For the past week, I have been sequestered at the Ateneo Pontificio Regina Apostolorum in Rome, an institution about five miles west of St Peter’s Basilica. I’m here for the Formation for New Bishops programme, more colloquially known as “baby bishop school”. My colleagues are about 150 other bishops from around the world who have been appointed in the last 12 months.
The accommodation is fairly Spartan: my room reminds me of my quarters in the college seminary. The bed is about two-and-a-half feet wide, and there is no air conditioning. The meals, however, are tasty, and the conversations even tastier. In the course of the week, I’ve interacted with bishops from France, Canada, Venezuela, Iceland, Australia, Ireland, England, Mexico, Ghana, Tanzania and Guatemala. And I’ve been compelled to use all my linguistic skills – which are only OK – moving from English to decent French to mediocre Spanish to terrible Italian.
The typical day begins with a combined Mass and morning prayer, beautifully sung by a choir of seminarians. The principal celebrant and preacher at the liturgy is a prominent archbishop or cardinal from the Roman Curia. We were graced by the presence of Cardinal Ouellet (head of the Congregation for Bishops), Cardinal Parolin (the Vatican Secretary of State), Archbishop Fisichella (head of the dicastery for the New Evangelisation) and Cardinal Amato (prefect of the Congregation for Saints), among others.
After breakfast, we would gather in the auditorium for a formal presentation on some aspect of episcopal ministry. For example, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, the Archbishop of Bordeaux, gave a lively talk on the bishop as father, brother and friend to his priests; Mgr Lucio Ruiz, from the Secretariat for Communications, offered his reflections on the new media in relation to evangelisation; and Fr Franco Imoda, former rector of the Gregorian University, shared his thoughts on the rapport between psychological development and spiritual commitment.
There were also talks on administration, canon law and the reform of the Roman Curia under Pope Francis. I tried my best to follow the lecture in whatever language it was offered, but I usually got a bit tired and resorted to the simultaneous translation in English. (There was an indefatigable team of translators working around the clock in a special booth in the back of the auditorium.)
After the formal talks, we would repair for a half-hour break and then move into what the Italians call circoli minori (small groups), arranged according to language. This gave me a chance to mingle with my fellow American bishops, men from Brooklyn, Dallas, Boston, Tulsa, Washington DC, Metuchen and Superior, Wisconsin – as well as bishops from India, Canada and Ireland.
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