The heart of a shepherd

By Bp José Luis IMC

As we were preparing the final video before leaving for Rome, I stated that the two central moments of our “Ad Limina Apostolorum” visit would be the opening Mass at St Peter’s Basilica and the meeting with Pope Francis on Friday 16 June at 10.30 AM.

Once the video was ready to be published we came to know that Pope Francis had been admitted at Gemelli Hospital for a major surgery…

“Will he be out before Friday? Will he be strong enough to meet us?” were some of the questions we had before leaving. We were aware that, at least one bishops’ conference, had been unable to meet him when he was admitted in hospital before the Holy Week.

Other questions were added while in Rome: “Couldn’t we go to the hospital and say a prayer for him? Couldn’t he meet us briefly for a moment of prayer once he is back?”

Though we shared our wishes with everyone we met in Rome, it became clear to us that the meeting had been cancelled and it would not be possible to meet him. We were also conscious that it was more than fair for him to rest after a major surgery.

Pope Francis was discharged on Friday morning. He first stopped at St Mary Major basilica for a moment of prayer and then went back home to the “Domus Santa Martha” where a number of us were residing.

We were blessed to meet him the moment he came out of the car. He looked as if he was coming from another meeting and not from hospital!

He asked:

Are you here ‘Ad Limina’? When are we meeting?


I explained the meeting had been cancelled but we would be ready to meet him any time. “Tell the bishops to be ready, maybe after lunch”.

So it was! Just before 2.00 PM – while we were having lunch – we were told he would be with us at 2.15 PM. It was beautiful to see all the bishops dropping everything they were doing and running to be ready.

In our hearts, it was not just about us. It was also about the dioceses we represent and the people who had been praying with us during the visit. We also thought of those who had just been ordained bishops (Bp Zondi in Durban and Bp Mazibuko OMI in Ingwavuma) and those who – most probably – were coming “Ad Limina” for the last time.

It was a dream come true.

It was just him and us. No one else.
It was his own decision to be with us: “I suffer when I cannot meet the bishops”, he told us.
He spent with us more than an hour, answering our spontaneous questions about what advice he would give to bishops, the synodal journey, the reality of migrants and refugees, the coming World Youth Day in Portugal and our call to be a listening church. He spoke at length sharing many experiences from the journey of the Church all over the world.
His final word was:  

Ask the people to pray. Without prayer we are just another social organisation but not the Church

At the end, he remained by the door and greeted one by one the 34 members of our delegation. There was a visible joy in the eyes of each one of us.
Together with everything he said, we treasured the heart of the shepherd who never seems to be tired when caring for others – bishops included!