BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
When Bishop William F. Medley was in Rome for his ad limina Apostolorum visit from Dec. 1-8, his favorite part was getting to be in the presence of Pope Francis – the successor of St. Peter.
The “ad limina,” as it is often called, translates from Latin to mean “to the threshold of the apostles.” It requires (by canon law, the law of the Roman Catholic Church) that every five years a diocesan bishop take a written report on his diocese to the pope.
Canon law also requires that in addition to presenting himself before the pope, the bishop venerate the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul.
Bishop Medley’s first ad limina was in 2012. But as is usual when a new pope is elected, after Pope Benedict XVI resigned and Pope Francis was elected in 2013, the ad limina schedule was set back slightly.
Bishop Medley traveled to Rome with bishops from Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana – comprising Region V of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops – and with them met Pope Francis on Dec. 4.
They had been told ahead of time that the pope would have no prepared remarks. And so, after the pope told them where they could find the restrooms, he sat and listened as the bishops took the opportunity to share what was going on in their local regions.
“He met with us for two hours and 45 minutes,” Bishop Medley told the WKC on Dec. 16 after he had returned to Kentucky. The bishop said this was a longer period than usual, but they were meeting with the bishops from another region that day as well, totaling 38 bishops.
Bishop Medley said the pope genuinely listened to the input shared by the bishops.
Another aspect of the trip included meeting with the Vatican’s various dicasteries, or offices. Like their meeting with the pope, Bishop Medley said the dicasteries emphasized that “we are here to serve you, and we are here to answer any questions you may have.”
Bishop Medley explained that while his ad limina in 2012 was a good experience, there was more of a focus on reading a script to the bishops, versus this ad limina’s “what do you want us to hear and what do you want to ask us about.”
He said the heads of the dicasteries were clearly “on the same page as Pope Francis.”
Bishop Medley appreciated that “they were genuinely listening and responding to us, to know that we’re all working together in all this,” he said.
The bishop said it was “especially edifying to go to the dicastery for communications.” He said that while a priest was part of the staff, the head of the dicastery was a lay man, and most of the staff were lay men and lay women.
“It was very fascinating to talk to them,” said Bishop Medley, explaining that it was previously typical for the heads of dicasteries to be clergy, and for clergy to make up much of the staff.
Bishop Medley said that his group went each day to celebrate Mass at one of the four major basilicas in Rome – St. Peter’s Basilica, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul Outside the Walls.
“Always when we were at places like that, I stood in the line of tens, maybe millions of people who have stood and prayed there for centuries,” said the bishop, reflecting on “those pillars of Roman Catholicism.”
But in the end, he was most impacted by meeting Pope Francis, getting to be “in his presence and understanding that he is the successor of St. Peter, and also for the second time in 10 years as a bishop to have met two popes.”
“It was a blessing,” said Bishop Medley.
Originally printed in the January 2020 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.
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