SANTA BARBARA, California — Most American Catholics probably know Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles best from his 10-part television series “Catholicism,” which aired on PBS stations around the country, offering a tour de force presentation of Catholic faith, culture and history. It’s a fruit of his influential “Word on Fire” media ministry.

As of September, however, he’s known to the people of Santa Barbara, California, as their shepherd, head of their pastoral region in the name of the Archbishop of Los Angeles, José Gomez. As such, Barron is out there regularly visiting parishes, saying Masses, meeting with people who want to bend his ear, and doing all the other things bishops typically do.

Last month, Barron was called to Rome for a training program for newly appointed bishops around the world colloquially known as “baby bishops” school.

He went largely in his new role as a local prelate, though it turned out his reputation as an evangelist and deft media commentator preceded him – Pope Francis himself, of all people, referred to Barron as “the great preacher … who makes the airwaves tremble!”

On Monday, Barron spoke to “The Crux of the Matter” on the Catholic Channel, Sirius XM 129, about his experience of baby bishops’ school saying that it brought home the stunningly global nature of the Catholic Church.

What marching orders did he get from the pope?

“He reminded us that we were all chosen as bishops during the Year of Mercy, and he thought that was an important thing for us to remember,” Barron said. “Those were the marching orders, to be an apostle of divine mercy.”

What follows are excerpts from that conversation.

How was baby bishops’ school?

It was a great experience. It’s a bit like bishops’ summer camp, because you stay at this Legionary of Christ place, the Regina Apostolorum, about five miles west of St. Peter’s. It’s a seminary, and so the room was a seminary room. It reminded me of my college seminary days.

You weren’t being put up in the Rome Hilton?

No, it was pretty Spartan, spare, a very Pope Francis-like environment. The bed was about two and a half feet wide, and we were all commenting on how the first couple of nights we were in great danger of rolling out of the bed!  The meals were good, I must say, in the typical Italian style.

The great thing about it was that I was with 157 other bishops, from all over the world. You’d come down for meals and you’d be at table with someone from Ecuador, someone from India, someone from Syria, someone from Boston … it made for a very lively exchange.

What languages did you use?

A whole variety … sometimes I was with English-speakers. I can handle French fine, and there were a number of Canadians, a number of French, and then Francophone Africans, so I was able to handle that pretty well. My Spanish is okay, so I spoke some Spanish. My Italian is basically restaurant Italian, so I would try to make my way occasionally in Italian.

It was a very illuminating process, and that was the best part of it, actually. There was a whole series of talks, from some pretty high curial officials in Rome. But the best part of it, frankly, was just getting to know these bishops from around the world.

How long is baby bishops school?

It’s a long time. It lasted a full eight days in total. The day would begin typically with a very beautifully sung morning prayer and Mass, together, led usually by one of these curial cardinals or archbishops. There would be a homily in Italian, usually. That would be followed by breakfast, where we’d have a really lively exchange.

Then we’d start the official talks. We’d gather in an auditorium, and there would be a speaker. They were in different languages, so one would be in French, one in Italian, one in Spanish, but there was always a simultaneous translation, so we all had our headgear on listening in. The talk would go for a full hour, then we’d break and then have a Q&A for maybe a half-hour.

In the afternoon, in the Italian style, there’d be a bit of a siesta after the big pranzo, the big lunch …

As the Italians would say, un riposo

I think it should be adopted immediately in our country! It corresponds to the rhythm of the body, and I like the riposo a lot.

They worked us, though, because right after the riposo there’d be another presentation, followed by Q&A. Then there’d be what the Italians call the circoli minori, the small groups. We’d break into language groups at that point, so the English-speakers, for example, would go off to a corner someplace and try to process what we had heard that morning.

I must say, the circoli minori were kind of fun. In my case, these would be bishops from the States, Canada, some African countries, Australia, Oceania, different places. We would work through these issues, and also have a lot of fun horsing around.

Those would go on to a certain point, then we’d have a sort of 5:00 p.m. cocktail or social. Then came evening prayer and dinner.

After dinner, there was another session typically beginning at 9:15 p.m., and it would last until 10:40 or 10:45 p.m.

So you were going from 7:00 in the morning until 11:00 at night every day for eight straight days?

Yeah, it was a really long day. It was a workout. Plus, we were a long way from Rome proper, so you couldn’t just get in and take a swing through museums and restaurants. You were pretty much there.

Give me a couple of take-aways, either from the formal program or the informal exchanges.

The thing that left the deepest impression was the informal exchanges, although one of them was more formalized. They announced one morning that they were going to get eight bishops from around the world to talk about the Church in their part of the world. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, those poor guys, whoever they are, now they have to come up with this talk.” To be honest, I was actually thinking, “Maybe I won’t go to that session.”

Showing that God has a sense of humor, Cardinal [Marc] Ouellet [of Canada, Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops], who was running the whole thing, approached me at the 5:00 p.m. cocktail hour and asked me to give the talk on the American church. So, not only did I have to go to the meeting, I had to prepare a talk!

That turned out for me to be one of the highlights of the whole week, because there were eight fellows from all corners of the earth, including a bishop from Aleppo in Syria, a bishop from Reykjavík in Iceland, a bishop from Sydney, just a whole slew of people. They articulated different aspects of the Church’s life.

