Cardinal, bishops head to Rome: Pilgrimage for ad limina Feb. 8-17

By Catholic New World and Catholic News Service
Sunday, February 12, 2012

From Feb. 5-17, Cardinal George and many of the archdiocese’s auxiliary bishops will join the other bishops from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin in making their ad limina visits to the Holy See.

“Every five years every bishop goes ad limina apostolorum — goes to the threshold of the apostles — goes to the tombs of Peter and Paul, prays and then goes and speaks with Peter’s successor who’s the head of the episcopal college of the universal church,” Cardinal George said in a recent interview on the television show “The Church, the Cardinal and You.”

These visits are like a “state of the archdiocese” visit to the head of the church. It’s been seven years since the archdiocese made an ad limina visit. According to the Code of Canon Law the visit is made every five years but the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI delayed the process.

The visits for U.S. dioceses, which began in November 2011 and extend through much of 2012, constitute the most comprehensive assessment of church life in the United States since the German pope was elected in 2005.

The visits also give Pope Benedict a platform for commentary, which lately he has been using to address concerns of religious liberty in the United States.

The approximately 200 heads of U.S. dioceses, some accompanied by auxiliary bishops, arrive in Rome in 15 regional groups, and each bring a “Report on the State of the Diocese” that will serve as the basis for discussions. The schedules for the weeklong visits combine prayer and liturgy with more businesslike encounters at key Vatican offices.

The title of the visits comes from the Latin phrase “ad limina apostolorum” (to the thresholds of the apostles), a reference to the pilgrimage to the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul that the bishops are required to make.

The meetings with the pope have always been the highlight of the ad limina visits. Pope Benedict has lately adopted a modified format, meeting with 7-10 bishops at a time instead of individual encounters. U.S. bishops can expect small group discussions lasting about 45 minutes to an hour, featuring a relatively unstructured give-and-take with the pontiff.

The pope also addresses the larger regional groups of bishops, usually on a particular theme or aspect of the church’s experience in the United States. He will not give a formal speech to each regional group, however. Instead, plans called for him to address only five of the groups — part of a cutback in papal appointments that has been instituted gradually over the last few years.

Each bishop is asked to prepare in advance a report on virtually every aspect of diocesan life, including family life, education, clergy and religious, lay involvement, vocations, priestly formation, religious practices and demographics.

They are circulated to heads of Vatican agencies and to the pope ahead of time, so that meetings can be productive.

The U.S. bishops plan group meetings with officials of several Vatican agencies. They include the congregations in charge of doctrine, clergy, bishops, worship, education and religious orders, and pontifical councils that deal with ecumenism, the family and laity. The bishops are being encouraged to meet with the council for new evangelization, and some will hold talks with the council for health care.

These discussions involve shared concerns and interests, but some bishops also schedule private meetings with Vatican officials to deal with specific diocesan issues. The group encounters are usually hosted by the prefects or presidents of Vatican congregations or councils.