Abp. Aymond, southern bishops visit Pope Francis

By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, Clarion Herald Commentary

Archbishop Gregory Aymond traveled to Rome this week along with the bishops of five southern states for their required “ad limina” visit with Pope Francis, which occurs approximately every five years.

The bishops’ pilgrimage to Rome – commonly known as the “ad limina apostolorum” (to the threshold of the apostles) – includes a group meeting with the pope, during which the bishops can bring up pastoral matters, briefings with the leaders of various Vatican congregations and the celebration of Mass at the tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul.

According to Our Sunday Visitor’s “Catholic Encyclopedia,” the term “ad limina” (apostolorum) literally refers to a visit to the threshold or household of a particular person or persons.

Bishops from Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi comprise Region V of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The ecclesiastical province of New Orleans encompasses the entire state of Louisiana, which includes the six other dioceses of Alexandria, Baton Rouge, Houma-Thibodaux, Lafayette, Lake Charles and Shreveport.

The ecclesiastical province of Louisville comprises the states of Kentucky (Louisville, Covington, Lexington and Owensboro) and Tennessee (Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville).

The province of Mobile covers the states of Alabama (Mobile and Birmingham) and Mississippi (Biloxi and Jackson).

Generally speaking, the Church has required ad limina visits to be made every five years, although they were more spaced out during the latter part of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II because of his failing health.

Rather than read a formal speech to the assembled bishops, Pope Francis has made it a habit to open a conversation with them and respond to questions that arise. The pope also joins the leaders of various Vatican dicasteries in a group meeting with the region’s bishops.

In advance of the ad limina, Archbishop Aymond and his fellow bishops sent to the Vatican a “quinquennial” (five-year) report on the pastoral activity of their respective dioceses.

The tradition of the ad limina visit dates back at least to the time of Pope St. Leo III, who died in 816.

During his ad limina visit in early November, Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley noted how the prayer at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul form “the very essence” of the pilgrimage bishops are required to make regularly to Rome to strengthen their faith and their bond with the pope and to report on the status of their dioceses.

Referring to St. Paul as “the Pharisee” and St. Peter as “the fisherman,” Cardinal O’Malley said Jesus chose “very unlikely people to lead his church.”

“I’m sure we feel that way about our vocations,” he said. “We were not chosen because we were the best looking or the smartest or the holiest, but in God’s providence, he called us to this responsibility.”

Wearing red vestments to honor the martyred St. Peter, the cardinal encouraged the bishops to seek the apostle’s intercession “to confirm us in our faith and help us to be good pastors of Christ’s flock.”

“Jesus is building his church on the faith of Peter,” Cardinal O’Malley said. And as bishops, “we must be men of faith, a faith that is a revelation of the Father, nurtured by prayer, the Scriptures, the sacraments and the witness of our fellow believers.”

The “last and greatest” question Jesus asked Peter is “Do you love me?” the cardinal said.

“Today, before Peter’s tomb, let us bishops ask for the grace to answer these questions the way Peter did – with a profession of faith, a profession of hope and a profession of love,” he said.

Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to clarionherald@clarionherald.org.


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