Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
Originally, it was scheduled to take place more than two years ago. As with many events, COVID-19 delayed the “Annual Course of Formation for New Bishops,” also known as New Bishop School, or more cheekily called “Baby Bishop School.” The formation is sponsored by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Bishops and is held each September in Rome. Attendance is mandatory for those ordained in the previous year. Bishops were split into two sessions due to the backlog of those needing to attend. My week of classes had over 150 bishops participating from all over the world, including many from Eastern Catholic Churches. I was inspired by meeting several fine bishops from Ukraine. They are strong men of deep faith, heroically leading their flock.
Our topics were both spiritual and practical, from imitating the leadership of Jesus to handling crises. There was a particular focus on “synodality,” which was defined as listening and engaging the faithful. This prompted gratitude in my heart for our two recent synods – in 2017 and our recent Synod 2022. These were occasions for listening and conversation and now parishes and other Catholic institutions are planning in light of the principles that emerged from these sessions: to be both disciples and missionaries.
The capstone of the event was an “encounter with Peter” – meeting the Pope. For our session, this happened in two ways. I was privileged to concelebrate in Saint Peter’s Square with Pope Francis the Mass of Beatification of Blessed Pope John Paul I. Pope Francis preached on the humility and holiness of the Pope who served for only about a month in 1978 before his unexpected death. Pope Francis drew upon these inspiring words of Blessed John Paul I:
“Let us try to improve the Church, by becoming better ourselves. Each of us and the whole Church could recite the prayer I am accustomed to recite: ‘Lord, take me as I am, with my defects, with my shortcomings, but make me become as you want me to be."’ (General Audience, 13 September 1978).
My second “encounter with Peter” was our meeting with Pope Francis himself. We had about a two-hour session with him in one of the large meeting rooms in the Apostolic Palace. The Holy Father was warm and encouraging. He reminded us of the need to stay focused on the essential relationships of a bishop: relationship with God in prayer, with other bishops and our priests, and especially with the lay faithful whom we serve.
This prompted gratitude in my own heart for the Diocese of Gary and our wonderful local church. I no longer feel “new” in our diocese. I feel at home and am grateful that Pope Francis sent me here to serve. My trip to Rome came soon after the funeral of our beloved Bishop Dale J. Melczek. The funeral events were a microcosm of our local church, showing how we come together to show our love for each other and our faith in God, as we laid to rest this honored shepherd.
When the time came for each bishop to greet the Pope, it was only for a brief but meaningful moment. I offered these simple words to him “Love and prayers from the Diocese of Gary, Indiana in the United States.” The Holy Father responded very kindly, and embraced my arm offering his affectionate smile and embrace.
When Pope Francis accepted his election as Pontiff, he did so with the words: "I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ." None of us are worthy of the roles entrusted to us by the Lord, but the Lord’s love can be our anchor as we serve. I am delighted to serve here in Gary and renewed in my commitment to serve having “encountered Peter.” I look forward in hope for all the good work the Lord will do in and through us in the years to come.
Most Reverend Robert J. McClory
Diocese of Gary