Reflections on my audience with the Holy Father, Pope Francis

Bishop of Youngstown

Editor’s Note: Bishop Bonnar writes from Rome, reflecting on celebrating Holy Mass at Saint Peter’s Basilica, followed by a private audience with the Holy Father, Pope Francis. At the end of this story, you can scroll through photos from these events on September 19, 2022. (Note, additional coverage – with photos of Pope Francis at the audience – can be found via Vatican News)

Today, I joined 178 of my new friends, brother bishops, for Holy Mass at the Altar of the Chair of Saint Peter in Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome. I was ordained a deacon in this same space, April 14, 1988. About five years ago, it was my honor to concelebrate the Mass of the Ordination to the Diaconate of one of my parishioners from Saint Bernard Parish, Mt. Lebanon, where I served as pastor for 11 years. Today, I concelebrated Holy Mass with His Eminence, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Dicastery of Bishops, and 178 new bishops from around the world. The Intention of the Mass was for the Holy Father, Pope Francis. I was moved to tears at the end of the Mass when, two by two, we descended the stairs near the baldacchino and prayed at the tomb of the first pope, Saint Peter. It was so humbling and beyond words.

Following the celebration of Holy Mass, we walked to the Clementine Hall for a private audience with His Holiness. We applauded him as he entered the room, and for about an hour and a half we engaged in conversation with him. Bishops from around the world approached the microphone and shared their thoughts. We prayed the Angelus together and then, one by one, we personally introduced ourselves to His Holiness and greeted him. This was the first time I met Pope Francis. I was blessed to have met Pope Saint John Paul II in that same space with my classmates from the North American College nearly 35 years ago. I introduced myself in Italian as the Bishop of Youngstown and thanked His Holiness for his life and ministry. He epitomizes for me what every bishop should aspire to be. I must confess that I was speechless.

During the group conversation, the Holy Father spoke mainly in Italian and called us to be shepherds who are close to God, our brother bishops, our priests and the people of God. As a young bishop, I look forward to cultivating this closeness and continuing the Synodal journey of shared prayer, accompaniment, listening, and discernment. Please pray with me for our Holy Father, the Successors of the Apostles, especially all of us newly ordained bishops, the clergy, religious, faithful and all God’s people throughout the world. Together, let us pray, “That all may be one.”  

Arriving at the Vatican
Arriving at St. Peter’s Basilica
Bishop Mark Eckman (Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh) and Bishop Michael Woost (Auxiliary Bishop of Cleveland)
Procession in St. Peter’s Basilica
Procession to Tomb of St. Peter
Veneration at the tomb of St. Peter
Bishop Bonnar with Bishop Peter Beno (Auxiliary Bishop of Nitra, Slovakia)
Bishop Daniel Felton (Duluth, Minnesota)
Clemetine Hall in advance of the Private Audience with Pope Francis
Clementine Hall Ceiling
To read more about Bishop Bonnar’s experience at the formation course for new bishops in Rome, visit his initial blog or the Diocese of Youngstown’s Facebook page.

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