I talked about the religious liberty issue in our country, and how we feel the secular society is to some extent threatening it. But then you hear how that’s nothing compared to how the Church is under siege in other parts of the world, where there’s a fierce anti-Christian persecution going on. It was very moving to hear those first-hand witnesses. That was a great thing.

I was also struck by the cardinal of Bordeaux, Cardinal [Jean-Pierre] Ricard, who gave a talk on the bishop as father, brother and friend. It was illuminating. To some degree the bishop is a father, so he has to play that shepherding role, but also a bishop as a brother and a friend to priests. That to me was one of the more memorable presentations.

You also had the opportunity to meet Pope Francis, and going in you weren’t sure if he had any idea who you were. But once you met him, it became abundantly clear Francis knows perfectly well who Bishop Robert Barron is. What happened?

It was a great moment. We were there with 157 bishops, and to the pope’s great credit, he gave a thirty-minute talk to us, it was not a short talk, and then he greeted every single bishop. I thought maybe he’d greet some, but it was every single one of us. It took a good hour to get through that process. That’s an 80-year-old guy showing a lot of stamina!

The three of us who are newly appointed for Los Angeles, Bishop Joe Brennan, Bishop Dave O’Connell, and myself, were together in line. In the past, Pope Francis referred to us, to Archbishop Jose Gomez [of Los Angeles] as “your triplets,” asking “how are your triplets doing?” So when Bishop Brennan went up to him, he said, “I’m one of the triplets from Los Angeles.” I was two people behind him and I saw the pope’s face light up, and he said, “Oh, where are the other two?” We were right there, so we gathered around him. He spoke to Joe for a little bit, and then to Bishop O’Connell.

He turned to me and I said, “Hello, Holy Father, I’m Bishop Barron.” He said, “Ah, El Gran Predicador!”, “The Great Preacher,” and then something like, “who makes the airwaves tremble.” I’m choosing to take that in a positive way!

I was very touched by it, because honestly I didn’t know if he knew me from Adam or anything about the work I was doing. It was very moving …

To have the pope look at you and call you “the great preacher,” that had to feel pretty good.

It did. I’m still kind of going on the fumes of that! It was very moving to be with him, he’s super-gracious, and it was wonderful.

One of the purposes of baby bishops school is for the pope and the Vatican to be able to communicate their priorities to bishops around the world. What message did you get?

The title of it was, “Bishop as an Apostle of Mercy.” I think that did come through pretty clearly in all the presentations, that great Franciscan theme of mercy. The pope emphasized that too in his own talk to us, how we were all “fished out” by divine mercy like being fished out of the sea. He told us, “Remember that moment when you were fished out by God’s mercy, now you go fish other people out.”

It was the classic Pope Francis theme of mercy. He also reminded us that we were all chosen as bishops during the Year of Mercy, and he thought that was an important thing for us to remember. Those were the marching orders, to be an apostle of divine mercy.

Concretely, what does it mean to you as the auxiliary bishop of Santa Barbara to be an apostle of mercy?

It means that I’m the bearer of this great divine attribute to the people in this part of the world. My job is to convey to them as concretely as I can that God is love, that God cares for them, and that God is interested above all in forgiving our sins.

I think that’s essential to it. I’m a bearer of the forgiveness of sins. That’s my first task, as a bishop. All the administrative things take second place to that fundamental outreach.

What about Rome impressed you?

Rome is kind of this crossroads, this point of exchange, where the universality of the Catholic Church is vividly on display. That’s hard to miss when you’re there, and I was very impressed by the Vatican people who embody that international quality.

That’s probably an especially important lesson for Americans, isn’t it?

Yes, we can be fairly isolated and parochial at times. One of the opportunities I had through a friend was to meet Monsignor Mark Miles, who’s the pope’s English translator …

Who’s from Gibraltar, by the way …

Yes, that’s right. He’s a fascinating guy. He knows all the languages, he studied at the Accademia, which is the training ground for Vatican diplomats, and now finds himself accompanying the pope on his journeys. He’s a very charming fellow.

I also met [British] Archbishop Paul Gallagher, who’s basically the Vatican’s foreign minister. We went out and had a plate of amatriciana, enjoying your favorite Roman meal. To talk to him, who’s been a papal ambassador in Africa, in Australia, in Latin America, and now finds himself as the Vatican foreign minister meeting weekly with the pope to brief him on world matters, you can’t help but see that international quality.

Also, we had a chance to go upstairs in the Vatican, to have a little drink before heading out, as is the Roman custom, and [Gallagher] casually showed me that one of the rooms was where [Pope] Julius II died! [Nicknamed “the warrior pope,” Julius II died in 1513.]

There’s something wonderful about it … across space and across time, you get a sense of the breadth of the Church’s life when you’re in Rome.

Bottom line: After this eight-day crash course, how is your ministry going to be different?

I would say it’s the broader sense of the Church’s life. Yes, I’m the regional bishop of Santa Barbara, but I’m also a bishop of the Catholic Church. I knew that, of course, but that sensibility is stronger in me now. Yes, you’re assigned to this place, and there’s something very local about my responsibility.

But I’m also a successor of the apostles and a bishop of the Catholic Church. I’m ordained a bishop not just for L.A., but for the whole Church.

That can sound grandiose, and I don’t mean it in that way, but you’ve got this truly international responsibility. More important than my status as an American is my status as a Catholic, and as a Catholic bishop somehow connected to all the bishops of the world. That has impacted me, I think, and changed my consciousness.