Southern bishops bring news of 'dynamic' dioceses to Rome
VATICAN CITY — The bishops of North and South Carolina, Florida and Georgia made their ad limina visits to the Holy Father and to the tomb of St. Peter this week, bringing reports of their flourishing dioceses and praying for courage in their work to build up the Church across the South.
"Ad limina apostolorum" means "to the thresholds of the apostles" Peter and Paul. The heads of dioceses are required to make the visits every five years or so to celebrate Mass at the tombs of the apostles martyred in Rome, meet with Pope Benedict XVI to report on the status of their dioceses, and hold discussions with Vatican officials on issues of common concern.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta led the contingent of prelates from around the Atlanta Province, who kicked off their week-long visit with Mass at the tomb of St. Peter below St. Peter's Basilica on May 7. Archbishop Gregory was the principal celebrant and homilist.
Archbishop Gregory told his brother bishops, "As we go about our ministries as bishops, we have to remember that what we do is to glorify the Lord in our service of the people that we are privileged to care for, the people who come to us looking for guidance and direction and hope," he said.
While Christian charity demands efforts to meet the material and physical needs of the poor and suffering, Christians must offer more in response to requests for help, he said. Christians, especially bishops, are called to "provide faith and hope and encouragement, joy and possibility. As we gather this morning around the tomb of Peter, we ask the Lord to give us a share of his courage, a share of his witness and a share of his capacity to love."
The ad limina activities continued with the official meeting on May 8 with Pope Benedict, who heard from the bishops that the Church in the South is dynamic and growing, Bishop Peter Jugis said.
For example, the Charlotte diocese's population has grown more than 21 percent in the past eight years, to 64,281 registered households in 2011. The total estimated number of Catholics, registered and unregistered, also grew 22 percent over the same period: from 145,148 in 2004 to 177,364 in 2011. Average weekly Mass attendance also grew nearly 16 percent, from 83,000 people in 2004 to 96,000 in 2011. More than 27,000 children were enrolled in schools and faith formation programs in 2011.
This was the first ad limina meeting with Pope Benedict for Bishop Jugis, who made his last ad limina visit in 2004 to meet with Pope John Paul II. Accompanying him this time was Father Roger Arnsparger, diocesan vicar of education and chair of the diocesan Eucharistic Congress planning committee.
Education and communication were key topics during the bishops' Vatican visit: the pope has repeatedly emphasized the importance of using social media, strengthening the Catholic colleges and evangelizing in the public sphere to spread the Gospel. He also has declared a Year of Faith that will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council in October – a time to highlight the historic council as well as encourage catechesis.
During their visit with the pope on May 8, the bishops spoke for a few minutes about their dioceses and had their photos taken with him. Each talked about how they are using communication to spread the Gospel and foster education.
"The Holy Father was very engaging and very interested in all we had to say," Bishop Jugis said.
Bishop Jugis spoke about Catholic Voice NC, the legislative advocacy organization of the two bishops of North Carolina. Through Catholic Voice NC, the bishops are kept apprised of legislative matters before the General Assembly and the U.S. Congress. When the situation warrants, the bishops inform Catholic Voice NC participants, via e-mail alert, of an important matter. Participants are often asked to contact their elected representatives to ensure that a Catholic viewpoint is taken into consideration.
The organization enables the faithful to get informed quickly and participate in the public sphere "so that Catholics can bring Catholic social teaching to the decision-making process of our government," Bishop Jugis said.
Bishop Michael Burbidge of Raleigh discussed the state's constitutional amendment to protect marriage, which was approved by voters May 8, and how Catholic Voice NC worked on that issue as well as advocating for the 2009 Racial Justice Act, which enables death-row inmates to appeal their sentences in instances of racial bias.
"It was a very relaxed meeting," Bishop Jugis noted – more like a conversation than a formal meeting.
At the end of the visit, the Holy Father gave each bishop a pectoral cross and rosaries as mementos.
The rest of the week, the bishops spent in a series of meetings with Vatican offices. They included the congregations in charge of doctrine, clergy, bishops, worship, education and religious orders, and pontifical councils that deal with ecumenism, the family and laity. The bishops also met with the council for new evangelization.
— SueAnn Howell, staff writer. Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service contributed.
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