The New Zealand Catholic bishops met Pope Francis for an 80-minute private audience in the Vatican on Monday 28 October during their Ad Limina visit to Rome.
Pope Francis told the bishops to raise any topic and be free with their comments, said Bishop Stephen Lowe of Hamilton, secretary of the NZ Catholic Bishops Conference.
The bishops and the Pope discussed the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in Care, which began public hearings in Auckland on Tuesday 29 October.
‘We briefed Pope Francis on this and he underlined the importance of the Church being fully engaged in the dialogue with the royal commission,’ Bishop Lowe said.
Pope Francis showed particular interest in the people of Christchurch following the March 15 mosque attacks and the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. He also reflected on his meeting the Māori King, Kīngi Tūheitia, in Rome last May, commenting on the King’s humility.
‘The Holy Father has a particular love for young people and he stressed the need for the Church not to be afraid to meet young people in the midst of “their world” and not to be scandalised by “their world” or the questions they ask of the Church,’ said Bishop Lowe. ‘In the same way he encouraged young people to be open to the search for the transcendent in the world. The Holy Father himself is a fine example of this, waking each morning at 4am to begin the day with some hours of prayer.’
The bishops were very impressed with the Pope’s pastoral sensitivity and his insights into the challenges faced in evangelising and presenting the Church in a secular age and culture. He was also very interested in how parishes are changing to become more missionary.
‘The Holy Father also reflected on the Amazonian Synod. He also shared his frustration of how peripheral issues often dominate and distract reporting on key issues that he wants to engage with.’
The meeting ended with the bishops singing the waita, Mo Maria, which was written by Bishop Jean-Baptiste Pompallier, New Zealand’s first Catholic Bishop.
In a message from Rome to the Archdiocese the following day, Cardinal John wrote, ‘In our meeting with Pope Francis yesterday he reminded us our task is to lead a Church which does things differently, a Church which not closed in on itself, which is constantly reaching out to others with the good news of the Gospel. That is the message for all of us, for everyone who shares the gift of Baptism. Are we all ready to be “bearers of a promise” and to have the “courage to take a risk”, with Jesus and for Jesus?’
Ad Limina Apostolorum (to the threshold of the apostles) visits are traditional visits made by Catholic bishops to Rome. The previous ad limina by New Zealand bishops was in 2011, when Benedict XVI was Pope.