Each day after Morning Prayer, Mass, and breakfast, we gather in an auditorium for a series of presentations followed by a time for questions and interactions with the speakers. The topics are wide-ranging and diverse: the bishop as teacher of the faith; the bishop as sanctifier of his people; the bishop as father, brother, and encourager of his faith; the bishop, the promotion of vocations, and the care of seminarians; the bishop and priests with problems; the bishop and culture; the bishop and the administration of his diocese; the parish and the participation of the laity in the life and mission of the Church; the lack of priests and the Church's ministry of hope; the importance of Canon Law for the administration of the diocese; the pastoral care of the family; the bishop and ecumenism; the internal forum and the work of the Apostolic Penitentiary; the bishop and the means of social communication; the bishop and religious communities: a resource at the service of the diocese; the identity and mission of the Oriental Churches in light of the recent Synod of Bishops on the Middle East; and inter-religious dialogue today. As you can see, we are trying to cover a lot of territory.
It is interesting how different we are culturally, linguistically, and ritually at times but how much we share in common. Right across the board there is a real concern for the "new evangelization," the desire to reach those peoples and families who were at one time Catholic, who no longer practice their faith, and to somehow open to them once more the gift of the Catholic faith. There is also the fact that almost all bishops are facing a shortage of priests to "go out into the vineyard" to help do the work of the Church. How do we deal with this new reality? There is a concern as to how we as bishops can help our dioceses to be more "transparent" especially when it comes to finances and priestly behavior. Another shared concern is what is the role of the new "movements" (such as the Neo-Catechumenate) within the mission of the Church and how does one work with them within ones diocese? There has also been a great deal of discussion around the new media: how does one use the internet, texting, twitter, etc. to spread the good news in an authentic and successful manner?
In addition, I have had the opportunity to have some good one-on-one conversations with some of my brother bishops. One French bishop spoke with me about how he faces the call to be a bishop and to evangelize within a "pagan" or non-religious culture. Whereas in the United States we are still basically a "religious" nation (in that the vast majority of Americans still self-identify as "religious") such is not the case in many European countries. In many instances, the culture itself is actively opposed to any inclusion of religion within the public sphere. While we are not facing this situation at present in the United States, we are getting there (as evidenced by the recent non-religious observance of the 10th anniversary of 9/11). I found our conversation enlightening and challenging.
Another conversation I had was with a Dutch bishop around the issue of euthanasia. He described the situation that the Church faces in the Netherlands as "scary." The laws there are very liberal in terms of the "right to die" and the right to access or non-access to particular medical services based on judgments made by others r.e. the "quality of life" a particular person is facing. Assisted suicide is legal in many many, many instances. Questions have arisen as to whether or not someone who is planning on taking their life should have access to the sacraments, whether or not in some instances they should be allowed a Christian burial, and the whole pastoral issue of how to respond to this culture of death. Again, while we do not at present face this situation in the U.S., we are getting there.
As far as the schedule has gone, on the weekdays our schedule has been full from morning to night but there has been some opportunity for some recreation. This past weekend was fairly merciful. On Saturday morning, we were bused into Rome to celebrate morning Mass at the basilica of St. Ambrose and St. Charles Borromeo on the Via del Corso. This year is the 400th anniversary of the beatification of St. Charles Borromeo and after Mass we processed to the shrine of St. Charles where we were blessed with the relic of his heart. Returning to the seminary, we had one morning session and then were free for the rest of the day. Myself and the rest of the American bishops attended a bbq at the home of the American Ambassador to the Holy See, Ambassador Diaz and his wife that evening. On Sunday morning, we celebrated Mass at the altar of the Chair of St. Peter in St. Peter's Basilica with the rest of the day free, and we will have an audience with the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI this Thursday at Castel Gandolfo, something to which I am very much looking forward.
My flight home is on Saturday, returning to Indianapolis late in the evening.