ROME -- A bishop's "ad limina" visit to Rome should be a time of reflection, renewal and inspiration to return home to preach the Gospel with joy, said Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski of Metuchen, N.J.
Preaching to his brother bishops from New Jersey and Pennsylvania Dec. 3 at Rome's Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, Bishop Bootkoski said, "If we have a sense of joy and convey that message, that will attract the people of our society because, by and large, today it seems to be a joyless society."
With Pope Benedict XVI and bishops around the world focusing on the "new evangelization" -- finding new ways to preach the Gospel to people who have heard of Christ, yet never believed or have stopped practicing their faith -- Bishop Bootkoski said the bishops must reflect on how they preach, teach and live.
"It's a difficult age for all of us," he said. As recent popes have noted, "Western society has forgotten the concept of sin" and many people see themselves primarily as "victims" of things that have gone wrong, rather than as people responsible for making good or bad choices.
And, the bishop said, the sense of victimhood "creeps into our own personal lives" and ministry, unless each one is honest with himself and with God.
Bishop Bootkoski said that echoing St. John the Baptist's cry, "Prepare the way of the Lord," in the modern world is difficult when people do not believe they have to change.
The key to effective preaching and teaching is to have "a sense of joy. Sin abounds. It's all around, but it does not overtake us because we have the message of Jesus Christ," he said.
The "ad limina" visits, which bishops make to report on the status of their dioceses, also include time for reflection and prayer. Bishop Bootkoski told his fellow bishops, "We should be inspired and become renewed through this 'ad limina' to preach and teach the Good News to our people. That is our role. That is our goal. That is why we have been called to ministry."
The bishops celebrated a late-afternoon Mass Dec. 5 at Rome's Basilica of St. Mary Major with Bishop Donald W. Trautman of Erie, Pa., presiding and preaching. The previous day, he was released from a Rome clinic, where he had spent several days for medical care.
Bishop Trautman told Catholic News Service that although the group was scheduled to remain in Rome until Dec. 10, he would leave Dec. 6 and would seek further medical treatment at home for a urological problem.
The 75-year-old bishop had been in the clinic Dec. 1 when the other bishops of Pennsylvania met the pope, so he joined bishops from New Jersey for a group meeting Dec. 5.
"I was very pleased" with the meeting with the pope, he said. "He remembered me and I was pleased at that. We had met before when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine (of the Faith) and I would come over to visit with him about liturgical matters" as a representative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The bishops are using the new translation of the Roman Missal for their Masses in Rome, and Bishop Trautman said it went well at St. Mary Major, although it was something of an adjustment to pray at a chapel where the altar is placed against the wall, meaning his back was to his fellow bishops, concelebrating priests and the small congregation.
In his homily at the Marian basilica, Bishop Trautman spoke about Mary as a model of trust and hope in God.