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Bishop Peter’s Rome encounter with Pope Francis

Bishop Peter Collins met Pope Francis during a formation conference for 230 new bishops in Rome during September. Here he gives his thoughts on the experience.

From September 2 to 11 I was in Rome participating in the Formation Conference for New Bishops, an event that is jointly organised each year by the Dicastery for Bishops and the Dicastery for Evangelisation: the Dicastery for Bishops convened 120 from Europe, North Africa, North, Central and South America whilst the Dicastery for Evangelisation convened 110 from Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Oceania. The two groupings meet separately though we convened together on one of the conference days.

There were three addresses every day of the conference, presented by the Cardinal Prefect of each Dicastery – these being the departments of the Roman Curia that advise the Pope and assist the bishops across the world in disciplines of doctrine, policy and administration. The scope of the content was broad and deep.

The range of topics was interesting and challenging. For example there was an address from Archbishop Paul Gallagher, who was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Liverpool and is now deputy to the Secretary of State with responsibility for Relations with States and International Organisations. He spoke on a variety of global scenarios and the challenges faced by the Church as it strives to exercise its mission across the world.

Cardinal Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke on the Promotion and Transmission of the Faith and on the Juridical Protection of Persons (Safeguarding).

Cardinal Arthur Roche, who was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Leeds and is now prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, spoke on Ecclesial Communion and the recent Papal Motu Proprio ‘Traditionis Custodes’ which addresses issues relating to the celebration of the Latin Rite.

Alongside the intensive schedule of daily input, the conference provides the immensely important and enriching opportunity for the participants to meet each other and share their experience from a diversity that is truly global. In coming to East Anglia, I have often mentioned how long it takes to travel from Norwich to Peterborough or St Neots. Such thoughts gain a proper perspective when hearing from a bishop in Canada that his furthest outstation is accessed by a four-hour flight in a turbo-prop aircraft. It was a great privilege to encounter, and a most encouraging experience to engage with, episcopal colleagues from across the world.

Bishop Philip Moger, former Rector of the Shrine at Walsingham and now Auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of Southwark, and myself, were the only new bishops from the UK. We were both delighted to be invited to ‘English Tea’ one afternoon by a group of seminarians on the university campus where we were residing. The group of eight were drawn from Central and South America and they provided delicious fare and a most entertaining assembly. Our confreres ‘protested’ that the English were receiving special treatment, which I am happy to say was quite true. I am sending all eight seminarians a certificate declaring them to be ‘Honorary Englishmen’.

The highlight of our gathering came on Saturday September 9 and was entitled ‘The Encounter with Peter’. Our grouping of 120 celebrated Mass in the Basilica of St Peter in the Vatican and then proceeded to the Apostolic Palace to be received in audience by the Holy Father.

Pope Francis addressed us without notes and asked for questions from the new cohort of bishops, engaging us in animated conversation for the next two-and-a-half hours. The audience concluded with Pope Francis greeting each and every one of us. I spoke to His Holiness in Spanish and told him that I came from the ‘Far East’ of England!

Pictured above, Bishop Peter Collins meets Pope Francis during the Boot Camp for new bishops at the Vatican in September. © Vatican Media