Home from Rome: Bishop Tylka grateful for 2-week experience of global church
As students around the diocese returned to school, so did Bishop Louis Tylka. And a weeklong “Baby Bishops’ School” experience in Rome left him humbled and grateful for an education on the global breadth and unity of the church.
“We often think of the church as our parish and the pope,” said Bishop Tylka, back in his office at the Spalding Pastoral Center on Monday, still a bit jet-lagged but having already returned to a busy weekend schedule after arriving home Sept. 15. “We don’t have that broader perspective of beyond our parishes.”
Bishop Tylka gained that perspective often this month as he studied and prayed with more than 150 other newly named bishops from around the world, met Pope Francis for the first time, was a concelebrant for the beatification Mass of Blessed Pope John Paul I, and spent additional days at the Vatican promoting the sainthood cause of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.
“This was an experience where we could see that the Gospel has been spread literally to the four corners of the world,” said Bishop Tylka of the annual formation course for new bishops. “We’re all united in the common mission given to us by Christ to go and baptize and make disciples. We all face different challenges in how we do that.”
Particularly moving, he said, were interactions with eight bishops attending from Ukraine.
“It was really powerful to be with them and to hear firsthand what they are going through in this unprovoked, horrible war that continues,” said Bishop Tylka.
MEETING WITH POPE FRANCIS
From Sept. 1 to 8, Bishop Tylka attended sessions on themes including the meaning of “a synodal church”; crisis management with special attention to handling situations and allegations of abuse; the church after the pandemic; a review of what canon law says about administering a diocese; communication and the use of the media; ministry to families; and promoting care for all people and for the environment.
The courses were organized by the Vatican Dicastery for Bishops, the Dicastery for Evangelization, and the Discastery for Eastern Churches.
Because of COVID-19, the training program has not taken place for three years, so the 2022 group was exceptionally large. A second session of 175 additional bishops gathered the following week.
Asked if he received a diploma at the end of “school,” Bishop Tylka smiled.
“They didn’t hand out diplomas, unless you count the rosary the pope gave us as our diploma,” he said.
Bishop Tylka also gave Pope Francis a rosary — a specially made one with an image of Archbishop Sheen — during his first one-on-one encounter with the Holy Father. The moment was brief as Pope Francis greeted the 152 bishops individually after spending 90 minutes in dialogue with them.
“I simply expressed my thanks for his confidence in making me a bishop, and ‘Please accept this rosary with the image of Venerable Fulton Sheen on it.’ He smiled and said ‘Thank you.’ And that was it.”
“A LISTENING CHURCH”
But Pope Francis left a lasting impression on Bishop Tylka as he modeled what it means to be a “listening church.”
“He didn’t give us a long speech,” recalled Bishop Tylka of the pope’s time with the group on their final day together. “He began by greeting us and said ‘I want to listen to you. What are your thoughts? What are your concerns?’ and then he engaged in an hour and a half dialogue with us.”
The emphasis on listening and synodality “was affirming of things I’ve already done in the diocese,” said Bishop Tylka, who has traveled widely throughout central Illinois in the past two years. “It’s also affirming of the goal to continue to be a bishop and a church that is willing to really listen — to the Holy Spirit as well as to the hopes and dreams and cares and struggles of the people of God in our diocese as we go forward so that we can be effective in proclaiming the Gospel.”
Bishop Tylka called his time in Rome “a very humbling experience” filled with “I can’t believe I’m here” moments as he celebrated Masses at St. Peter’s Basilica and other major churches. A special memory was “witnessing history” as Blessed Pope John Paul I was beatified by Pope Francis during a Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Sept. 4 .
In addition, on the final day of the bishops’ formation courses, they concelebrated Mass inside St. Peter’s Basilica, venerated the relics of St. Peter, “and then an hour later we met the successor of Peter,” Pope Francis.
SHEEN TALKS “CONSTRUCTIVE”
Following the formation week, Bishop Tylka was joined in Rome by diocesan leaders including Msgr. Philip Halfacre, vicar general, Patricia Gibson, chancellor, and Msgr. Jason Gray, judicial vicar, for several days of talks with Vatican officials regarding the beatification cause of Archbishop Sheen.
“I would only report that we had very constructive talks with the cardinal prefect for the Dicastery of the Causes of Saints, and the cardinal Secretary of State,” said Bishop Tylka. “There is a very strong interest by many people, both here in the Diocese of Peoria as well as in Rome, to see this cause advance. That’s certainly hopeful to see the level of interest that exists.”