VATICAN CITY, APRIL 2, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The five-yearly visit to Rome by a group of U.S. bishops is an opportunity for discernment and renewal for a scandal-shaken Church, says John Paul II.
The Pope made this proposal today when he received a group of U.S. bishops from the ecclesiastical provinces of Atlanta and Miami.
“Our meetings are taking place at a difficult time in the history of the Church in the United States,” the Holy Father told his guests.
He said he hoped the meetings will “bear particular fruit in a deeper appreciation of the mystery of the Church in all its richness, and a far-reaching discernment of the pastoral challenges facing the bishops of the United States at the dawn of the new millennium.”
The visit has three parts. The first is the personal meeting between the bishops and the Pope. The second involves the bishops praying together, particularly at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul. And the third part is an opportunity to meet with members of the Roman Curia.
At the end of their visit, the Holy Father will meet with groups of bishops to address the challenges facing the Church in the United States.
“Many of you have already spoken to me of the pain caused by the sexual abuse scandal of the past two years and the urgent need for rebuilding confidence and promoting healing between bishops, priests and the laity in your country,” John Paul II said.
“I am confident that the willingness which you have shown in acknowledging and addressing past mistakes and failures, while at the same time seeking to learn from them, will contribute greatly to this work of reconciliation and renewal,” the Pope added.
“For this reason I pray that our meetings will not only strengthen the hierarchical communion which unites the Successor of Peter with his brother bishops in the United States, but will bear abundant fruit for the growth of your own local Churches in unity and in missionary zeal for the spread of the Gospel,” he continued.
“In the coming months, I would like to engage you and your brother bishops in a series of reflections on the exercise of the episcopal office,” the Holy Father said.
“It is my hope that a consistent reflection on the gift and mystery entrusted to us will contribute to the fulfillment of your ministry as heralds of the Gospel and to the renewal of the Church in the United States,” he said.
John Paul II hoped that for the U.S. prelates the “visit to the tomb of Peter and to the house of Peter’s Successor” would be “a spiritual pilgrimage to the heart of the Church.”
“May it be for you,” he exhorted, “a summons to a more intense encounter with Jesus Christ, a pause for reflection and discernment in the light of faith, and an impulse to new vigor in mission.”