ROME — For decades, the visits bishops are required to make to the Vatican were known for their formality and routine style, but Pope Francis launched “a whole new style of ‘ad limina’ visits,” a Chilean bishop said.

The bishops were expecting “to have a long meeting with a speech and then individual meetings,” as in the past, Auxiliary Bishop Fernando Ramos of Santiago, secretary of the Chilean bishops’ conference, told Catholic News Service Feb. 24.

Instead, the Vatican informed the prelates before their departure from Chile that they were going to have a group meeting with the pope and the prefects of several Vatican congregations and offices.

“We were told that this was going to be a new way of doing things that was beginning with us, that looks for a more fruitful, more incisive dialogue between the representatives of the local churches and the pope with his main collaborators,” Ramos said.

After spending three hours with the pope Feb. 20, the Chilean bishops met again with Pope Francis Feb. 23. At the second meeting, the pope and Chilean bishops were joined by several top officials, including: Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state; Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America; and Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Also present at the meeting were: Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect for the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life; Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education; Cardinal Beniamino Stella, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy; and Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

Ramos told CNS that Ouellet began the discussions, which focused on four principal themes: communion and collegiality within the church; the mission of the church in Chile; how to help clergy, religious men and women as well as the laity “in their Christian lives and in their pastoral service”; and pastoral guidelines for the future.

“It wasn’t about speaking about little things or a little problem over here,” he said. “This was more of a way of looking at everything together, for them to listen to our opinions and (we to listen to theirs) on these principal themes.”

“It was something completely different,” Bishop Juan Ignacio Gonzalez of San Bernardo, member of the permanent committee of the Chilean bishops’ conference, told CNS.

“It was truly something wonderful from the perspective of collegiality, of synodality, of the church walking together. This doesn’t just respond to the realities in Chile, it’s a whole new (approach) that begins now.”

Ramos told CNS that although the bishops knew about the meeting with the pope and Vatican officials before they left Chile, they found out only when they arrived in Rome that Pope Francis wanted to meet with them privately as well.

After celebrating Mass at the tomb of St. Peter Feb. 20, the bishops were welcomed to the library in the Apostolic Palace by the pope.

“As we were seated around him,” Gonzalez said, “the pope — in his Argentine manner of speaking — told us: ‘Well, the soccer ball is in the center. Whoever wants to and is brave enough, give it a kick.” (The Argentine phrase is: “El que quiera y que tiene la cara mas dura, que le pegue una patada.”)

Ramos added that several bishops would speak and the pope would respond. “It was like talking after dinner while drinking some Bacardi, in a manner of speaking,” he said.

Gonzalez described a moment when a bishop said, “‘Holy Father, it’s a little bit hot in here, can we open a window?’ The pope said, ‘Yes, of course’ and stood up. The bishop said, ‘No, no don’t worry, Holy Father, I’ll open it.”

Ramos and Gonzalez said that the sincere discussion was “a turning point” that led to a more open dialogue at their second meeting with the pope and Vatican officials.

“It’s like that Scripture reading. Paul, after preaching, went to Jerusalem to speak with Peter and tell him what he had done. This is the same. We come to Jerusalem to tell Peter this is what happened and he guides us to see what else we can do,” Gonzalez said.