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Pope Francis greets Bishop Koenig during formation session for new bishops at the Vatican

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Pope Francis greets Bishop William E. Koenig of Wilmington, during an audience with almost 200 new bishops participating in a formation course, at the Vatican Sept. 19, 2022. Looking on is Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Most bishops will tell you they were caught off guard when they answered the phone, and a representative of the pope was on the line to tell you the Holy Father has selected you to be a bishop.

In a short time, they’ve relocated and taken on a new role.

They are priests and have been in the company of other men who have worked as bishops, but how does a first-time bishop really get to know about the job?

The Vatican helps provide an opportunity to learn some of the details in a formation session for new bishops held in Rome. Bishop Koenig, installed as bishop of the Diocese of Wilmington in July 2021, attended the week-long session in mid-September with 170 of his colleagues. Another group of 150 other new bishops attended a similar session held earlier in the month as the Vatican worked on catching up from the postponement of the meetings during COVID-related restrictions.

It was a chance to get to know his brother bishops from the United States and elsewhere, Bishop Koenig said. He also had the opportunity for an audience and brief personal exchange with Pope Francis.

Pope Francis listens as Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, speaks during an audience with almost 200 new bishops participating in a formation course, at the Vatican Sept. 19, 2022. The course for new bishops was sponsored by the dicasteries for Bishops, for Evangelization and for Eastern Churches. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

“He spent about an hour and a half with us,” Bishop Koenig said during an interview after his return.

“He spoke a couple of sentences at the beginning and then bishops could get up and ask him a question or talk to him about something that was relative to their diocese. And he would talk another 10 minutes and answer the question. Bishops were asking questions and he was responding and offering his thoughts. He was very gracious and very human.

“It was really a dialogue, without a doubt.”

Language barriers are considerable in a conference of people from nearly every continent but Zoom sessions with formal translations made it workable for everyone, the bishop said. The meeting with the pope, however, did not include translations, so much of the interaction was in Spanish.

“It was a conversation, a back-and-forth with the bishops,” the bishop said.

Pope Francis arrives for an audience with almost 200 new bishops participating in a formation course, at the Vatican Sept. 19, 2022. The course for new bishops was sponsored by the dicasteries for Bishops, for Evangelization and for Eastern Churches. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Bishop Koenig said he met with several priests from the U.S. who are working in Rome and became more familiar with the inner workings of the church.

The bishop was also among those celebrating Mass at the Chair of St. Peter Church in the basilica.

“There is such a great sense of history, obviously,” he said. “You just feel the presence of all the people who have passed through those doors. All those pilgrims from all over the world, the popes and other clergy.”

The bishops lined up and were able to briefly introduce themselves to Pope Francis.

Bishop Koenig said he was happy to be part of the gathering.

“It was worthwhile,” he said. “I’m glad I’m back in Wilmington, but it was a nice opportunity to experience the church universal.”