‘Ad limina’ pilgrimage was a true grace for me

| March 15, 2012
Archbishop Nienstedt

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt

I have recently returned from my “ad limina” trip to Rome. During the eight-day pilgrimage, my brother bishops and I made our official visit to the Vatican, which included two personal visits with the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.

As was explained in a previous issue of The Cath­olic Spirit, the “ad limina” visit is required of each diocesan bishop, who is invited to travel  to Rome to venerate the tombs of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul and present himself to the Holy Father.

These visits follow the submission of a quinquennial report, which is a report by the bishop, which seeks to inform the Holy Father and his advisers about the well-being and concerns of his own particular diocese. Because the dioceses of Minnesota, North and South Dakota are grouped together as an ecclesiastical province (Region VIII), I made the “ad limina” trip with 13 of my brother bishops.

When we arrived on Saturday, March 3, Bishop Lee Piché and I visited with our seminarians studying at the Pontifical North American College, which is located on the Janiculum hill, overlooking Rome. After praying evening prayer together, we went out to dinner to one of my favorite restaurants in Rome.

The following morning, I celebrated Mass for the installation of 55 acolytes in the seminary chapel. Our own Joe Kuharski was one of those installed as acolyte. It was a beautiful liturgy.

On Monday, the bishops began a series of meetings with various departments of the Holy See, first with a visit to the Congregation for Bishops. This turned out to be one of the most stimulating gatherings we had. The prefect, Cardinal Marc Ouellet from Quebec was very animated as we discussed a whole host of topics.

At the end of the day, I celebrated Mass with the bishops of the province at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, which is one of the four principal basilicas in Rome and one of the oldest. I was asked to preside and preach at this liturgy. This was a great privilege for me to focus our thoughts on the powerful intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mother.

Full docket of meetings

Our fourth day in Rome began with Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. Bishop John Kinney of St. Cloud celebrated the Holy Eucharist at the tomb of Blessed John Paul II. The rest of the day consisted of three meetings. We met with the congregations for clergy, for Catholic education, as well as with the pontifical councils for the family and for the laity. A busy day, indeed!

On Wednesday, after two more meetings with the congregations for Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Doctrine of the Faith, we finished with Mass at St. Paul Outside the Walls, celebrated by Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo. In addition to a final resting place of St. Paul, this beautiful basilica is known for its images of each of the 265 popes, right down to St. Peter himself! After Mass, I headed across town to visit with our seminarians and UST students who are doing a semester in Rome at the Bernardi campus.

On Thursday, we had a meeting with the Pontifical Secretariat for Christian Unity. Bishop Piché reported on the ecumenical initiatives going on in our province, and Bishop Brian Farrell reported on what the secretariat was doing in their dialogues both in the East and in the West.

After that, we had our meeting with the pope. The Minnesota bishops went first, then the bishops from the Dakotas. The Holy Father asked each of us to speak about our respective diocese and then offered comment. Each meeting lasted about a half hour. Later that afternoon, Bishop Paul Swain of Sioux Falls celebrated Mass for us at the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

Early on Friday morning, we went back to St. Peter’s Basilica, where Bishop John Quinn of Winona celebrated Mass at the Altar of St. Peter’s Tomb, or the altar beneath the main papal altar.

We then went to meet with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. From there, we went back to the Apostolic Palace where the Holy Father delivered a wonderful discourse on marriage and family life. I had the great honor of addressing the pope before his talk. Before leaving on Sunday, we had two more meetings on Saturday with the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the head of which is Raymond Cardinal Burke, former bishop of La Crosse, Wis., as well as the new Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization.

Months before the trip, I had submitted a detailed report of over 400 pages of data about the archdiocese to the Holy See. The format of the quinquennial report is set by the Holy See, so that the report covers all of the ministries in which the faithful of this archdiocese, clergy, religious and laity alike, are involved. Because there were so many bright spots in the report, I wish to highlight a few of them for you.

One of the areas that a bishop is asked to report on is the organizational structure of his diocese. This refers not only to the archdiocesan chancery and its offices, but also to the various consultative bodies that assist the archbishop in his management of the diocese, as well as the parishes, schools, and institutions and their dedicated pool of employees and volunteers.

Good news to report

In my report, I conveyed to the Holy Father my deep appreciation for the work of my many collaborators. I told him of how I have come to depend on these individuals and groups to provide me with knowledgeable advice within their areas of expertise. I especially highlighted the work of the permanent consultative bodies like the Presbyteral Council, College of Consultors, the Archdiocesan Finance Council,  along with the ad hoc committees that were involved in the development of the strategic plan and our new initiative for Catholic schools.

I pointed out to the Holy Father that we are fortunate in this archdiocese to have such a large, well-educated and diverse population to draw on when seeking staff and volunteers, who in turn are generous in offering their time, talent and support.

Reflecting on the diversity within this archdiocese, I was pleased to be able to inform the Holy Father that each Sunday, parishes in the archdiocese celebrate Mass in eight different languages (English, Spanish, French, Polish, Vietnamese, Latin, American Sign Language and Korean), with additional Masses offered periodically in Tagalog, Hmong, Knanaya and other Indian and African dialects. However, I also acknowledged that this presents pastoral challenges and has caused us to look outside our boundaries for priests, deacons, and members of the lay faithful to minister to and catechize these diverse non-English speaking populations.

