The New Zealand Catholic bishops came away “very encouraged” with their first encounter as a group with Pope Francis, which took place during their ad limina (to the threshold) visit last month.

The bishops met Pope Francis for an 80-minute private audience at the Vatican on October 28, the last day of their visit.

NZCBC president Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn described the meeting as “quite animated, enjoyable and free-flowing”, a marked change from the ad limina visits he experienced with St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, which, he said, were “quite formal”.

“We were very encouraged by the encounter with him (Pope Francis), not because of specific issues, but the general tone of the discussions. We felt that he’s a real pastor, which is what we are trying to be, too. We were like kindred spirits,” Bishop Dunn reflected.

Christchurch Bishop Paul Martin, SM, said the Pope seems to be well- briefed on issues in New Zealand.

“It was a really good discussion and an absolute privilege to be able to meet with him on that level and talk as we did. He asked me about Christchurch and how things were after the mosque attacks,” Bishop Martin wrote on a post on his diocese’s facebook page.

Pope Francis and the bishops talked about the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in Care, his (the Pope’s) meeting the Māori King, Kīngi Tūheitia, in Rome in May, the recently concluded Amazon synod, the challenges of secularism and encouraging vocations.

He also encouraged Hamilton Bishop Stephen Lowe to continue evangelising the young. Bishop Lowe noted the Pope has a “particular love for young people”.

“[Pope Francis] stressed the need for the Church not to be afraid to meet young people in the midst of ‘their world’, and not to be scandalised by ‘their world’ or the questions they ask of the Church,” said Bishop Lowe.

“In the same way, he encouraged young people to be open to the search for the transcendent in the world. The Holy Father himself is a fine example of this, waking each morning at 4.00am to begin the day with some hours of prayer.”

Bishop Dunn said former Palmerston North Bishop Charles Drennan’s resignation was mentioned just in passing, just to remind the Pope that this happened.

Bishop Dunn said his impression was that the Pope’s attitude to the whole incident was that “that’s life”, and that it was sad that it happened, but it was not the end of the world.

While in Rome, the bishops met with the heads of the different dicasteries. They followed up on the cause for the sainthood of Mother Suzanne Aubert.

Bishop Dunn said they were also encouraged by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to investigate further the case for Columban missionary Fr Francis Vernon Douglas. Fr Douglas was believed to have been killed by Japanese soldiers in the Philippines during World War II because, some witnesses said, he (Fr Douglas) refused to divulge what he heard in the confessional.

Bishop Dunn said the congregation was very interested in finding out if Fr Douglas died because he refused to break the seal of confession.

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