ROME — Before meeting Pope Francis, the bishops of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri prayed before the tomb of St. Peter and reflected on how the fisherman grew in faith and love for Jesus.

Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa, presided and preached at the early morning Mass Jan. 16 in front of the apostle’s tomb in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The “privileged and sacred spot” where millions of Christians have prayed through the ages, he said, has special meaning for men “chosen, as unworthy as we are, to be successors of Peter and the other apostles” and serve the Church as bishops.

Reflecting on the life and witness of St. Peter, he said, is an opportunity for bishops to reflect on their own response to the call of the Lord to love him, serve him and his people.

The Gospel’s many mentions of St. Peter reveal “his faith, his doubt, his failure and his love,” the bishop said. In many ways, he was “so much like us and, thus, it is easy for us to identify with him.”

“He was bold and outspoken, he was a sinner and called to be a saint,” Nickless said. “He walked on and sank in the water.”

Of all the accounts in the Bible of Peter and his faith, the bishop said, two episodes stand out and both involve Jesus asking him direct questions: “Who do you say that I am?” and “Do you love me?”

All Christians “must answer these questions at some point in our lives and, sometimes, more than once: Who is Jesus? Do I love him?” he said.

“The only right answer,” the bishop said, “comes from knowing the Lord in the deep intimacy of friendship” through prayer. “Do I lay down my life every day as I serve him and seek to become like him, a shepherd to God’s people entrusted to my care?”

As the bishops prepared to formally profess their faith before the tomb of St. Peter and to meet his successor, Pope Francis, Nickless told them that “today is a good day for us to recommit ourselves” to drawing closer to Jesus in prayer and to loving him more completely.

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