Pope Francis spent almost two hours talking to Ireland’s bishops last week, telling them he wanted to hear their questions, concerns and even criticisms.

Pope Francis set aside a feature of bishops’ ad limina visits that began with Benedict XVI: writing a speech to the group, but handing the text to them instead of reading it.

Instead he sat with the 26 bishops and asked them what was on their minds.

Topics the bishops said they wanted to discuss included the ministry of a bishop, the clerical sexual abuse crisis, the role of women in the Church, the need to find new ways to engage with young people, the changing status of the Church in Irish society, and the importance of Catholic schools and methods for handing on the faith. They also spoke about plans for the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in August 2018.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, one of the few Irish bishops who had made an ad limina visit previously, said: “The meeting this morning was quite extraordinary. The dominant thing was he was asking us and challenging us: what does it mean to be a bishop? He described a bishop as like a goalkeeper, and the shots keep coming from everywhere, and you stand there ready to take them from wherever they come.”

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, president of the bishops’ conference, told reporters that Pope Francis led a reflection on “the importance of a ministry of presence, a ministry of the ear where we are listening to the joys and the hopes, the struggles and the fears of our people, that we are walking with them, that we are reaching out to them where they are at.”

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