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Catholic Voice
  October 7, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 17   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

Highlights from Rome: Mass at St. Peter's, meeting Pope Francis

One of the highlights of Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ's trip to Rome was a short meeting with Pope Francis.
L'Osservatore Romano

As I mentioned in my last article, in September I was summoned to Rome to attend a two-week "school" for new bishops. People are asking me "What did you learn?" "What did they teach you?"

I learned that the "American Church" is only a small part of the whole Catholic Church, that the things we think are important may not be important at all to our brother and sister Catholics in other parts of the world. A bishop from Bolivia told me he has a diocese the size of all Northern California, with only 20 priests, and no money. A bishop from Tunisia told me that all this talk of "The New Evangelization" is difficult to apply in his diocese. Even if you voluntarily convert to Christianity in Tunisia you will be killed.

One theme that occurred in all 20 lectures was that the bishop of a diocese is a link with all the other dioceses in the world. One of my roles is serving as a link between Oakland and the rest of the Catholic Church.

The conference had two highlights. All 150 of us new bishops consecrated in the last year were able to celebrate a high Mass in St. Peter's. Following the Mass, we had a solemn procession down to the crypt under the high altar, and each of us reverenced the tomb of St. Peter. That was great, and very emotional. I also was overwhelmed when we processed into the Basilica, and I was lined up with the new Archbishop of Armagh. What would my ancestors from County Longford have thought to know that one of their descendants would process into St. Peter's Basilica with the new Primate of All Ireland?

On the last day we were invited into the Apostolic Palace to hear a talk from Pope Francis. It's on the Internet and YouTube. He told us to "remain with our people" and not to become "airport bishops." He also told us to be happy with the diocese we were given, and not look for a wealthier or more beautiful diocese — like a married man who eyes beautiful women in the presence of his wife(!)

At the end of his talk we each had a few minutes to speak with the Holy Father. He is very affectionate. I could see why so many people are responding to him. I told him I was a Jesuit like him. He joked: "Oh, so you've got that virus in you too!" He asked how my diocese was going. I told him how good the priests of Oakland had been to me, and how warm and welcoming the faithful. I told him though that we had a large debt. Immediately he joked, "Go ask Father General (of the Jesuits) for some cash. He's got lots of money."

He is a wonderful, loving and caring man. As so many of you have told me, I too am glad God has chosen him as our Holy Father.

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