If all goes as planned, I will be in Rome when you read these words. The bishops of the eight dioceses of New York state will be making our visit ad limina Apostolorium (to the threshold of the Apostles) during the week beginning Oct. 3.
Groups of bishops from all parts of the world make these visits on a rotating basis every five years. The heart and soul of them, as the name suggests, is prayer at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul; and prayer and conversation with Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, the current occupant of the Chair of Peter.
One could fairly say that those visits are powerful reminders of our links with the apostolic church and of our links with the church universal over which Pope John Paul II presides in charity.
Pope John Paul II has been remarkably warm and generous to us in all of the ad limina visits in which I have participated. He has invited us to celebrate the Eucharist with him in his private chapel. He has addressed us as a group and invited a response on our behalf from the Archbishop of New York. He has invited us in groups of eight or 10 to share a meal with him. And, he has invited each of us to a personal conversation of 10 minutes or so in his study.
My understanding is that, in recent months, declining health has forced him to pull back from some of these activities. If current practice prevails, we will meet with him both as a group and as individuals, but we will not share Eucharist or a meal with him. While we will all miss both of those opportunities very much, we understand very well the reason for the change. I am just very happy that I’ll have another chance to pay my and your respects to him, and to thank him for appointing and ordaining me to the episcopal office, gifts for which I shall always be grateful.
In addition to activities just mentioned, we will spend a good deal of time visiting some of the administrative offices which assist Our Holy Father in his ministry. The offices are commonly called dicasteries or congregations. There are Congregations for Doctrine of the Faith, Bishops, Clergy, Evangelization of Peoples, Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Catholic Education and for several other areas of concern.
The usual practice at such visits — after all appropriate courtesies are observed — is for one of the bishops of our group to present to the officials of the congregation the questions, interests and concerns we have about the matters which fall within their competence. In turn, they present to us their own questions and points for discussion. Over the years, this initial exchange of perspectives has led to some interesting and significant conversations. In other instances the conversations are more routine, but still valuable.
Very often the questions and concerns raised by members of the several congregations are drawn from the Quinquennial Report (five-year report) that each bishop must send to the Holy See in anticipation of our ad limina visit. When our detailed reports are received their several parts are distributed to the congregations which have competence in those areas. Some months after the visit, we usually receive acknowledgement of the report together with any comments the congregations may find helpful to us.
While in Rome, some of us, myself included, will be staying at the North American College. Since I was there during my theological studies, and later served on the staff, I love to stay at N.A.C. The larger number of us will be staying at Casa Santa Marta, a residential and meeting facility in Vatican City.
You can be sure that I shall pray for you and in gratitude for you at the tombs of Peter and Paul, and then I will convey your affection and respect to Our Holy Father. Please pray for me and all of the bishops of our state in a special way this week.
Peace to all.