JULY 5, 2004




In His Light

by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron

We are part of the family of the Bishop of Rome

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

This column is the third and last of my reflections on my visit “ad Limina Apostolorum” in Rome in May. In the first of these, I reported on my private audience with our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, and in the second I offered my commentary on the address he gave to the bishops of our group. Today I want to reflect on my experience of praying at the shrines of the apostles in Rome.

The church law which requires a bishop to go on pilgrimage to Rome every five years singles out three distinct elements for this visit: first, meeting with the Pope; second, making an account of his stewardship as the shepherd of his diocese; and third, praying at the tombs of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.

This last item is not an after thought, an “add on” offered in the sense of, “Oh, by the way, since you’ll be in Rome don’t miss going to the graves of Peter and Paul.” No, the prayer at the Apostles’ tombs is an integral, I could even say an indispensable, part of the pilgrimage. The aim of the quinquennial journey is to reinforce the bonds of unity between the bishop of a diocese and the Bishop of Rome. That is the unity we mean every time we recite the Creed and say that “we believe in the communion of saints.”

Our unity with the Pope is not the same thing as an alliance or a compact that joins together two parties in a business initiative or a political cause. That sort of bond is the result of purely human initiative. Our unity in the Church is a grace. It is a mystery, a sacred reality accomplished by God Himself within the realm of time and space.

The Holy Father is the “living icon” so to speak of St. Peter. He makes present in our day the leader Christ explicitly chose to head the circle of disciples. To be under the leadership of the Pope is to be part of this circle of Christ’s beloved friends, which extends in an unbroken continuity from his days in Palestine, through our own time, and even to the end of the world.

Our communion with the Pope is a guarantee that we are in the “space” that Christ established for Him and His own true friends to share their life and love on earth; in anticipation of continuing that sharing for all eternity in heaven. This circle stretches back from the first disciples — from Mary Magdalen, Lazarus, Joseph of Arimathea, and Martha of Bethany — all the way to our own day, to Padre Pio and Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

When I joined the other bishops of California and Nevada in offering Mass at the altars built beside the tombs of Peter and Paul, I was professing publicly the faith of all of us who belong to the Church in Oakland: that we know ourselves to be the sons and daughters, the sisters and brothers, of the Holy Apostles because we are part of the family of the Bishop of Rome, who is their representation on earth.




Official newspaper of the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Oakland, California encompassing all of
Alameda &
Contra Costa counties.