For decades, the visits bishops are required to make to the Vatican were known for their formality and routine style, but Pope Francis launched “a whole new style of ‘ad limina’ visits,” a Chilean bishop said.
The bishops were expecting “to have a long meeting with a speech and
then individual meetings,” as in the past, Auxiliary Bishop Fernando
Ramos of Santiago, secretary of the Chilean bishops’ conference, told
Catholic News Service Feb. 24.
Instead, the Vatican informed the prelates before their departure
from Chile that they were going to have a group meeting with the pope
and the prefects of several Vatican congregations and offices.
“We were told that this was going to be a new way of doing things
that was beginning with us, that looks for a more fruitful, more
incisive dialogue between the representatives of the local churches and
the pope with his main collaborators,” Bishop Ramos said.
After spending three hours with the pope Feb. 20, the Chilean bishops
met again with Pope Francis Feb. 23. At the second meeting, the pope
and Chilean bishops were joined by several top officials, including:
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state; Cardinal Marc
Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops and president
of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America; and Cardinal Gerhard
Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Also present at the meeting were: Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect for
the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life; Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi,
prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education; Cardinal Beniamino
Stella, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy; and Cardinal Joao Braz
de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life
and Societies of Apostolic Life.
Bishop Ramos told CNS that Cardinal Ouellet began the discussions,
which focused on four principal themes: communion and collegiality
within the church; the mission of the church in Chile; how to help
clergy, religious men and women as well as the laity “in their Christian
lives and in their pastoral service”; and pastoral guidelines for the
“It wasn’t about speaking about little things or a little problem
over here,” he said. “This was more of a way of looking at everything
together, for them to listen to our opinions and (we to listen to
theirs) on these principal themes.”
“It was something completely different,” Bishop Juan Ignacio Gonzalez
of San Bernardo, member of the permanent committee of the Chilean
bishops’ conference, told CNS.
“It was truly something wonderful from the perspective of
collegiality, of synodality, of the church walking together. This
doesn’t just respond to the realities in Chile, it’s a whole new
(approach) that begins now.”
Bishop Ramos told CNS that although the bishops knew about the
meeting with the pope and Vatican officials before they left Chile, they
found out only when they arrived in Rome that Pope Francis wanted to
meet with them privately as well.
After celebrating Mass at the tomb of St. Peter Feb. 20, the bishops
were welcomed to the library in the Apostolic Palace by the pope.
“As we were seated around him,” Bishop Gonzalez said, “the pope — in
his Argentine manner of speaking — told us: ‘Well, the soccer ball is in
the center. Whoever wants to and is brave enough, give it a kick.” (The
Argentine phrase is: “El que quiera y que tiene la cara mas dura, que
le pegue una patada.”)
Bishop Ramos added that several bishops would speak and the pope
would respond. “It was like talking after dinner while drinking some
Bacardi, in a manner of speaking,” he said.
Bishop Gonzalez said at a certain point, a bishop said, “‘Holy
Father, it’s a little bit hot in here, can we open a window?’ The pope
said, ‘Yes, of course’ and stood up. The bishop said, ‘No, no don’t
worry, Holy Father, I’ll open it.”
Bishop Ramos and Bishop Gonzalez said that the sincere discussion was
“a turning point” that led to a more open dialogue at their second
meeting with the pope and Vatican officials.
“It’s like that Scripture reading. Paul, after preaching, went to
Jerusalem to speak with Peter and tell him what he had done. This is the
same. We come to Jerusalem to tell Peter this is what happened and he
guides us to see what else we can do,” Bishop Gonzalez said.