The dialogue between bishops of the Antilles Episcopal Conference and Pope Francis during their ad limina apostolorum visit was “rich and profound”.
Archbishop of Port of Spain, Apostolic Administrator of Bridgetown Jason Gordon made this observation as he shared with the Catholic News “an encounter with Pope Francis”.
In opening remarks for their visit last Monday, the Holy Father asked that the bishops of the Antilles meet like the apostles of the Early Church. He invited them to speak as shepherds with frankness and openness to each other and “not be afraid to criticise if you feel the need”.
Archbishop Gordon said, “Most of all he said, ‘let us speak like brothers’. The conversation lasted for nearly two hours.”
He noted the “posture” of Pope Francis sent a clear signal to the 20 bishops gathered. “We were all shepherds with deep concern for the Church, local and universal. We felt like true brothers in the episcopate with Peter, Sub Petro, Cum Petro.” Archbishop Gordon said the Holy Father brought the meetings with bishops back to the biblical roots and the experience was one the bishops would not forget.
“One of our longest-serving bishops, Archbishop Emeritus Don Reece said it was the best and most profound engagement that he has had with a pope in his 37 years of being a bishop,” he said.
President of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC), Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau, Dominica set the tone with a very open and profound address which captured the pastoral concerns of bishops of the region. Archbishop Gordon said: “In the Holy Father’s response, he commented on a number of pastoral concerns: vocations, the young and young adults, formation, the role of the laity in the Church today, liturgy and inculturation, priesthood and the diaconate amongst many topics.”
During the exchange he noted a “wonderful metaphor” imparted by Pope Francis, “The Church is like a river. Some choose to swim to the left, some to the right side of the river, but we are all in the same river.” Archbishop Gordon said the metaphor used by the Holy Father showed his love and respect for all members of the Church, “even those who disagree with him”.
Archbishop Gordon added, “More importantly, he demonstrated to us a style of leadership that embraces everyone. It was evident to the bishops that the Holy Father is a man rooted in the Church; a good pastor who displays much courage and freedom; and a man of great peace.”
Describing the encounter as also insightful and respectful, he observed the bishops left feeling deep gratitude for the experience. “The dialogue was rich and profound. It shaped our understanding of the office of the bishop and gave us a real and tangible model for exercising this office.”