ROME (CNS) — The bishops of the Northwest began their “ad limina” pilgrimage at the tomb of St. Paul, praying for courage to proclaim the Gospel like he did.
Dressed in red vestments in honor of the martyred apostle buried at Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the bishops of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska chanted the creed in Latin and reflected on what faith calls them to do.
Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz of Anchorage was the principal celebrant and homilist at the Mass April 23. A handful of seminarians from the North American College and visitors to the basilica — either thrilled to find bishops celebrating a Mass in English or just curious about the sight — joined them.
The archbishop said it was “a tremendous honor” to celebrate the Mass with his fellow bishops, especially at the tomb of St. Paul, who has had a significant influence on his life.
“I grew up in St. Paul with its great cathedral; I chose Paul as my confirmation name,” he said, and he took a line from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, “Jesus Christ Is Lord,” as his episcopal motto.
Archbishop Schwietz also noted that Pope John XXIII chose the Basilica of St. Paul as the place where he announced he was convoking the Second Vatican Council. The late pope made the announcement in January 1959, “the same month and year Alaska became a state.”
In the day’s Gospel reading from St. John, the crowd asked Jesus, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” and Jesus replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”
Archbishop Schwietz said the “ad limina” visits, which bishops make to the Vatican to report on the status of their dioceses, are a time for them, too, to ask, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”
The visits are an opportunity for the bishops to share their experiences with one another and with Pope Benedict XVI and his collaborators at the Vatican and to learn from their experiences and insights, the archbishop said.
Archbishop Schwietz, the other bishops of Alaska and the bishops of Washington had their small-group meeting with the pope earlier in the day. The archbishop said the pope told them, “Have the courage to be messengers of Jesus Christ.”
In the Gospel story, the archbishop said: “First comes belief. And we come together as a group of disciples, asking the Lord to confirm our belief and strengthen it so that our zeal may be like the zeal of Paul to make the Lord Jesus known” and to proclaim the truth.
St. Paul made the ultimate sacrifice for his faith, being martyred in Rome. Archbishop Schwietz prayed that he and the other Northwest bishops would “fearlessly preach the truth despite the consequences, knowing we come from a long line of great people who have gone before us and pray for us before the throne of God.”