U.S. bishops from New Jersey and Pennsylvania pray before a relic of Jesus’ manger after concelebrating Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome Nov. 25, 2019. The bishops were making their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican to report on the status of their dioceses to the pope and Vatican officials. (CNS photo/Junno Arocho Esteves)

ROME (CNS) — The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ care for the poor and the downtrodden serves as a reminder for bishops of their responsibility to give their lives for their flock, said Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh.

In his homily during Mass at the Rome Basilica of St. Mary Major Nov. 25, Bishop Zubik said the day’s Gospel reading of Jesus’ observation of the widow who gave all that she had reveals Christ’s sensitivity “in his own heart” for the least of these.

“Her very example was Jesus’ charge to those who saw what happened that day — and all who would read this story in the course of now two millennia — to see its impact. What motivated the woman, the widow, was to give absolutely everything she had because of her deep love for the Lord,” he said.


Bishop Zubik was the principal celebrant and homilist at the first Mass the bishops of New Jersey and Pennsylvania celebrated during their visits “ad limina apostolorum” — to the threshold of the apostles — to report on the status of their dioceses.

The U.S. bishops’ last “ad limina” visits were eight years ago, in 2011-2012.

At St. Mary Major, the bishops celebrated Mass in the chapel that houses the Marian icon “Salus Populi Romani” (health of the Roman people).

After the Mass, the bishops walked down the stairs under the basilica’s main altar to pray before the silver reliquary that houses what tradition holds is a relic of the manger where Christ was born.

In his homily, Bishop Zubik noted the timeliness of Jesus’ message at the start of their pilgrimage.

“It seems to me that it’s most appropriate that, as you and I begin this ‘ad limina apostolorum,’ we spend a little bit of time reflecting on the action of the widow but especially on the teaching of Jesus,” the bishop said.

In Jesus’ time, he explained, the condition of widows was “mighty precarious; they didn’t have the kind of insurance plans we have today.”


Nevertheless, the Gospel reading is one of many scriptural accounts in which Jesus shows his affection for widows and others rejected by society and a reminder for his followers “of the necessity to somehow respond” to their care, Bishop Zubik said.

He also recalled that, years ago, he received a coffee table book of artwork by Dutch artist, Rien Poortvliet, that depicted moments in Jesus’ life, including the scene of the day’s Gospel reading, which “moved” him.

Bishop Zubik said he keeps the book opened to that specific artistic depiction to remind him “of the two realities of Jesus’ teaching.”

“First of all, that I (may) always strive to give everything in my heart for the sake of God’s people” and “that I never forget the important privilege and responsibility to care our mother, the church,” he said.