I’m a Midwesterner, no doubt, born and raised in Chicago. I am referred to by Wisconsinites as a “flat-lander.” But, like most Chicagoans, I did spend weeks, even months at various times, in Wisconsin, if only to verify that the land does rise and that there truly are “hills.” I have even paid my share of taxes on Chicagoans, more commonly referred to as speeding tickets. So, I admit that I am a provincial and proud of it.

But, even as a provincial, I consider the most fascinating city in the world, or at least the world that I have experienced, is Rome. Rome truly is the eternal city. I had the privilege of living there from 1979-83. Yes, I am somewhat biased. However, is there another city that can claim to have two capitals? Rome has both the capital of Italy and the capital of Catholicism – I might even venture to add the capital of Christianity. After all, how many people could name the president of the World Council of Churches? Yet, everyone knows who Francis is – the Pope. Rome is unconquerable. Rome is the only city in Western civilization to have ancient, medieval and modern histories. If Paris is like an elegant lady to be admired from a distance, then Rome is like your grandmother’s attic begging to be explored. With each corner, the city offers some wonderful discoveries and insights, some old and some new, but always fascinating.

I remember my friend, Mr. Chester Bonk, walking the streets of Rome with me when he came for a visit. He told me, “I love this city. I don’t want anything to change.” Of course, Rome has changed over the years. Every time I return, I note the changes. Smart cars overrun motorbikes, parking is worse than ever before, and now the Euro has replaced the Lira. However, Chester did capture something in his statement that has been preserved over the centuries – the Roman spirit. This is what makes the city eternal and the affection for it unchanging.

This last week, I returned from Rome, where I was fulfilling my obligations of visiting the Vatican congregations and reporting the activities of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee over the last seven years, to His Holiness Pope Francis. The highlight of the trip was our meeting of Pope Francis. At our regional meeting with him last Thursday, it fell upon me to moderate the meeting with Pope Francis with the bishops of Region VII. It’s a daunting task to address the Pope and direct the meeting with fellow bishops. Pope Francis had a translator whose linguistic skills kept both the Pope and the bishops well informed. The Pope spoke in Italian and of course, we bishops spoke in English.

As a moderator, I wanted to break the ice and make sure everyone felt comfortable so I asked the first question. After thanking Pope Francis for taking the time to be with us — after all, this is one of the leading figures in the world, and of course, the most significant figure in Catholicism — I asked him what does the Pope do for fun? When the chuckles died down the Pope smiled and said he liked to listen to music, to read and he continues to keep in contact with friends by phone. The question achieved its intended result: the ice was broken.

In a relaxed atmosphere, the bishops continued their discussion talking to the Pope about missionary discipleship, a theme that Pope Francis has promoted throughout his papacy. Missionary discipleship calls the faithful to take Christ into the world and introduce their neighbors to a caring and loving God. There was also a frank exchange on the attentiveness to the Holy Spirit, a type of Pentecost for the modern Church. The movement of the spirit in evangelization is significant trusting that the Holy Spirit is guiding and directing the Church in service to the people of God. The Pope offered an interesting insight in bringing the old and the young together. He quoted Acts 2:16-18, “I will pour out my spirit on all people, your sons and daughters will prophesy your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” Bringing the young and the old together to service seemed very important to Pope Francis. He was also worried about divisions in the Church, and said at time it is created by the media that misinterprets his reflections or responses to questions. As a pastor speaking to pastors, he reminded us of the primacy of prayer in the lives of a bishop and the necessity of being caring and good fathers. What was remarkable to all of us was the time he spent with us, nearly two and a half hours. He then led us in the Angelus and closed with his blessing.

As a good host, he said goodbye to each of us individually; in the evening, we concelebrated with him the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, important to us all since she is the Patroness of the Americas. His stamina was remarkable and one could only wonder what toll this took on him personally.

As bishops, we also visited the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul. As we gathered before the tombs, we professed our faith, realizing the blessing of apostolic succession and remembering our readiness to witness with our lives our commitment to Christ and the Church.

We visited various dicasteries and had frank and open discussions about various topics under their jurisdiction (i. e. Doctrine of Faith, Clergy, Bishops, Education, Secretary of State, Worship, Saints and Child Protection and others). It was an extremely packed week but one which allowed the bishops of Region VII to explain their positions and challenges.

Many believe that we bishops are constantly meeting. In fact, our time is consumed in the administration of our dioceses. This special Ad Limina visit to Rome gave us an opportunity to exchange our hopes and desires with brother bishops who share a love for the Church. As your archbishop, you know that I have taken your petitions to Peter’s tomb and added them to the prayers of Pope Francis, Peter’s successor, always asking God to support us and lead us to lives of holiness.