Rome, Italy, Dec 7, 2019 / 07:12 am (CNA).- Birmingham’s Bishop Robert Baker said Friday there is a hopeful spirit about the renewal of the Church in the United States at the end of the latest round of ad limina visits with Pope Francis and other curial offices.
About the crisis of mistrust in episcopal leadership, Baker said, “we know we have a long way to go, and we know the struggles there… We acknowledge our failures as bishops to do all that we should do.”
“But there’s a hopeful spirit after these ad limina visits, that if we center and focus ourselves on Christ, it’s not we who are going to save the Church … it’s Jesus Christ.”
For renewal in the U.S., “we need the help of the angels and saints. I think it’s a spiritual quest principally,” Baker stated. “We are being purified, and we are in a penitential time because of mistakes that have been made in the past, but there is hope.”
Bishop Baker spoke to EWTN following a Mass with the bishops of the U.S. regions four and five, held at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls Dec. 6. Baker was the principle celebrant.
Region four of the U.S. bishops includes Washington D.C., the Military Archdiocese, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the states of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. Region five encompasses Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.
The group of 37 bishops and one diocesan administrator met with Pope Francis for two and a half hours on the morning of Dec. 3, Baker said. “The dialogue was very open-ended and positive. The meeting with the pope was a beautiful meeting.”
Despite being a large group, he said there was time for everyone to speak.
Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Archdiocese told EWTN the ad limina visit with Pope Francis was “a very cordial atmosphere. The pope was very open to our commentary and he basically left the themes we would treat, he left that to us, what we would introduce, what we would ask.”
“He was very friendly. We talked about all sorts of things, from the formation of priests to preaching the Gospel in today’s world, to also working together as an episcopal conference.”
The week of meetings is a “moment for the bishops of a region to gather together and to meet with the different offices of the Holy See, but most importantly, with the Bishop of Rome,” Broglio added, also noting the importance of the visits to the four major basilicas: Mary Major, St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. John Lateran, and St. Peter.
He said he was particularly touched that Pope Francis asked them how Archbishop Joseph Kurtz is doing. Kurtz, the archbishop of Louisville, is ill with bladder cancer and did not travel to Rome for the ad limina.
The pope “would know him of course because he had been the head of the [bishops’] conference, but it was still very touching that he would ask us that,” Broglio said.
Bishop Baker said he spoke with Pope Francis about the importance of devotion to St. Joseph and the need “to have St. Joseph in the picture of our Church in the midst of all the scandals and troubles of family life and Church life, to bring him back into that.”
The pope said the world needs the example of the Holy Family, he said.
The Birmingham, Alabama bishop said he thinks two main things are needed for renewal in the Church in the U.S. “It’s a deep spirituality centered on Jesus Christ” and “also a zeal, we need to rekindle a zeal.”
“St. Pope John Paul II talked about the New Evangelization not being new in its message of salvation in Christ, but being new in its methods, expressions, and he said, ardor or zeal,” Baker said.
“I think the American bishops at the last [general assembly] did approve the five-year plan, which really focuses around deepening that personal relationship with Jesus,” he added. “If that’s missing, we will succeed in nothing.”
An “ad limina apostolorum” visit is a papal meeting required for every diocesan bishop in the world to provide an update on the state of one’s diocese. Ad limina visits typically take place every five years.
The trip to Rome, usually made together with all the bishops from a country or region, also serves as a pilgrimage to “the threshold of the apostles,” giving the bishops, who are the successors of the apostles, the opportunity to pray at the tomb of St. Peter and St. Paul.
The bishops of U.S. regions six and seven are the next group to come to the Vatican for an ad limina visit, which will take place Dec. 9-14. These are the bishops of Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.
There will then be a short break for Christmas before the next group arrives in mid-January.