At a time when the church faces great challenges, bishops of the U.S. turned to prayer and the Eucharist while spending a week together in reflection at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago.
Diocese of Wilmington Bishop W. Francis Malooly said he is grateful to have had the time to spend with his colleagues away from differences on hot-button issues that came to the surface during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops fall meeting in Baltimore.
Much of the fall meeting focused on the sex-abuse crisis in the church and demonstrated divisions among some of its leaders, but the retreat the first week of January offered bishops a chance to lend support to one another and hear from a man who has preached to three popes and top officials of the Roman Curia.
The weeklong retreat was led by 84-year-old Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, who has served as preacher to the papal househould the last 38 years. Appointed by St. John Paul II, the scripture scholar has continued in the same role under Popes Benedict and Francis.
The theme of the retreat was “the mission of the apostles and of their successors” and drew from Mark 3:14, which says Jesus “appointed 12 – whom he also named apostles – that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach.”
“The whole theme was very much centered around the Eucharist, the Holy Spirit, the relationship of God,” Bishop Malooly said in an interview Jan. 9. “I found it very, very helpful. It was good for me because I’m on the tail end of my tour, so it was like doing an assessment … what’s gone well, what could have gone better. That kind of dynamic was good.”
Bishop Malooly marks his 75th birthday Jan. 18 and is required by canon law to offer his resignation to Pope Francis. The bishop said the retreat provided time to reflect on successes and difficulties in his time as leader of the church in the diocese.
“It was time for all of us to look at how well or poorly we performed as bishops, as shepherds, as leaders,” Bishop Malooly said. “What good have we accomplished? What could have been better?”
The bishop said he was grateful for the focus of the discussion provided by Father Cantalamessa.
“I liked the way he talked about placing the Eucharist as central to all that we do. You can’t move away from the altar. You play right into the devil’s hands. The most important thing you do each week is approach the altar. It doesn’t matter who’s there celebrating the Mass. It’s all about Jesus. It was good to hear more of that.”
Pope Francis said he was convinced their ongoing and appropriate response must be found through “heartfelt, prayerful and collective listening to the word of God and to the pain of our people.”
“He was encouraging us to do what’s right,” Bishop Malooly said.
The retreat came a month before the USCCB president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, and leaders from bishops’ conferences around the world gather in Rome to address the problem of clergy sex abuse and the church’s reaction to it.
Bishop Malooly said bishops at the gathering did not focus on the February meeting.
“I think this was unrelated,” the bishop said. “I think this was to get all the bishops together in prayer and to try to get the body of bishops who all have the same task to shepherd, to lead, to protect their flock.
“We didn’t talk about February. If we don’t come together, we’re not going to be able to deal with the critical issues that will come after February.”
Bishop Malooly said the retreat helped set the tone for the bishops moving forward. He said the November meeting in Baltimore included sometimes heated discussion about allegations made against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.
Bishop Malooly believes Pope Francis wanted to give bishops the chance to be together in prayer.
“There was kind of a real fellowship. We’re all in the same boat. We need the support of each other to lead our people well.”
Bishop Malooly said he believes the retreat helped make a difference.
“It was a time of prayer, of coming together, of putting differences aside and trying to become stronger so that we can deal with the issues not only individually but as a group,” he said.