MOST REV. DAVID J. BONNAR
Bishop of Youngstown
Editor’s Note: Bishop David Bonnar writes from Rome, reflecting on his participation in the Formation Course for new bishops and his upcoming meeting with Pope Francis. Additional photographs from Rome can be found on the Diocese of Youngstown’s Facebook page.
From 1984 to 1988, I was blessed to live in Rome on a student visa as I completed my formation for the priesthood. I was sent there by my bishop at the time, Bishop Anthony J. Bevilacqua. On a visit in my first year, the bishop took the seminarians studying in Rome out to dinner. I will never forget what he said: “Gentlemen, we do not send you here for the education but for the experience. You are blessed to live at the center of Christendom in the shadow of the dome of Saint Peter, close to our Holy Father.” I was blessed to attend many papal liturgies in Saint Peter’s Basilica. I also got to meet Pope Saint John Paul II twice.
As a seminarian, I always appreciated the fact that I was part of the North American College Community, living with men from throughout the United States journeying together on the road to priesthood. Moreover, it was just as special for me to be able to study at the Pontifical Gregorian University with some of the brightest theologians and students from around the world.
In my 34 years as a priest, I have had opportunities to serve as a guide in traveling with others to Rome, including my sister Mary Linn and her daughter Bridget a few years ago. It is always exciting seeing Rome and the Vatican through the eyes of others who are experiencing this beautiful city for the first time, for there is so much to see.
I have been blessed to see Rome as a seminarian, and later as a priest. I cherish the Masses I celebrated as a priest in some of the holiest of places.
Today I am writing this from Rome, and I feel so humbled because this time I get to see Rome for the first time with the eyes of a bishop. When I left Rome a few years ago, I never dreamed that I would return as a bishop. I arrived on Monday, September 12, and am here until September 20 for the Corso Annuale Di Formazione Per I Nuovi Vescovi (the Annual Course for the Formation of New Bishops). I am one of 179 bishops from around the world attending this gathering at the International College of the Legionaries of Christ. Last week, there was another group of 150 bishops here for the same reason.
What usually happens once a year for new bishops was delayed as a result of the pandemic, and so this year’s formation week includes bishops ordained between 2019 and 2022. The theme for the gathering, which is sponsored by the Dicastory of Bishops, is “Annunciare il Vangelo nel cambio d’epocha e dopo la pandemia: il servizio dei Vescovi” (To Announce the Gospel in the Changing Epoch and After the Pandemic: The Service of Bishops). During this gathering, we are hearing from various dicasteries and theologians to help orient us to our new role. In a real sense, we are experiencing a global view of the Church.
This gathering is enabling me to meet new bishops from around the world. Needless to say, this experience gives me a greater appreciation for the universal Church, not to mention, the need for episcopal fraternity. Our Masses have contained a mixture of languages, including Latin, Italian, Spanish and English. We had three conferences on the first day in three different languages: Italian, Spanish and French. Thankfully, we were able to hear a simultaneous translation with the wonders of technology. I have even gone to the back of my brain to recover my Italian, and I have also used a little Spanish, which I continue to study with my instructor back home, Paulina. For discussion one day, I was part of an English-speaking group that included bishops from the Philippines, Australia, England, Canada and the United States.
Our first Mass together was very moving. We began Holy Mass singing a hymn to the Holy Spirit. I looked around at my brother bishops and I was struck by how the Holy Spirit had already come among us by virtue of the call we received from the Holy Father to be a successor to the Apostles. At the same time, I was reminded of just how much we need that Spirit every day in our lives as we aspire to be good shepherds for those whom we serve.
Tonight, I will join the new American bishops for a dinner at the North American College, which used to be my home. When I left there nearly 35 years ago, I never envisioned that I would be a bishop. God is full of surprises! We bishops have also been invited to the residence of the American priests who serve in Rome.
The highlight of the trip will come on Monday, September 19, when we will celebrate Holy Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica, where I was ordained a deacon. Afterwards, we will have a private audience with the Holy Father, Pope Francis.
As you may know, I have spent much of my short Episcopate focusing on the Holy Father’s “The Joy of the Gospel.” I cannot even begin to put into words the joy in my heart, knowing that I will meet this holy man who is calling us to a renewed encounter with Jesus and a deeper realization of our journey together through the Synod on Synodality. Please know that you are with me in my prayers. Please pray for my brother bishops and me. Pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to lead us and inflame our hearts with all that we need to be servant leaders. Above all, I ask you to pray for our Holy Father and the Church Universal. I realize I am far from my diocese, but in this experience, I feel so close to you and the entire Church.