Pope Francis met Ireland’s Catholic bishops on Friday 20 January.

Following the encounter, which lasted for over two hours, Bishop Smith described the meeting as “open and engaging”.

“It was a unique experience for us.  All the bishops met Pope Francis together and it was very relaxed and open” Bishop Smith said.  “The Holy Father was informal and positive during the discussions. He listened to our views and shared his own insights on a whole range of questions, including the challenges and opportunities facing the Church in Ireland today.”

While less than half of the bishops meeting with Pope Francis had attended a similar conference before, this was Bishop Smith’s fifth ‘ad limina’ meeting in Rome.  Among those present at the ‘ad limina’ meetings for the first time was Bishop Denis Nulty of Kildare and Leighlin.

During the course of 10 days, the Bishops had discussions with all the major departments of the Roman Curia, including the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the offices dealing with Catholic education, clergy, liturgy and missions.  The topics considered at these meetings included the role of women in the Church, the right to life, vocations and immigration.

“This was the most engaging series of meetings I have attended at the Vatican” Bishop Smith added.  “There was a sense of people listening to each other and real dialogue.  I think the openness of Pope Francis is having an impact in Rome.”

The bishops stayed at the Pontifical Irish College during their time to Rome.  They celebrated Mass at each of the major basilicas, praying for the needs of the Church.  They also had opportunities to meet Irish religious and missionaries in the city and were received at receptions in the Irish Embassies to the Holy See and to the Republic of Italy.

On Sunday 29 January, Bishop Smith celebrates the 33rd anniversary of his episcopal ordination.