VATICAN CITY — Each day, a bishop should know Jesus is asking him the same question he asked St. Peter — “Do you love me?” — and giving him the same charge, “Feed my sheep,” said Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans.

The archbishop was the principal celebrant and homilist at Mass Dec. 5 on the “sacred ground and holy place” that is the tomb of St. Peter in the basilica named after the prince of the apostles.

The Mass and recitation of the Creed before St. Peter’s tomb was a central part of the ad limina pilgrimage of the bishops of U.S. Region V — Louisiana, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee. Bishops make the visits to Rome to report on the status of their dioceses.

The 17 bishops and retired bishops from the region were joined at the Mass by Cardinal Justin F. Rigali, 84, the retired archbishop of Philadelphia, who now lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The life of St. Peter, Aymond told his brother bishops, “gives us encouragement and inspiration to live our episcopal ministry.”

The bishops, like Peter, are called to leave everything behind and follow Jesus, the archbishop said. They are called to grow in their relationship with him and, “by our words and our actions, we, too, must proclaim that he is the Messiah, the son of the living God.”

And although “there was nothing he did to deserve the call,” Jesus chose him to be the leader of the Church, the archbishop said. “There is nothing we have done to deserve it, yet the Lord God calls us” to be shepherds.

And, again like St. Peter, he said, “even in our daily lives, my brothers, you and I are called as we lead the flock of the Lord to empty ourselves and to bear the crosses we must bear to be the shepherds of our time.”

The first reading at the Mass was from the First Letter of St. Peter, who exhorted the leaders of the community: “Tend the flock of God in your midst, overseeing not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you but be examples to the flock.”

“That’s the advice he gives to us,” Aymond told his brother bishops.

Humility is an essential trait for a bishop, he said. Just look at St. Peter: “He knew his sin. He knew his weakness. He knew what he could not do, what he did not understand, and he faced that.”

Like Peter, he said, the bishops must “be strong, be that foundation” of faith for their local communities, “but we must also be humble, like him, in knowing our weakness and asking for that change of heart.”

After meeting the pope Dec. 3, Aymond told Catholic News Service, “Everybody left with a very positive spirit, feeling his support. He certainly was reassured of our support, and it was a true, honest dialogue.”

The archbishop, a veteran of ad limina visits, said the meeting with the pope and, especially, the meetings with the heads of Roman Curia offices have changed, “and I think that’s at the direction of Pope Francis. I think he has, you know, asked the Curia to truly be of service to us and to walk with us and help us in any way and that’s basically what the conversations have been.”

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Contributing to this story was Carol Glatz at the Vatican.

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