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My visit to Rome

Well, we are back! The bishops of Ohio and Michigan have returned from their ad limina (“to the threshold”) visits in Rome. Every so many years (our last one was in 2004), each bishop in the world is to make a visit to Rome to say Mass at the thresholds of the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul and report on the condition of his diocese to the Holy Father.

In preparation for the visit, the diocesan staff responded to a questionnaire provided by the Vatican, and Msgr. Raica assembled all the responses into a study, which was then mailed to Rome in triplicate. These materials were then distributed to the various congregations (departments that advise the pope) for their review. In this way, over a period of years, the Holy See (pope and his congregations) are made aware of the conditions of all the dioceses throughout the world.

Here are a few of the comments in our study which were sent to the Holy See. Much of the report was a positive statement of the many wonderful activities and people of this Diocese of Lansing. However, at the end, we mentioned some concerns. We noted the decline in Mass attendance and sacramental participation. While acknowledging the slight decline in the population of Michigan, we recognize that this religious affiliation decline is steeper. We also saw the need to make sure our Catholic schools are affordable for our people and how difficult that is.

We talked a good deal about the need for the New Evangelization, which means for us the deeper engagement of the faithful Catholics who continue to worship with us in our Sunday assemblies; the reaching out to those who have fallen away from the practice of the faith; and the being present and public about our faith in society, even in the face of forces that may want to curtail that presence (here we mentioned the good work of our Catholic Charities, our Catholic hospitals, and the Church’s social justice teachings).

We also talked about the restructuring of our parishes, which has taken place over the past few years and will continue. We noted that this was the result of a long period of study in the diocese and a plan that was produced by the various consultative bodies in the diocese.

We also noted the renewed focus on the theme of vocation – that is, God’s call to holiness and our response. This has been a very fruitful activity in our diocese, though we need to do much more to support the sacrament and vocation of marriage.

Prior to the actual meetings for the Ohio and Michigan bishops in Rome, Bishop Blair of Toledo and I went up to Assisi for two days. That is one of my favorite places. The peace and quiet of that town in the evening after the tourists have left are remarkable. I prayed for all of you at the tomb of St. Francis.

The meetings with the various congregations took place from Wednesday, Feb. 1, through Monday, Feb. 6, with daily Masses at St. Peter’s, St. Paul’s, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, the tomb of Blessed John Paul II, the Casa Santa Maria (where priests from the USA who are doing graduate work stay), and the North American College (where seminarians – including three of ours – stay; also Father Vincke from our diocese lives and works here). We also had a reception at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See. It was a busy week, but I always found time to pray for all of you – the clergy, consecrated men and women and laity of the Diocese of Lansing, especially at the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul.

Of course, one of the highlights of the ad limina is the visit with the Holy Father, which he now does not do with individual bishops but with groups. The Holy Father conveyed his prayers and best wishes to all of you and wishes you to know that he imparts upon you his Apostolic Blessing.