The centerpiece of any ad limina is the audience with the Pope. The meeting with the Holy Father is usually scheduled sometime in the middle of the weeklong visit required every few years for each bishop in the Roman Catholic world. Uniformed ushers escort the bishops through the Vatican Palace to a waiting room outside the Pope’s library. At this point a priest in the Pope’s staff instructs us on etiquette and how the visit will proceed.
In our case, nine bishops of the Province of New Orleans, which includes Lake Charles, were led into the Pope’s Library. Each bishop was allowed one priest to accompany him. The bishop then introduced himself to the Pope and then introduced the priest. I asked Father Derek Covert, who is finishing his last semester of Canon Law studies in Rome, to join me. Following the introductions, we posed for a photograph, and the accompanying priests were escorted out of the room. Only the bishops were present for this personal meeting and discussion with the Holy Father.
Pope Benedict XVI began our meeting with opening words of welcome and encouragement for us as successors to the Apostles. After all, the entire purpose of the ad limina visit is to maintain a vital link and communication between the local church in a diocese and the Holy See of St. Peter. Following his initial words, the Holy Father then invited the bishops to speak. The Archbishop of New Orleans, of course, went first, since he has precedence. Each bishop spoke on a topic of interest within the Church, such as vocations, education, charitable works, the New Evangelization, and religious liberty. My topic was the new translation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal, which we have begun using as of the First Sunday of Advent 2011.
The Pope appeared very engaged and asked questions as well. He asked me whether or not the new translation of the Roman Missal had been well received. I responded that I thought it had. Of course, I added, there will always be some few who resist a change of any kind, to which the Pope smiled and nodded, but overall I found acceptance. The Holy Father then asked whether there had been appropriate preparation for the change in translation. I described what had been done over more than a year through conferences and workshops, as well as the various aids, to help in the implementation. I then thanked him for his leadership in the area of the liturgical movement, for his numerous writings on the subject beginning with The Spirit of the Liturgy, for his continued instructions on the summit of our worship which is the Eucharist, and above all for his approval of the new translation which I thought would be increasingly beneficial for enriching our understanding of what it is we celebrate in our Catholic liturgy.
This audience lasted about forty-five minutes, after which the Holy Father extended a blessing to us and to our dioceses. The bishops then approached personally for a final farewell and parting words. At this moment, he gave us each a pectoral cross, along with blessed objects for us to share with our families and collaborators in our dioceses. It was this package that I confessed to the security agent having in my luggage. I assured Pope Benedict of our daily prayers for his intentions. We then departed, thankful that we had had this opportunity to visit with the Successor of St. Peter and the Bishop of Rome.
On any ad limina visit bishops celebrate Masses at the tombs of the Apostles. So did we first at the tomb of St. Peter, then at the tomb of St. Paul. We also celebrated Masses at the tomb of Blessed John Paul II, at St. John Lateran which is the Pope’s Cathedral Church, and finally at St. Mary Major which is the first church in the West dedicated to Mary, following the Council of Ephesus. On a personal note, it was here at St. Mary Major that I had celebrated my first Mass as a priest. Being in that holy place brought back many fond memories.
The remainder of our time was spent visiting Vatican offices, called dicasteries, agencies or offices that serve the needs of the Church throughout the world. We met with the Cardinal Prefect of each. In the Congregation for Clergy we discussed the needs of priests and deacons, as well as vocations. With the Congregation for Divine Worship, we spoke of our concerns over the liturgy. At the offices of the Congregation for Catholic Education, Catholic schools and seminaries were the topics under consideration. All in all, I visited ten different Vatican offices with my brother bishops and a few others on my own. Two of these will serve as examples of that experience.
On one occasion I made an appointment to visit the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Immigrants. In the Diocese of Lake Charles, we have an excellent apostolate which we call the Seafarers Center and it will celebrate its 50th anniversary on April 18, 2012. The work of the Seafarers Center is entitled the Apostleship of the Sea and is done in close collaboration with the Pontifical Council. I met with the President, Cardinal-elect Antonio Veglio, and one of the officials of the Council. There we discussed the splendid work of the Seafarers Center, an upcoming international conference on the subject of Catholic centers that serve the pastoral needs of merchant sailors, and the challenges for the future that such an apostolate faces.
Another day I scheduled a visit to the Apostolic Penitentiary. This is the Vatican office that cares for spiritual benefits. Here I was interested in discussing the upcoming centennial year for the Cathedral Church of the Immaculate Conception in Lake Charles. I learned that for such occasions the Church could be declared a pilgrimage site and I duly submitted my request for this privilege.
So much more could be said about these visits. I was truly inspired by the presentation of Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko of the Pontifical Council on the Laity. He gave a spirited and enthusiastic explanation of lay movements in the Church throughout the world and a report on the World Youth Day. The visit to the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization was most informative. Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella headed this Council and gave us a fine overview of the upcoming Synod on the New Evangelization in October. He also stated that the New Evangelization had primarily a threefold approach: liturgy, catechesis, and charity. He went into great detail about the hopes and dreams for an important initiative in the Church that we will all hear more about in the future.
The ad limina was a true gift. At every turn,
in every event, there was some benefit.
We asked questions and were asked
questions. We were filled with new ideas,
took notes, and met those directly involved
in some of the most important apostolic
works of the Church in the world today.
We heard of concerns and how to address
them and were encouraged by so many who
took seriously the words spoken by the Lord
Jesus to St. Peter, “You must strengthen your
brothers” (Luke 22:32). This is exactly what
the Successor to St. Peter, Pope Benedict XVI,
had done for us. We were strengthened by the
spirit of the Apostle and by God’s grace working
through him and the Church. It was this spiritual
gift, infinitely more important than anything
material, that I carried with me as I left Rome.