Pope Names First Woman To Head Vatican MuseumsPrevious Article
Political Divides Seen in Merry Christmas vs. Happy HolidaysNext Article
Breaking News

Popes 2017 Calendar Filled With Ad Limina Visits

Line Spacing+- AFont Size+- Print This Article
Popes 2017 Calendar Filled With Ad Limina Visits

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — For Pope Francis, the Year of Mercy
will be followed by the Year of the “Ad Limina” Visits.

Like St. John Paul II did during the Jubilee Year 2000, Pope
Francis suspended for the Year of Mercy the formal visits bishops from around
the world make “ad limina apostolorum” — to the threshold of the
Apostles, meaning Peter and Paul, who were martyred in Rome.

And, the pope told reporters, skipping a year of meetings
means that he will travel less in 2017 and spend more time at the Vatican welcoming
his brother bishops and discussing with them the life of their local churches.

The Vatican has announced that Pope Francis will travel to Portugal
May 12-13 for the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima.
Plus, the pope said, he hopes to travel to Asia — specifically to India and
Bangladesh — during the year and to Africa, although the countries have not
been identified. The dates have not been set.

Before 2016 ended, though, more than 300 bishops from more
than 20 countries already had dates set for their “ad limina”
meetings with Pope Francis in 2017. The Irish bishops will kick off the series
in January, followed by bishops from Serbia and other Balkan countries and then
by the first group of Canadian bishops.

The Canadian bishops have not made an “ad limina”
visit since 2006.

According to the Code of Canon Law, every five years “a
bishop is bound to make a report to the Supreme Pontiff on the state of the
diocese entrusted to him” and the report should be made in conjunction
with the “ad limina” visit.

But it has been at least 20 years since the visits really
were every five years. Most now occur every eight or nine years. With the
growing number of dioceses — now more than 2,850 — a pope would have to meet
more than 570 bishops each year to hit the five-year target.

Brazilian Archbishop Ilson Montanari, secretary of the
Congregation for Bishops, told Catholic News Service Dec. 15 that proposals to
change canon law to reflect that reality are considered regularly. But once the
law changes, it would set things in stone.

Someday, he said, a pope might be able to get things back on
schedule. St. John Paul II, who was elected at the age of 58, “was a
volcano at the beginning” and, even making long trips outside of Italy,
“was able to do it.” He even celebrated morning Mass with the
bishops, invited them in small groups to lunch, met with each bishop
individually and then delivered a speech to each national or regional group.

Retired Pope Benedict XVI began the practice of holding more
informal meetings with groups of bishops on “ad limina” instead of
individual meetings. Pope Francis has continued that practice, although like Pope
Benedict, he also tries to grant the requests of individual bishops who feel a
need for a private meeting.

While a few bishops still send in a report every five years,
as canon law asks, Archbishop Montanari said most do so only in preparation for
their “ad limina” visit, which is arranged by the congregation along
with the Prefecture of the Papal Household.

The reports really are read, he said. “We use them to
prepare for our meeting with the bishops, but also to prepare a memorandum for
the pope on each diocese” to facilitate his meetings.

“This is work that is taken very seriously, especially
because there is an attempt to look behind the words and numbers, behind the
data, to see the living church, which is the most important thing,” the
archbishop said.

The goal of the “ad limina” visit, he said, always
has been that it would be an experience of collegiality, “an exchange of
faith and a witness,” he said. The world’s bishops have “never been
‘branch managers'” of the church and the meetings should reflect that.

Before air travel became very common, the “ad limina”
visits were a bishop’s rare occasion to come to Rome and to have direct contact
with the pope, he said. Now, many bishops come regularly and, at the very
least, have a quick word with the pope at the end of his general audience.

But the formal visits still have a special character, Archbishop
Montanari said. They are occasions for an “exchange of gifts” with
the bishops being “confirmed in their faith” and encouraged in their
ministry by the pope and the pope being strengthened by the signs of how alive
the church is in various parts of the world.

“It’s a consolation” for the pope to see how the
Gospel is being shared and lived because so often “the negative things are
accentuated” in the news and in what people choose to speak about, he
said. The bishops share problems with the pope, but they also explain
“the enormous good the church is accomplishing throughout the world.”

The “ad limina” visits also are an opportunity for
groups of bishops from neighboring dioceses to make a pilgrimage together; the
visits include obligatory prayer at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, but
usually also include Masses in the major basilicas of Rome and other prayer opportunities.

In addition, the bishops visit the offices of the Roman
Curia, which have read at least parts of the bishops’ written reports. The
segment of a report dealing with vocations promotion and seminaries, for
example, will be forwarded in advance to the Congregation for Clergy, giving
the visiting bishops and congregation officials a chance to discuss issues of
specific concern to those bishops.

Pope Francis’ packed “ad limina” schedule,
therefore, means busier schedules also for the Curia offices.

But, Archbishop Montanari said, especially for his office —
which helps the pope identify candidates to serve as bishops and which supports
bishops in their ministry — the visits are wonderful “because we see the
fruits of our work. Receiving them here, getting to know them, is very

– – –

Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden


Vatican Live Video Feed

Pope Francis on Twitter