Last week I returned home to the diocese from Rome. From March 6-13, I had been part of a group of diocesan bishops from the United States making our “ad limina” visit. The more complete name is “ad limina apostolorum,” or visit “to the threshold of the apostles.” Bishops who have care of a territorial diocese must periodically go to Rome to visit the tombs of the Church’s great apostles and martyrs, Saints Peter and Paul, and to present themselves to the Pope as part of a report on their dioceses.
The written report was completed in the Chancery some months ago and forwarded to the Vatican for study prior to the visit. Although the report is called the “Quinquenniel,” indicating a five year report, the last ad limina visit was in the Fall of 2004. In November of that year, I was Coadjutor Bishop and accompanied Bishop Raymond Boland. With the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005, and the many responsibilities of Pope Benedict, the reports and visits were somewhat delayed. This time, ours was a seven year inventory on the work of the faithful, clergy and Religious, and Catholic institutions of the Diocese. Thanks be to God and the good work of everyone, there were many good things that have happened here the last seven years. Of course there have been and remain challenges – the most obvious are those of the last ten months.
The bishops make their ad limina visit according to the Episcopal Regions of the National Conference. I attended with Region 9, which includes the 15 dioceses of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa. Auxiliary bishops and retired bishops are also invited. A last minute bout of the flu kept Bishop Boland from participating in the 2012 ad limina. His health seems good – and he is currently in Ireland for a visit with family there.
In Rome, we do indeed visit the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul, and renew our Profession of Faith. We concelebrate Mass each day, most often in the major basilicas of the Eternal City. Another substantive part of our visit as the bishops of Region 9 is conferences with a number of the major “dicasteries” or Vatican offices. Our meetings this time included: The Vatican Secretariat of State and the Apostolic Signatura; The Congregations for Doctrine of the Faith, Divine Worship, Clergy, Consecrated Life, Catholic Education, and for Bishops; The Pontifical Commissions for Laity, Christian Unity, Family, and the newest dicastery established by Pope Benedict in September, 2010, the Pontifical Commission for Promoting the New Evangelization.
Each of these meetings lasted between 1-2 hours. In most cases, after introductions, one of the bishops of the Region gave a brief summary of topics of importance in our local Churches, and posed several questions on behalf of the other bishops. The Prefect or his representative responded to these comments and questions, and often a discussion followed. I found these very informative opportunities wherein we established a good communication with the Vatican, and at the same time, saw what areas were most pressing in our neighboring dioceses. There was a positive camaraderie between the bishops.
Certainly one of the highlights of the ad limina was a visit with Pope Benedict XVI in his office at the Vatican. In the past, Pope John Paul had individual visits with each diocesan bishop. The current Holy Father – to better manage the constant flow of such visits, met with us in groups according to Province: I met the Pope with the other Missouri Bishops, and we had a conversation with the Holy Father that lasted about 20-25 minutes. Pope Benedict, who will turn 85 next month, has a constant stream of such conferences. As our Missouri Bishops were leaving we passed through the waiting rooms. A group of 6-8 Monks of Taize followed us. In the next waiting area was the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury and his entourage.
During the ad limina I stayed, with about two-thirds of our Region, at the Pontifical North American College, where I had lived as a student from 1975-1979. There our diocese currently has four seminarians: Deacons Adam Haake and Adam Johnson, who, please God, will be ordained to the priesthood with four more of our seminarians – Deacons Kevin Drew, Ben Kneib, Ian Murphy, and Darvin Salazar — on May 19. We also have two First Year Theologians at NAC: Alex Kreidler and Andy Mattingly. They are all doing very well. I was allowed to take two of the seminarians in with me to meet Pope Benedict. Visiting with our seminarians – in the different schools they attend – is a special joy for me as bishop, and a true cause of hope for us all. I know you continue to pray for them and for other vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.
This past week, on March 19, we will have celebrated the beautiful Solemn Feast of St. Joseph: patron of our Diocese, patron of Pope (Joseph Ratzinger) Benedict XVI, and patron of the Universal Church. I commend you and your families to his protection and care. May St. Joseph, assist our diocese to fulfill, ever more faithfully, our mission as the Catholic Church in Northwest Missouri.