Bishop Jaime Soto shares the following reflections from his “ad limina” visit in Rome:
The Monday morning audience with Pope Francis on January 27th, began with personal introductions of the bishops as well as any invited priests and seminarians. Once the introductions were finished, the priests and seminarians were escorted out of the study. The bishops were directed to chairs laid-out in a square with a prominent white chair signaling where the Holy Father would preside over our gathering.
Pope Francis walked with a slight limp to his chair. With a gentle, informal manner he began the meeting. He addressed us in Italian. His assistant provided a translation. We were invited to address him in Italian, English, or Spanish. The conversation then proceeded weaving the three languages together with the common thread of our fraternal apostolic communion with Christ Jesus.
We talked with Pope Francis for almost three hours. The conversation covered a broad range of topics. More than the many pastoral concerns was the clear understanding that the Holy Father shared our concerns. He opened with few comments, only to tell us the remaining morning was dedicated to our conversation, the availability of water, and where to locate the restrooms in the Apostolic Palace. Beyond that, he responded to our questions and comments.
He encouraged us to develop four close relationships as bishops: an intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus, a close fraternal bond with our brother priests, brotherly companionship with one another as bishops, and a close personal devotion for the People of God.
Both by his words as well as his example, Pope Francis taught us the necessary dual practices of dialogue and devotion. At the heart of the constellation of relationships elaborated by the Holy Father is the personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. Jesus loved us first. (I Jn. 4:19). All of our relationships have their reason and rhyme in the Lord’s loving sacrifice for us. He loved us and gave himself up for us. (Eph. 5:1-2) The relationship with Christ becomes incarnate in the daily practiced asceticism of the Body of Christ. Because Christ loved us first, the Lord Jesus can also command us to love one another. “As I have done, so you must do.” (Jn. 13:15). Only by cultivating good relationships with the clergy, brother bishops and the Faithful can we also deepened our personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. To do otherwise is to fool ourselves. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,‘ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.“ (I Jn. 4:20)
The focus on this dynamic constellation of personal relationships was not a distraction from the many concerns and challenges the bishops, together with the Holy Father, face in our pastoral ministry to the Church and the World; it is precisely by means of nurturing the sacramental nature of these bonds — both human and divine — that we purify our own hearts and continue the necessary work of purifying and renewing the Church.
The Holy Father challenged us to guard against a dubious, retreating clericalism that can pull both clergy and bishops away from fostering stronger relationships with Christ and His People. The fraternal bonds among clergy and bishops are not for their own sake. The tragic consequences of such a self-serving perspective has gravely wounded the Church. Our ordained fellowship is an integral part of the ministry that is always at the service of the Lord Jesus and His mission to shepherd the People of God toward the Kingdom of Heaven. In this context, the accountability and co-responsibility necessary for the relationship with the Faithful is not only a practical matter for today; it is an avenue to walking more closely in the light of Christ.
At the end of our conversation, the Holy Father led us in the Angelus and gave us his blessing. He then slowly limped his way back to the door of his study, where he again greeted each one of us and gave us a parting gift.
As I look back on our time together, I am reminded of the words from the Letter to the Hebrews, “Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Heb. 13:7-8) The past days have carried on with a tradition that dates from the early time of the Church, accounted in the Acts of the Apostles as well as the testimony of St.Paul himself. At the heart of these fraternal meetings is the authenticity of one’s personal experience of Jesus. Paul’s own testimony was shared with Simon Peter. Bishop Weigand, our brother bishops and I shared ours with the successor of St. Peter, Pope Francis. Each of us are inspired by the Apostolic tradition to support one another and shepherd the unity of the Church toward the one heart and one mind of Christ. This is both a duty and a consoling delight.
Read all Ad Limina reflections
- "The personal relationship with Jesus is the soul of the apostolic tradition"
- 'We are also bound closely to Christ who has called us to love Him and feed His flock'
- 'It is an avenue to walking more closely in the light of Christ'
- 'The radical witness of martyrdom prompts all disciples to be witnesses of Christ Jesus'