Bishop Deshotel, Bishop Seitz and I just returned from Rome where, with the other bishops of Texas, we met with The Holy Father for our “Ad Limina” visit. The full phrase is “Ad Limina Apostolorum” and means “to the threshold of the apostles” and refers specifically to the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul.
The visits, usually every five years, show the unity of the bishops with the Pope as successor of St. Peter. It is also the occasion for the bishop to give an account of his stewardship of his diocese.
When the three of us from Dallas met with the Holy Father, he immediately recalled that he had visited Dallas on three occasions before being elected Pope and spoke of fond memories of those visits. I told him that he is always welcome back at anytime.
During our visit, I spoke to the Pope in particular about the tremendous growth we have experienced in the Diocese of Dallas since the last Ad Limina visit in 2005 (longer than usual because of the events of the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI). During that period the total population has increased by 300,000 and the Catholic population by more than 200,000. The pastoral challenges of such growth are huge and are far from being met despite an increase of two parishes and seven priests.
Bishop Deshotel spoke of the state of Catholic Education in the diocese with the most significant growth seen in the increase in the number of seminarians. In 2005 there were 25 and in 2011 that had more than doubled to 56. There were increases in both the number of students in parochial or diocesan schools and those in religious education classes. The total number of students in Catholic schools and religious education programs increased from more than 61,000 to more than 63,800.
Immigration and its many challenges and opportunities for the diocese were outlined by Bishop Seitz. He spoke of the large numbers of legal immigrants that continue to arrive and need to be welcomed and resettled. The challenges presented by a strong anti-immigrant feeling among the population and dealing with families separated by increased deportations of undocumented parents were also described.
All of the material had been extensively documented previously in a voluminous report submitted to the Vatican prior to our visit.
Of course, all of the Texas dioceses have similar challenges, but the dramatic growth increase in the Diocese of Dallas has intensified them.
In his remarks, Pope Benedict expressed his great concern over the issue of religious freedom in America. He says he prays that the people of the United States, especially the Catholics, will stand in unity in demanding the freedom of conscience and religious liberty provided for in the U.S Constitution.
He also spoke of the need for the Church to teach and defend the tradition of welcoming the immigrant and alien based on both the Christian and Hebrew scriptures.
Our Holy Father told us that he was overjoyed at the increase in seminarians, but is concerned about the heavy workload on our priests who are responsible for ministering to so many parishioners due to the increase in Catholics.
Referring to the disturbing lack of unity among U.S. Catholics, the Pope placed great emphasis on the need for bishops to “teach and reteach” the truths of the Catholic Faith, calling for an increase in faith formation programs. He spoke of the need for more Catholic schools and stronger Catholic families to pass on the Faith. The Holy Father also called for the Catholic identity of our Catholic Universities to be strengthened.
In closing the meeting, the Holy Father thanked the bishops for their work and expressed his great pleasure at the growth of the Church in Texas and the southwest. He expressed his joy and support for all the Catholics in the Diocese of Dallas and asked me to convey his prayers and best wishes.
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