Papal meeting, Vatican consultations on trip to Rome

Archbishop Gregory M Aymond    Your “ad limina” trip to Rome to meet with Pope Benedict XVI and various Vatican congregations will take place Jan. 23-31. Can you detail some of the highlights?
    I’ll be leaving Jan. 20, and Archbishop Hughes and Bishop Fabre will join me. In all, there will be 22 bishops from five southern states (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky) making the “ad limina” visit. The words “ad limina” mean “to the threshold” of the apostles. We are expected to visit Rome every five years to meet with the Holy Father personally and to pray at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul for the people entrusted to our pastoral care. We also visit various Vatican departments – or congregations – to provide any answers that they might have about how we are meeting the pastoral challenges in our dioceses and to hear from them a perspective of what is going on in the universal church. A new dimension to the “ad limina” is the chance to celebrate Mass as a group at the tomb of Blessed Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Basilica. That’s going to be a historical moment.
    What’s the first thing on the agenda?
    We will start on Monday, Jan. 23, at 7:15 a.m. by celebrating Mass at the Tomb of St. Peter, which is located directly beneath the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. Then on Jan. 25, Pope Benedict will join us for a vespers’ service at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. We will also celebrate Masses over the next several days at St. Mary Major, St. Paul Outside the Walls and St. John Lateran. We’ll also attend a papal audience and have a chance to greet Pope Benedict after his talk. The trip also will give us the chance to catch up with Father Nile Gross, who is a priest of the Archdiocese of New Orleans studying liturgy and the sacraments for the next two years in Rome.
    Will all U.S. bishops visit Rome over the course of this year?
    Yes. Usually, the time frame for our visits has been every five years, but it’s actually been seven years since we last went. I think that’s in part because of the Holy Father’s age. The Vatican has been a little slower in scheduling these visits. In preparation, we have sent what is called a “quinquennial” (every five years) report that is about an inch-and-a-half thick. It details everything that is taking place in the archdiocese. The various congregations in Rome will read the section that is relevant to them, and they will be prepared to ask additional questions if necessary.
    Will you get a chance to meet privately with the pope?
    Yes. Archbishop Hughes, Bishop Fabre and I will meet him briefly, and we’ll exchange greetings and offer a few words about the archdiocese. The other bishops will get a chance to do the same thing. Then he will meet with the bishops in groups of about seven. He can ask us questions, and we can share our thoughts. He’s looking to get a better understanding of both the strengths and the pastoral challenges of Catholicism in the United States. In the U.S., there are important pastoral challenges. How do we deal with marriage as a sacrament and then the reality of high levels of divorce? How do we deal with conscience formation, moral theology, sexuality, end-of-life issues, immigration and pornography? These are all real challenges that we’re faced with, and the Holy Father will be interested in hearing how we’re dealing with those challenges.
    What congregations will you be visiting?
    We will meet with the Secretariat of State to get an overview of the universal church; the Congregation for Bishops, which advises the Holy Father on the appointment of bishops; the Congregation for Clergy; the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life; the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, which is a new council dear to the heart of the Holy Father; the Pontifical Council for the Laity; the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, which is the highest church court; the Pontifical Council for the Family; the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; the Congregation for Divine Worship; and the Congregation for Catholic Education.
    You also will meet personally with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Is that to check on the progress of the beatification cause for Venerable Henriette Delille?
    Yes. Archbishop Hughes, Bishop Fabre and I will go there to get the latest report on where things stand. We are hopeful that the miracle that is now under review by doctors connected with the congregation will be approved, which would allow the process to move forward. If the Holy Father were to declare her “blessed,” the beatification Mass would be celebrated in St. Louis Cathedral. It would be a historic event for the American Catholic Church.
    Are there any questions you are expecting to come up about New Orleans?
    I know they are interested in the rebuilding that has taken place since Katrina.
    What was your previous ad limina experience like in 2004 with Pope John Paul II?
    It was a powerful experience. I went in and he asked me to give a summary of the strengths and the challenges of the (Austin) diocese, and he asked specifically about vocations to the priesthood and religious life in light of our more secular culture. Then as the conversation was winding up, I said, “Holy Father, I want to take this opportunity to thank you, because you have been a great prophet in our own time. You have been a voice of courage, compassion and challenge. You have been a prophet for us, and I really admire you. I admire your boldness.” I remember that he simply put his head down and then looked up at me and said, “Thank you.” I will always remember that. That was the last time I met with him.
    Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to

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