Canon law (the law of the Roman Catholic Church) requires that every five years a diocesan bishop is bound to make a written report to the Holy Father on the state of the diocese entrusted to him. Canon 400 stipulates that the bishop is to go to Rome to present this report and while there to venerate in person the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, who by history and tradition are recognized for having brought the Church to Rome. It is also the bishop’s privilege and obligation to present himself to the Pope.
This obligation and tradition is commonly referred to as the ad limina Apostolorum, which literally means “to the threshold of the apostles.” It will be my privilege to fulfill this obligation for the second time when I travel to Rome from Dec. 1-8, 2019. During this visit, bishops seek a strengthening of their own responsibilities as successors of the Apostles and their communion with the Successor of Peter.
I will travel with the bishops of Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, who comprise Region V of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The focal element of our pilgrimage will be an opportunity to meet as a group with Pope Francis on Thursday, Dec. 5. In this meeting we will have an opportunity to speak with Pope Francis on the activity of the Church in our dioceses and more importantly to receive his counsel and encouragement.
Also key to our visit will be our opportunity to concelebrate the Holy Mass at the tomb of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica and at the tomb of St. Paul at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. Along with the visit with the Holy Father these two occasions are constitutive of the ad limina visit.
During the week we will also concelebrate Masses at the Basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran.
While the time with Pope Francis will be both ceremonial and substantive, I will also fulfill my obligation to report on the work of the Diocese of Owensboro. This has been accomplished with the submittal of a 170-page report to the Holy See several months ago. This was prepared by the directors of the various offices and agencies of the diocese, such as administration and finance, Catholic education and formation, Catholic Charities, youth and young adult ministry, and the Tribunal. Corresponding offices of the Vatican receive and review these reports.
This is my second opportunity to participate in an ad limina visit. In 2012 I traveled to Rome and met Pope Benedict XVI. You will note that this means it has been almost eight years since the last ad limina visit and that is because when there is a transition to a new papacy – such as happened in 2013 – the bureaucratic schedule of all of the Vatican is set back.
Though I did have an opportunity to greet Pope Francis in 2015 when he visited the United States, having concelebrated in his public Masses in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, I look forward to meeting him more personally. I hope to be able to voice to him my gratitude for his generous and prophetic ministry of mercy and compassion and most especially his challenge to the Church and the world to serve the least among us. I will tell him of the fervent prayers for him from the Catholics of western Kentucky.
Please pray for Pope Francis. Pray for all the bishops of the United States who will make their way to the “threshold of the Apostles” over these next few months.
Originally printed in the December 2019 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.
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