By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Pope Francis appeared “at ease, affable, warm, friendly and hospitable” in a Jan. 16 meeting with 15 bishops from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, said Bishop Thomas Zinkula, who facilitated his fellow bishops’ conversation with the Holy Father.
Their 2-1/2-hour audience with Pope Francis topped five highlights for Bishop Zinkula, making his first “ad limina” visit to the Vatican as Bishop of the Diocese of Davenport to report on the diocese’s status. The other four highlights: celebrating Mass at the four major basilicas in Rome, praying at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, meeting with officials of governing offices (dicasteries) and the fraternity of his fellow bishops.
As leaders of their dioceses, the bishops are required to make ad limina visits to the Vatican approximately every five years. The pope’s election in 2013 and other events delayed the bishops’ ad limina visits four more years.
“It was a wonderful meeting!” Bishop Zinkula said of his group’s audience with Pope Francis. Their conversation was private. “He invited us to ask anything we wanted. We discussed a couple of very serious issues; he was incredibly honest and transparent.”
Bishop Zinkula served as coordinator of Region IX bishops while they were in Rome. In that role, he sat on one side of the pope and the interpreter on the other side during the audience. “I was asked to facilitate the conversation, which basically meant identifying which bishop would ask the next question. Hence, as it turned out, I was the only one who didn’t get to ask a question,” Bishop Zinkula said. “I could have at the end, but we had been talking for about 2-1/2 hours by then and I think everyone was ready to conclude the audience.”
Preparation for the visit began months ago. Several-hundred hours went into completing the 80-page state of the diocese document called the “quinquennial” report, said Deacon David Montgomery, the diocese’s chancellor and Bishop Zinkula’s chief of staff. The report covers a wide range of subjects such as the pastoral and administrative organization of the diocese, a general statistical overview and principal characteristics of the diocese, the ministry of the bishop, Catholic education, catechesis, and the life and ministry of the clergy.
The report also includes information about consecrated life, social justice and social teaching of the Church, social communications, health care, financial state of the diocese, pastoral care of families and pastoral care of migrants and itinerants, among other topics.
During his visits to dicasteries, there were no direct references to the quinquennial report, Bishop Zinkula said. “But at times officials would mention generalities they gleaned from the reports from our region. They clearly had studied them.”
(Read more about Bishop Zinkula’s impressions and experiences in Rome in next week’s issue of The Catholic Messenger.)