The bishops of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota celebrated Mass March 5 at the Basilica of St. Mary Major — the first of several stops they are making at the major churches of Rome as part of their current “ad limina” visit.
Near the church’s high altar, the bishops recited the creed at the entrance of a crypt with a reliquary that tradition says contains wood from the infant Jesus’ crib. They then headed into the ornate Borghese Chapel for Mass.
Archbishop John Nienstedt began and ended his homily by singing part of the “Stabat Mater,” a sorrowful hymn about Mary at the foot of the cross. Mary is the mother of all the faithful, including bishops, and she will not abandon her children, just as she didn’t abandon her son on the cross, he said.
Bishops, in addition to receiving the crosier at their ordination in their role as shepherds, also must embrace the cross — including “the cross of personnel issues, the cross of abuse allegations, the cross of a life no longer our own,” Archbishop Nienstedt said.
Mary is an example of how to embrace the cross and faithfully do God’s will, he said, adding that “Mary continues to stand by the cross in solidarity” with bishops, with the rest of the faithful and with the Holy Father as all deal with their own trials and burdens.
Mary is Jesus’ final gift to us, Archbishop Nienstedt said. “In a way, she is his final will and testament.”
The bishops’ March 4-11 “ad limina” visit includes an audience with Pope Benedict XVI, meetings with Vatican officials and prayer at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul. “Ad limina” comes from the Latin phrase “ad limina apostolorum” (to the thresholds of the apostles.) Bishops from around the world are required to make the visits approximately every five years.
Archbishop Nienstedt told worshipers the visits are an opportunity for renewal, affirmation and prayerful recommitment to the bishops’ vocation and the unity to which they are called.