A month after becoming Bishop of Calgary, I travelled to Rome with the Western Bishops on our Ad Limina Apostolorum visit to the Vatican. It was my first such experience as a bishop. It is the historical practice of the local church in the person of the bishop coming from the limits of the universal Church, crossing the threshold of Rome to encounter the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.
What is involved in preparing for such a visit? First, the local bishop prepares a report which summarizes the status of the diocese. It is called a Quinquennial Report and it contains statistics, commentary and analysis that describe 20 key areas of diocesan life. For example: the general status of the diocese, liturgy and sacraments, clergy, religious life, vocations, catechesis, Catholic education, finances, social justice, immigrants and refugees, etc. Bishop Henry oversaw the assembling of this 70-page report that was sent to the Vatican in the fall. It contains valuable information which has helped me to appreciate the size and scope of the Diocese in addition to seeing the challenges we face in planning for the future. Some of this statistical information is found on the next page.
The actual week-long visit began with meeting Pope Francis, then the heads of Congregations and Dicasteries throughout the week, the celebration of mass at the four major basilica churches in Rome: St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul’s. There was also the opportunity to get to know the other 24 western Bishops through informal discussions and the sharing of meals. The food and wine of Rome always seems to invite such conversations. In many ways one might describe it as a pilgrimage. A busy daily schedule, but one that is marked by some very profound moments of faith.
The visit began with an early morning mass on Monday in the crypt chapel at the tomb of St. Peter. We then met with the successor of Peter, Pope Francis for a two-and-a-half hour meeting in which he invited us to propose questions and topics for discussion related to our ministry as bishops in Western Canada. These included our relationship and ministry with indigenous peoples, refugees and immigration, young people and the influence of our secular culture, vocations, the need for the vital witness of religious life and how we might in our own dioceses strengthen our communion with him as the Bishop of Rome.
Pope Francis was open and honest at the outset by saying that he “didn’t have all the answers, but was willing to share from his own experience.” His pastoral style was one of affirmation, encouragement and persuasion. The wisdom and advice he imparted was wide ranging. He stated that, as bishops, we need to adopt and integrate a missionary mode of encounter with our people, to welcome immigration of refugees and their culture as a gift, to listen to young people and work for them, to be open to accompany our people, to be men of prayer, deep sustained prayer through the Holy Spirit, to be open to consultation and discernment, and finally not to be afraid to take risks. When greeting the Pope personally, I said that I had only been the bishop of Calgary Diocese for exactly four weeks. He looked somewhat surprised, and then pointed his finger at me and said — “Did I do this to you?”— at which point we both laughed. We all came away from this experience feeling that we were talking with a brother bishop.
Our meetings with the various Congregations offered the same collegial spirit of dialogue on many pastoral issues that we face in Canada around secularism, education, healthcare, immigration, physician assisted-suicide, media and communication. The universal dimension of the Church’s pastoral outreach and the common moral and social issues faced throughout the world were often shared in light of the Canadian issues that we raised for discussion.
The spiritual moments of this pilgrimage were also very important: the celebration of mass at the four basilicas, a tour of the Scavi excavations where the tomb and bones of St. Peter were discovered, and having the opportunity to visit other historic churches that contain the relics of saints or artwork that depict our Christian faith. It is known as the eternal city not simply because of its long history but for the living witness of faith that is found within its city walls.
Upon my return from this Ad Limina visit I shared some of these highlights with the priests at the Chrism Day conference. I said that the Diocese of Calgary will benefit from this visit in various ways but especially in being aware that the Church is universal and that this reality must always be present not only through my ministry as the successor of the apostles, but in being open to receive the gifts that the universal Church has to offer us here locally. I trust that these fruits of the Ad Limina Apostolorum visit will serve our diocesan pastoral planning initiatives in the future.
Statistical Highlights from the Quinquennial Report
Here are some exciting statistics from the Quinquennial report, presented during Bishop McGrattan’s Ad Limina visit to Rome, which shows our growing and changing landscape as we continue to share the good news of the Gospel. Below is a section of the table on the General Information requested by Rome:
The increase in the total number of Catholics in our diocese is substantial over the last fifteen years (showing a 37-50% annual growth). The sacramental data over the past fifteen years has been generally unchanged and matches population growth: the data shows more baptisms and initiatory sacraments as the Catholic population has increased. Marriage numbers, however, have declined greatly.
Other interesting points of data detailed in the report include the growing numbers and the involvement and importance of lay groups in the Diocese; an unfortunate decrease in the number of women joining women’s religious orders; and interesting trends emerging as we look at other Christian groups such as conservative Protestantism, conservative Anabaptists (Hutterian Brethren, Church of God in Christ, Mennonite) and Eastern Christianity (Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox) as they continue to increase in their number of churches and adherents; and finally, non-Christian groups are also generally growing in our diocese, with growth in Islam and Sikhism.
☩ William McGrattan
Bishop of Calgary