The first group of U.S. bishops will arrive here on March 28 for their “Ad Limina Apostolorum” visit, the once-every-five-years trip bishops must make to the Vatican.
The "Ad Limina Apostolorum" (Latin for "to the tombs of the Apostles") visit brings together bishops with the Holy Father and with the Vatican dicasteries, and helps to evaluate the state of both a nation's episcopate as well as each particular diocese.
Given the size of the American episcopacy (over 3,000 bishops), the visit of the US bishops will take place in smaller, regional groups over the next 10 months, starting by the South east region.
In preparation for the Ad Limina visit, each bishop must prepare a rather exhaustive report of the pastoral state of his diocese, and each specific part of the report is sent by the Congregation of Bishops to the appropriate dicastery: family issues will go to the Pontifical Council for the Family, doctrinal issues will go to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and so on.
Although the ad Limina visit is a spiritual pilgrimage to the sepulchers of the Apostles Peter and Paul, it is also an occasion for the Holy Father to address issues specifically related to the episcopate. In fact, each groups' visit ends with a public audience in which the Pope addresses his pastoral concerns and recommendations.
By the time the last group of U.S. bishops leaves Rome, the Holy Father will have delivered a set of discourses that mark the pastoral route for the next five years.
It is predictable that during this year's visit the issue of sex abuse will have a central role. But other issues also are in the agenda, some that the Pope addressed five years ago:
- The protection of life "from conception to its natural end" and the responsibility of the laity, especially of Catholic politicians.
- Catholic education, in particular Catholic colleges and the application of the Pope's apostolic exhortation "Ex Corde Ecclesiae."
- The renewal of the liturgy.
- The legal and pastoral protection of marriage and family.
- The promotion and sound formation of priestly vocations, as well as the renovation of the seminaries.
- The bishop's role as source of doctrinal unity.
- The renewal of parish life.