It is a new twist on a venerable tradition, but it received a very favorable review from the first group of U.S. bishops to make an ad limina visit to the Vatican in seven years.
Pope Benedict XVI, instead of meeting individually with visiting bishops, has recently favored meeting with prelates in small groups during their visits, a process he has found to be a more efficient way of learning about how the Church is operating around the world.
“I found the new format, and I think all the bishops found the new format to be very enjoyable and very substantive,” said Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, R.I., who returned late last week from the Vatican, where he reported on the state of the diocese.
By its name, “ad limina” means “going to the threshold of the apostles.” Every five years or so, bishops from around the world make a pilgrimage to meet with the Pope and other Vatican dicasteries, not just to report on their dioceses, but also to reconnect with the actual roots of their faith as they journey to the tombs of the first apostles.
“The Holy Father gave each of us a chance to offer some observations and comments about anything, particularly about specific issues in our own diocese,” Bishop Tobin said.
“I thanked him for announcing the Year of Faith, which is going to begin in 2012 and go through 2013. I told the Holy Father about our Year of Evangelization that was so successful and how the Year of Faith that he has promulgated will build very nicely upon the Year of Evangelization we celebrated in the diocese last year.”
Bishop Tobin also shared with the Pope that the diocese, and other dioceses were well prepared to implement the new translations of the Roman Missal.
“He seemed very pleased with that,” the bishop noted of the Pope’s reaction.
In all, 18 bishops from New England met with the Pope and Curia leaders over the course of the week discussing a range of issues, including the Church’s religious freedom in the United States, same-sex marriage and immigration.
Providence's Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans also attended the ad limina visit. Each bishop was allowed to present one guest to the Holy Father at the beginning of their meeting, which took place on Saturday, Nov. 5 on the top floor of the Apostolic Palace and lasted about 30 minutes.
Father Timothy D. Reilly, diocesan chancellor, and Fr. George Nixon, a graduate priest studying at Pontifical North American College in Rome, were introduced to the Pope at the start of the visit.
“We were received by the Holy Father very graciously before the bishops met,” Fr. Reilly said.
Fr. Reilly also presented to the Pope an array of rosaries that Bishop Tobin asked the Holy Father to bless. He would present those rosaries, the bishop shared with Pope Benedict XVI, during his visits to nursing homes and to religious gatherings of young people around the diocese.
For Bishop Tobin, the experience was his fourth ad limina visit as a bishop.
A highlight of his week long visit, which also featured meetings with the heads of various departments, known as dicasteries, was celebrating Mass at the newly created tomb for Pope John Paul II, who appointed the bishop to the episcopacy in Youngstown, Ohio, when he was 44 years old.
“It was a great privilege for me to be the celebrant and homilist for the Mass at the tomb of Blessed John Paul II, and I was pleased that all the members of our diocesan contingent who were present had a particular role to play at the Mass,” Bishop Tobin said.
“So we were very well represented at the tomb of Blessed John Paul.”
While the bishops spent their days in meetings, they joined Fr. Reilly and Fr. Nixon later each afternoon to celebrate Mass.
“We had Mass at the four major patriarchal basilicas. We were so blessed to have Mass at the tomb of St. Peter in the grotto on the first morning to begin the ad limina,” said Fr. Reilly, who was grateful for the opportunity to view the process from a very unique perspective.
“It was such a unique experience. I realize the graces from a Roman pilgrimage for any of us take years to unfold, but because we went to the very threshold of the apostles—and I was invited on that journey—I can only imagine how far and how deep these graces will go into my ministry and please God into my life. I’m just very grateful to God and to the bishops.”
Printed with permission from the Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Providence, R.I.