The bishops of the U.S. are gathered near Chicago for a week-long retreat directed by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., who has been apostolic preacher since 1980.

The Jan. 2-8 retreat is being held at Mundelein Seminary, in the Chicago suburbs, on the theme of Christ's commission of the 12 apostles, and the apostolic mandate.

It is “taking place at the invitation of Pope Francis who has asked all bishops in the United States to pause in prayer as the Church seeks to respond to the signs of the times,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in December.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the USCCB, expressed his gratitude to the Pope for asking the bishops “to step back and enter into this focused time of listening to God as we respond to the intense matters before us in the weeks and months ahead. I also humbly ask the laity, our priests and religious for your prayers for my brother bishops and me as we join in solidarity to seek wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit. Pray also for the survivors of sexual abuse that their suffering may serve to strengthen us all for the hard task of rooting out a terrible evil from our Church and our society so that such suffering is never multiplied.”

Fr. Cantalamessa, 84, was appointed apostolic preacher, or preacher to the papal household, by St. John Paul II, early in his papacy. He was born in Italy in 1934, and ordained a priest in 1958.

He then earned a doctor of divinity in Fribourg in 1962, and a doctorate in classical literature in Milan in 1966.

Before being appointed preacher to the papal household, Fr. Cantalamessa was a history professor and head of the religious sciences department at the Catholic University of Milan, as well as a member of the Catholic delegation for dialogue with Pentecostal communities. He as a member of the International Theological Commission from 1975 to 1981.

As apostolic preacher, Fr. Cantalamessa preaches to the pope and the Roman curia on the Fridays of Advent and Lent, and he also preaches at the Good Friday service in St. Peter's Basilica. Since its recent establishment by Pope Francis, he has also preached for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation in St. Peter's Basilica.

He is the author of more than 20 books of spiritual theology and Catholic devotions. His most recent book is the 2015 work “The Gaze of Mercy: A Commentary on Divine and Human Mercy.”

The office of apostolic preacher was established in the mid-16th century by Paul IV. Since a 1743 decision of Benedict XIV, the office has been restricted to Capuchins.