prayer at St. Peter's but they prevailed on me to answer certain of their questions.
To make a long story short, we wound up spending the better part of two hours together inside the Basilica and walking in the Vatican Gardens so that they might be deepened in their experience of the Christian faith. Those were some of the very best hours I spent in Rome because the young couple understood better, after our meeting than before, the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church and why the fullness of the Truth of Christ is best embodied in the Catholic Church. I don't know what the future will hold for this couple, but the Lord used our meeting to raise new questions in their hearts and minds. How I wish I could spend at least an hour and a half each day in welcoming people such as this young couple to the fullness of the truth of Jesus Christ as it is embodied in our Catholic Church.
Pope's weekly audiences
Interestingly, during a portion of my trip the Holy Father was making an important pastoral visit to Brazil. Though the people of Latin America benefited greatly from his trip, for us back in Rome one of the unfortunate results of the Pope's absence was the cancellation of his two regular Wednesday General Audiences. For several years now, tens of thousands have gathered in St. Peter's Square or in the Paul VI Auditorium to hear the Word of God in Holy Scripture proclaimed, to pray with the Pope, and to be catechized. In his two years as Pope, our current Holy Father has continued the great tradition of his predecessor, taking advantage of the Wednesday Audiences to offer a series of reflections on a similar theme.
In fact, in the first five years of Pope John Paul's Pontificate, the Holy Father taught on an entirely new theme of theology and natural philosophy during his Wednesday addresses. In a truly beautiful and profound way, the late Pope's teachings on the "Theology of the Body" bring together and reaffirm the many iterations of what the Church has always taught, namely that the human body, marriage, and human sexuality are all wonderful gifts from God.
Theology of Body teachings
Even to this day, in our very own diocese, Catholics and non-Catholics alike are discovering the tremendous wisdom and depth found in John Paul's teaching on fundamental realities of human nature. I would encourage you to take advantage of the wonderful work our Offices of Evangelization and Catechesis and of Family Ministry are doing to provide instruction on John Paul's Theology of the Body. Presentations such as the one which will occur on June 2 provide an excellent opportunity to realize the tremendous richness that can be found in the Church's understanding of the human person, sexuality, and thus of the family.
Needless to say, all of you whom I love so much were very much in my thoughts and prayers throughout the time in Rome and especially during the celebration of Mass and other prayer times. I continue to count on the support of your good prayers and I thank you for them from the heart. Thank you for reading this and may God Bless each one of you. During this month of May let us continue to entrust ourselves and our whole lives to Christ our God, through the intercession of Mary our Mother.
Praised Be Jesus Christ!
Diocese of Madison, The Catholic Herald
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