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Bishop Hebda joins new bishops in Rome
Did you feel any special graces last week? Last Monday, September 13th, in the course of a required program for new bishops from around the world, popularly known as Baby Bishops School, Pope Benedict XVI offered a special Apostolic blessing to the priests, religious men and women, seminarians and faithful of [our] Diocese. It was the second time that I had the opportunity to speak with him after being named to Gaylord, and both times I asked for his continued prayers for the Diocese that he had placed under the care of a rookie bishop.
Even with a line of bishops remaining to be greeted, Pope Benedict seemed to be all ears as I spoke about this local Church ( since we were surrounded by armed Swiss Guards, I chose not to hold up my Michigan hand to the Holy Father to illustrate precisely where the diocese of Gaylord can be found). What a thrill to be in the presence of the Successor of Peter and to know that he cares about the Church in our corner of the world.
He spoke forcefully to me and to my brother bishops about the ministry that had been entrusted to us. He was pleased that our group had had the privilege of making a pilgrimage the previous day to the tomb of the first pope and martyr, St. Peter, and he expressed his hope that the experience had reminded us that a Good Shepherd is required to give his life for his sheep. Referring to the portion of the ordination rite in which the new bishop is given a ring, Pope Benedict noted that we bishops are the custodians or keepers of the mystery of Christs spousal relationship with the Church and that our rings should always remind us of the call to be faithful to the Church and to the purity of her faith.
He reminded me and the other 104 new bishops from across the globe that we are called to be father, brother and friend to our priests and noted that a bishop should be able to create a climate of trust, of welcome and of affection -- as well as of honesty and justice -- being that our fatherhood and brotherhood is rooted in Christ.
The remainder of the ten-day course was equally as challenging. It was sometimes grueling to sit through the four 90-minute classes each day on topics as diverse as Bishops and Administration, The Spirituality of Bishops, The Bishop as Teacher of the Faith, and The Bishop and the promotion of Vocation. The experience was sweetened by beautiful daily liturgies (we gathered together each day for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer chanted in Latin -- as well as for Mass, with the prayers in Latin, and the readings and hymnody in an assortment of English, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese). We shared wonderful meals in the dining hall of the university, the Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, where we stayed. I am still not sure how the chef managed to do such a great job in feeding not only the 105 hungry bishops but also the 300 seminarians who had opened their facilities to us.
The conversation at meals was always enlightening. As I listened to a bishop from Haiti and a bishop from LAquila in Italy discuss the devastation that their Churches had experienced from recent earthquakes, and a third bishop from India talk about the persecution suffered by Christians in his region, it certainly put the challenges that we face here in the Diocese of Gaylord into perspective. When I mentioned that our diocese was large and sometimes difficult to traverse, the Bishop of the Syrian Eparchy in Newark was quick to tell me that his territory covered all of the United States and Canada!
I must confess that I played hooky one evening so that I could go to dinner with Reverend Daniel Gallagher (a priest from the Diocese of Gaylord who works in the Latin Section of the Popes Secretariat of State) and Matthew Cowan, our first-year seminarian at the Pontifical North American College. I was delighted to see that both were thriving--and representing the Diocese of Gaylord in the Eternal City so well. Recalling well the challenges of living away from family and friends, I promised them our prayers and now ask that you help me in carrying out that promise.
All in all, the experience was wonderful. The contact with St. Peter and his Successor was energizing, the opportunity to share experience with other new bishops priceless, and the insights from the Cardinals and Prelates who served as our professors helpful. As I pulled into Gaylord early Sunday morning after ten days of studies and nearly 24 hours of travel, I was hoping that I was returning to the Diocese as a better bishop than when I had left, more aware of how much is yet to be learned and as excited as ever about the opportunities that we have to make Christs presence felt in these 21 counties of Northern Michigan. Now that my class time is finished, all that remains is the test. Im hoping that you will be gentle graders