Archdiocese Local Religious life

Meeting with Pope Francis proves to be ‘a powerful experience’

Pope Francis shares a light moment with Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and Father Anthony Saiki concerning a zucchetto Father Saiki gave to the pope. PHOTO COURTESY OF FATHER ANTHONY SAIKI

by Moira Cullings

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It’s a photo that captured the hearts of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

Pope Francis, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and Father Anthony Saiki are seen laughing together, each one radiating joy.

Their laughter is the result of Father Saiki, a priest of the archdiocese currently studying in Rome, offering Pope Francis a new white zucchetto.

The tradition goes that if you give the pope a zucchetto, he’ll give you the one he is wearing.

But when the pope put Father Saiki’s zucchetto on his head, “he didn’t feel like it quite fit as comfortably as the one he had,” Archbishop Naumann explained.

Not wanting to disappoint the young priest, the pope “took it and pressed it down on his head, and he gave it back to Father Anthony and said, ‘All of the spirit and the power of the successor of Peter is in this now,’” said the archbishop.

The three burst out laughing.

It was one of many highlights of Archbishop Naumann’s fourth “ad limina” visit (his first with Pope Francis) from Jan. 11-17 in Rome.

The archbishop traveled with the bishops of Region IX, who represent Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.

For Archbishop Naumann, that meant traveling with familiar faces, such as Bishop James Johnston of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, who is just across the state line, and Archbishop George Lucas of the Archdiocese of Omaha, who he attended high school with.

“It was good to be able to travel with them and share this experience together,” said Archbishop Naumann.

During their time in Rome, the bishops prayed at the tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul and visited with Pope Francis.

But because the real purpose of the “ad limina” was for the bishops to update Pope Francis and Vatican congregations on how their dioceses are doing in a variety of areas within the church, much of their time was spent in meetings.

Since Archbishop Naumann’s first “ad limina” in 1998, he has noticed a few changes, and explained that the style of every pope is different.

The congregations have become more focused on listening to what the bishops have to say, he said, and Pope Francis, in particular, asked the bishops to be very frank and open with him.

“He said he wanted to hear from each of us whatever was on our heart,” said Archbishop Naumann.

“In my case, I talked to him about the pro-life issues and about this initiative ‘Walking with Moms in Need’ that the bishops were undertaking,” the archbishop added. “He was very pleased to hear about that.”

The meeting with the pope lasted around three hours, and each of the bishops had the chance to ask him a question.

“I think all of us in Region Nine felt it was a pretty extraordinary moment to have that amount of time with the Holy Father,” said Archbishop Naumann.

Although the discussions were serious, the bishops also shared some lighthearted moments with the pope, who Archbishop Naumann said “has a good sense of humor, and we saw that frequently in our conversation.”

The archbishop was also impressed by the energy Pope Francis had throughout their time together.

“He seemed very engaged and energized through the whole time. He didn’t seem exhausted or anything,” he said.

Another highlight of the trip for Archbishop Naumann was seeing Father Saiki, who is studying canon law in Rome and is the only priest from the archdiocese currently living there.

“It was nice for me because he’s near the end of his studies, so to have those days to spend with him and hear how he’s doing and encourage him” was very fruitful, the archbishop said.

Father Saiki was able to attend Mass with the bishops and personally interact with the pope for the first time.

“I think that was a high point for him,” said Archbishop Naumann.

That interaction was one of the archbishop’s favorite moments of his “ad limina,” too.

“It was really a powerful experience,” he said.

About the author

Moira Cullings

Moira attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park and Benedictine College in Atchison. She majored in marketing, minored in psychology and played center midfield for the women’s soccer team. Moira joined The Leaven staff as a feature writer and social media editor in 2015. After a move to Denver, Moira resumed her full-time position at The Leaven and continues to write and manage its website, social media channels. Her favorite assignment was traveling to the Holy Land to take photos for a group pilgrimage in 2019.

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