Since the quinquennial report attempts to provide a comparison between the circumstances in the archdiocese during this five-year period in contrast to the last, the economic situation of the faithful and our non-Catholic neighbors in this archdiocese played a prominent role in this report.

I was saddened to report that the 2010 Census indicated that in 2009, more than 10 percent of the population of this archdiocese was living below the poverty level. In addition, I informed the Holy Father that the housing foreclosure crisis and the economic recession currently affecting the United States economy as a whole has also taken its toll in Minnesota, not only in Minneapolis and St. Paul, but as well as in the so-called “first ring” suburbs, in which many archdiocesan parishes and schools are located.

The foreclosure crisis in particular has forced many families out of stable housing and into shelters or other transitional housing, and the number of people living in persistent poverty in this archdiocese has increased significantly. This, in turn, has meant that the welfare system has been overwhelmed and now, as the economic situation still remains rather pessimistic, even such charitable organizations as Catholic Charities are having a difficult time serving those in need.

I informed the Holy Father that in the summer of 2011, for the first time ever, the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul had to turn away people seeking shelter, because the center ran out of space to care safely for all those who came to them for help. This led to a “tent village” being set up in the parking lot around the center, where more than 700 people camped out in July, August, and September because the regular shelter was just too full to hold them. Conversely, prior to the onset of the “Great Recession,” homelessness in the Twin Cities had decreased due to the success of public-private initiatives to establish affordable housing, employment opportunities and other support options.

However, I was pleased to report that, despite the difficult economic situation, giving to charitable organizations has remained steady and, in some cases, has increased. Catholic Charities received more than $13 million in private contributions, grants, and bequests in 2009, while Commonbond Communities received more than $3.4 million in contributions in 2010.

As I informed the Holy Father, the Catholic faithful of this archdiocese have continued to be generous in response to requests for assistance to provide both for those in this archdiocese and elsewhere. For instance, in the first six months of 2010, more than $1,400,000 was collected from Catholics in this archdiocese for earthquake relief in Haiti. And, our local church is stepping up its efforts to provide crucial services during this time of increased need. For instance, next year a new 336-bed temporary homeless shelter will open in Minneapolis. Called “Higher Ground,” it is an initiative of Catholic Charities that depends upon the assistance of the archdiocese. The project is also being developed in partnership with Hennepin County, as part of a joint public-private initiative to end homelessness by 2016.

Parish initiatives

In addition to archdiocesan initiatives, I shared with the Holy Father some of the important work being done by individual parish communities. I informed him that several Catholic parishes have joined with more than 30 other churches and synagogues to support Project Home, emergency housing for homeless families who can’t find room at the county homeless shelters. Faith communities that support Project Home provide overnight accommodation in church facilities to between 40 and 60 parents with children every night of the week for one month.

Our parishes are truly the context within which our Catholic faithful experience the power of God in community, with Sunday Mass continuing to be the primary and central experience of the assembled community as it weekly celebrates the Paschal Mystery. I shared with the Holy Father our archdiocesan plan for the implementation of the new Roman Missal, and provided him with a synopsis of the administration of the sacraments and other devotionals that take place in parishes in this archdiocese. For example, I was pleased to inform the Holy Father that adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is held in over 40 parishes, while a handful of parishes continue to offer the annual 40 hours devotion, and others sponsor eucharistic processions on the feast of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.

I assured the Holy Father that catechesis is available for people of all ages in our parishes. In particular, I highlighted the blessing that the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute has been for so many seeking to deepen the knowledge of their Catholic faith. I also commended our approximately 9,000 dedicated parish and school staff and volunteers who provide the immediate preparation for the sacraments to both children and adults. More than 8,000 children received their first Holy Communion and/or were recipients of the sacrament of confirmation in 2010.

An entire section of the report was devoted to our Catholic schools in the Archdiocese, which continue the Church’s historical gift of providing quality education for the Catholic faithful as well as to the poor, the marginalized and the immigrant. In this section, I also outlined the recently released strategic plan to revitalize Catholic education in this archdiocese.

Rich patrimony

I was able to inform the Holy Father of our annual Men’s Conference, which will be held again in the Cathedral of St. Paul on Saturday, March 31. I related that some 2,000 men, young and old, have gathered this past year to be renewed in what it means to be a father, a brother, a son and a man for others. I explained how so many men in our culture are reluctant to take active roles of leadership in the family or parish. I believe this made a deep impression on His Holiness.
Finally, I described for the Holy Father the rich patrimony of this archdiocese, including the historic and artistic significance of the Cathedral of St. Paul and the Basilica of St. Mary as well as the other treasures of our archdiocesan parish structures and institutions.

Truly, this was a trip to remember.  Please know that all of the faithful of the archdiocese were with me, in my thoughts and prayers, as I visited the Holy Father and offered Mass at the holy places. While the pilgrimage was a true grace for me, I am glad to be home, and look forward to the coming celebrations of Holy Week as well as a busy spring schedule.

May God bless you!

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